Whole Foods CEO’s least favorite type of worker is the know-it-all

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Of the many types of characters in the workplace, Whole Foods CEO Jason Buechel’s least favorite is the know-it-all. 

“Somebody who thinks they know the answer to absolutely everything,” the CEO of the Amazon-owned grocery chain told CNBC Make It. “Somebody who thinks that it has to be exactly like this because this has always happened before. It’s always going to happen this way.”

Why? Because believing that you always know best will not only stifle your own personal growth but also the business’s.

But he’s not always been the most receptive to new ideas and ways of working himself.

“I sometimes could have been that person in my past, on certain things,” Buechel, who took Whole Foods helm in September 2022, said. 

“I learned the hard way that you have to be flexible, especially in today’s world,” the 48-year-old added. “Our customers’ demands are changing all the time, things are always changing the business.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly then, the organic supermarket chain chief said he “gravitates” towards solutions-oriented workers who like “to solve things that help the organization, help our stakeholders [and] our team members.”

“At the end of the day, I’m a problem solver. That’s what I love and get excited about,” he concluded.

What to do if you’re a know-it-all

Of course, know-it-alls mostly mean well. After seeing what works (and what doesn’t) over time, it’s only natural to want to share that expertise rather than watch your employer flounder. 

It’s why career experts tell Fortune that being knowledgeable isn’t the issue—it’s often the manner in which ideas are communicated that can cause problems.

John Lees, the former chief of the Institute of Employment Consultants, has authored 15 books on careers. He advises imparting knowledge with as much caution as you would if you were bragging about yourself.

“Tone and brevity matters,” Lees says, adding that it’s better to start a contribution with “This might be helpful’ than ‘The answer is’.

In the end, he highlights that your knowledge in an area “can easily point to someone else’s lack of,” which is why it can be taken offensively.

Avoid accidentally criticizing others by starting input with: “As I’m sure you know.”

“If you think your wisdom irritates, save it for a few key moments where your contribution will make a difference,” Lees concludes. “Having an opinion on everything is a sure way to ensure you’re never heard.”

Una Doyle, a business strategist and impact coach for SMEs at Creative Flow, echoed that there are three elements to whether feedback is taken as helpful instead of annoying: timing, relevancy, and approach.

“Firstly, either schedule a time to speak about it or pick a time where they seem to be in a good mood,” Doyle says. “Secondly, focus on what’s in it for them and lead with that.”

“Finally, ensure that you’re calm and centered and notice their response to your feedback,” she adds. “Most people don’t like feedback, even when it’s constructive, so be kind and, if you can, coach them to the same realization you’ve had instead of just telling them how you see it.”

How to manage know-it-alls

Other career experts told Fortune that managers are probably to blame if they have know-it-alls on their team.

“Normally, it’s when people are trying to establish themselves as a dominant force in the office, there is normally an underlying reason,” warns Tim Mart, careers coach and founder of the employee coaching and training provider Know You More.

For one, he says, it could be a sign of imposter syndrome, which results in people wanting to prove their worth to their peers or higher-ups.

“So rather than come down on them, it’s worth having a discussion about why they might be offering out advice when it’s unsolicited,” Mart adds. “They might also just have a lot of good ideas that they are not communicating in the right way.”

His advice to managers is to learn where this behavior is coming from before offering feedback on how they could better present their ideas.

“This employee clearly has a lot of knowledge, so find ways to utilize it,” Mart concludes. “Helping people work to their strengths is a win-win situation, both for the employer and the employer.”

Dan Buckley, the CEO of Cognexo, works with companies like DHL, Shell Energy, and Zenith to boost employee engagement. He echoes that management is key to turning insufferably vocal workers into helpful subject matter experts.

His top tip? Roll out regular employee surveys.

“This method helps know-it-alls present their insights in a more objective and less aggressive manner, promoting constructive dialogue,” Buckley says.

It’s a win-win for businesses that genuinely want input on specific areas of the business: “Structured questions ensure that feedback is specific, relevant and consistent, making it easier to analyze and act upon.”

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