Photo by Erik Lucatero on Unsplash

My kids like to play Jeopardy every weeknight with our Amazon Echo. We play as a team, so we have a greater chance of getting the answers right.

I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon when we play. My sons have a very hard time accepting not knowing the answers or God forbid, answering incorrectly. If they don’t know the answers, the questions are stupid or Alexa sucks. They shift the blame or responsibility to something other than themselves. If my daughter answers incorrectly, my sons jump on her like special forces on a known terrorist.

Despite my urging to play the game to learn and have fun, they behave as if not knowing something is a mortal failure.

The know-it-all mask

I recently listened to a podcast on The One You Feed. Eric Zimmer interviewed Lewis Howes, author of The Mask of Masculinity:How Men Can Embrace Vulnerability, Create Strong Relationships and Live Their Fullest Lives. Howes said one of the masks men wear to protect their vulnerability is The Know-It-All mask.

I don’t want to insinuate that only men wear this cover. NO ONE, including myself, wants to appear incompetent or unintelligent. The sad thing is, by wearing such a mask, we keep ourselves separate from each other, for vulnerability is the glue that connects people.

Know-it-alls spend more time talking and showing their knowledge than they do listening and being open to learning from others. When we are not open to other perspectives, we shut out the possibility of growing closer to someone.

Empathy needed

When dealing with someone who can’t take off the I-know-everything mask,  not only do we not get to peek inside their internal world, we feel uncomfortable showing ours. It is hard to have empathy for someone when we have not learned what is going on inside them. Without empathy we remain distanced from others. We are not truly attuned with them, nor do they feel understood by us. Without attunement or resonance, it is difficult to trust. Without trust, connection is fragile at best.

I can’t be wrong

Lurking behind the know-it-all mask could be a fear of losing love because being perfect and smart are positive attractive traits. Imperfection means you are not as competent or dependable and therefore less lovable. Someone who is already sensitive to rejection due to genetics or relationship history, will have a huge fear of making a mistake. There may even be shame involved. In that situation, they will do almost anything to deflect the appearance of not knowing or being wrong to spare themselves the pain of shame.

I don’t feel good around you

Ironically, the mask that is intended to help us stay lovable, pushes people away. It is nerve-wracking to be around someone who appears to have the answer to everything. At first, it feels nice to be with someone so confident and astute, but then our insecurities creep up. If I don’t know something or make a mistake, this person will judge me negatively. They may laugh at me or make me feel stupid. I better be on guard and not make any mistakes. 

When we have our guard up, it is just like wearing a mask. No one gets to know our true selves. Being authentic or vulnerable is too risky. We do not feel safe. When there is no safety, we can’t connect deeply.

Gateway to connection

I encourage everyone to see not knowing everything as a gateway to openness and connection. The next time you get an answer wrong in front of people, don’t let your inner critic eat you alive, let your vulnerability connect you to others through empathy and humanity.

Do you have to have all the answers? How hard are you on yourself or others if you make a mistake? Could your know-it-all attitude be keeping you from real connection? 

Would you like to talk to someone about learning to connect with others? I’m here to help. Contact me for further discussion.