A smarter you, today?

February 20, 2008 § Leave a comment

I thought this post from the Productivity 501 blog was both well put and funny. I don’t mean to say that these things aren’t points that I haven’t seen used or that I don’t think work; I mean that it’s funny to see that someone wrote them down. In other words, there must be a market, so to speak, for these kinds of tips. I worry about that. In the meantime, I’m going to share them with you so you can form your own opinion… or just take the best put comments and rephrase them so you, too, can sound very smart (this will make sense after you read the post)

6 Ways to Appear Smarter

In life, many opportunities are tied to what other people think of you. If the people around you think you are smart, you are more likely to get asked to participate in projects that will enhance your career. If people think you are dumb, you’ll probably be passed over.

Assuming that you are actually smart you don’t have to fake anything. Your goal is to make people think of you as a smart person. Humans aren’t particularly good at judging the intelligence of someone else. Here are six things you can do that will help enhance people’s perception of your intelligence.

1. Ask More Questions

question.pngMost people try to show how smart they are by telling others what they know. This often backfires. It is easy to appear arrogant. In addition, the person who always acts like an expert on every subject is likely to be regarded with some suspicion.

Asking intelligent questions can showcase your intelligence much more effectively than showing everyone how much you know. There are several reasons for this. The first reason is that most truly intelligent people are extremely teachable–that is how they became so intelligent. If you are trying to act smart without exhibiting teachable behavior people will think you are a fake.

The second reason asking questions is effective is because almost everyone thinks of themselves as smart. By asking questions you give them a chance to showcase their knowledge–something most everyone loves to do. Since they consider themselves to be intelligent and you are asking questions about the areas where they consider themselves to be experts, you must be intelligent as well–after all you are interested in the things that they consider to be important.

Obviously you can’t go around asking extremely stupid questions. You want to show what you know in a way that allows them to talk. Consider the following question when talking to someone who deals with furnaces and air conditioning units:

I was reading about geothermal heat pumps. What do you think about them? Are they really as efficient as people say?

You’ve displayed your knowledge, but left room for them to be the expert. This will make you appear far smarter than simply giving a monologue that tries to illustrate how much you know.

2. Be the Last to Speak

Don’t be quick to talk. If a matter is being discussed let others speak first. Taking the extra time to refine your thoughts can make a big difference in how you are perceived. If you have the final word and simply summarize the good points made by everyone else, people will remember your contribution more than the people who really came up with the idea. I’m not suggesting that you steal others ideas, but restating the best ideas (even when giving others credit) will make you look smarter.

3. Cite Your Sources

Random information seems suspect. Referencing your source can be very valuable in how you are perceived. I’ve been around some people who act like they are an expert on everything. After a while they start to appear like a know-it-all, and people suspect that they are just making things up.

Citing your sources can be as easy as saying “I read a newspaper article that said…” or “If I remember the paper correctly, some scientists say…”. Citing your sources will make you appear more credible, humble, and it gives you a way out if you are wrong.

4. Enjoy the Arts

arts.pngIn a culture where most people’s entertainment consists of movies and television, you can set yourself apart by going to the ballet, opera, museums, etc. For example, assume you are talking to two coworkers of similar esteem. You ask one what he did over the weekend and he says, “I watched Simpson reruns.” You ask the other and he says, “I went to see the opera.” Who will seem more intelligent?

Obviously the person who keeps harping on the fact that they went to the opera is going to be considered annoying. But diverse cultural experiences are often mistaken for intelligence. As long as you aren’t trying to flaunt your experience it can make you appear smarter.

5. Take a Contrary View

This has to be done delicately. Simply disagreeing with everyone around you will not help. However, having a well reasoned position that is different than others shows you are capable of independent thought. You must be careful not to insult the people. Keep in mind that you are probably not aware of all the relationships that exist. Taking the position that the CEO of your company is doing a poor job while talking to his daughter will not make you look intelligent.

Here is an example: I personally feel that The Nutcracker has single handedly done more damage to ballet in this country than anything else. Most people’s exposure to ballet is seeing The Nutcracker around Christmas time and the plot is so incredibly boring that Americans as a whole have formed an unnecessarily low opinion of how stories can be conveyed through classical dance.

This opinion is probably contrary to most people’s views, but it provides an excellent starting point for a conversation (assuming I’m talking with someone who is at least slightly familiar with ballet). Even if you disagree with me, as long as I’m not presenting my ideas in an arrogant manner, the conversation has a reasonable chance of helping establish me as someone willing to think differently than the average person.

6. Carry “Smart” Reading Material

study.pngIt is better if you actually read the material, but since we started with the assumption that you are smart we can probably also assume that you regularly read “smart” things. You could carry around a copy of the Harvard Business Review or the Wall Street Journal. You are simply managing perceptions and trying to make sure people associate you with sources of information that they think are intelligent.

And there you have it. Six things you can do that will make you appear smarter. If you are a total idiot these tips probably won’t help you. If you are reasonably smart they may help people take a bit more notice of your intelligence. The real value of this list is becoming aware of how your actions and conversation help shape people’s perception.

By the way, I think that smarts are placed too high on our radar while other qualities get relegated to the bottom. And, to some, appearing smart is far better than being smart.


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