How to Look Stupid at Work (When Trying to Look Smart)

August 31, 2016

We all want to be seen as smart at work and capable in what we do. And yet, sometimes, people try a bit too hard to look smart at work.

And wind up looking stupid.

Todd Dewett, leadership guru and Lynda.com author, wants you to avoid exactly that. In his class, Projecting Intelligence, Dewett explains precisely how to be perceived as smart at work – and also exactly what not to do.

So what are some common things people do in the vein of looking smart, but instead has the exact opposite effect? They are:

1.    You flaunt knowledge that has nothing to do with the problem at hand.

Ever been around someone who loves to go on and on about information that has little to do with the situation at hand, seemingly just to show off how much they know?

Well, if you have, you know it’s obnoxious. And it doesn’t make the person seem smart – it makes them seem desperate. Which is precisely why you shouldn't do it.

You look smart by providing in-depth, relevant information to the conversation, if you can. The second-best option is to say nothing. The worst option is to waste everyone’s time by spitting out facts that aren’t germane to what’s being discussed, simply because you know it.

2.    You correct others, when it isn’t really necessary.

People hate being corrected. And, if you constantly correct people, you aren’t going to look smart – you are going to come across as unpleasant.

Before correcting someone, Dewett suggested asking yourself these three questions:

  • Is the person drastically wrong, or just slightly wrong?
  • Am I 100 percent sure they are wrong?
  • Is this an important issue, or can I just let it slide?

If the answer is yes to all three, then you can correct them. Otherwise, it’s probably better just to say nothing.

3.    You use physical gimmicks in an effort to look smart.

In his class, Dewett advised against using physical gimmicks to appear smarter than you really are. For example, wearing glasses when glasses aren’t necessary or filling out your workspace with books you’ve never actually read.

This doesn’t work, and likely will be met with antipathy, instead of admiration.

4.    You use big words, when little words will do.

Essentially every expert on the subject agrees – the key to strong business communication is being as clear as possible. It is a sign of intelligence to be able to explain complex issues in clear, concise language.

Conversely, some people use big words on purpose in an attempt to look smart. This backfires, as often it makes them harder to understand, not easier. And it especially backfires if they use a word incorrectly, which is likely to happen, since they are using words that are not part of their regular lexicon.

5.    You love to tout your credentials and accomplishments.

Contrary to popular opinion, you do occasionally have to brag at work. Here’s how to do that the right way.

That being said, bragging is best done in moderation. If you are bragging or humblebragging routinely, you aren’t going to impress anyone with how smart you are.

Instead, you are just going to turn people off and actually come across as less intelligent, Dewett said. It is far better to produce great work and let other people tell you are smart, as opposed to telling them how smart you are, he said.

Tying it all together

What do these five examples all have in common?

They all reek of someone trying too hard. And that turns people off, and makes you appear emotionally unintelligent.

Instead, a better strategy is just to do great work and provide value whenever you can. That’ll go a lot further to making people think you’re smart, as opposed to any amount of fake glasses or leather-bound books.

*Image from Pixabay

Want to learn how to look legitimately smart at work? Check out Dewett’s course, Projecting Intelligence, and learn how to do exactly that.

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