• 4 minute Read

You Can’t Be Effective When You’re Too Smart For Your Own Good

Congratulations, smartypants, you’ve got the highest IQ in the room–too bad it’ll make you a pain to work with. Here are 6 techniques for dealing when your genius just gets in the way.

You Can’t Be Effective When You’re Too Smart For Your Own Good

I have had the good fortune to work for, with, and coach many brilliant people. I have watched many of them struggle with being smarter and faster than everyone around them.

Being the smartest one in the room is not easy. (Really.)

Really smart people, who get to the answer before everyone else, get frustrated because:

  • No one gets why they are right, and they tired of explaining things all the time.
  • Everyone seems to WANT to go slower, and it is infuriating.
  • They resent having to make the effort of “bringing people along”–it’s not fair, and it’s a waste of time.
  • They piss people off. Why do people get so upset when they’re just stating facts?

If you are one of these people, or you have one of these people working for you, here is the trick: You can either be smart, or you can be effective.

You can be 100% right and 0% effective.

Remember, you can’t do everything alone. At some point you need other people. You need them either to help you or to get out of your way!

So you have to be able to influence people. If you can’t influence them, you will face roadblocks and fail to get others working on your agenda, and you will not be effective. If you want to be effective, you have to suck it up and bring people along with you–even though it seems like a waste of time.

Here are some ideas for doing that.

First, slow down even though it goes against every grain of your being. Then brace yourself, and try some of the following.

Include the annoying people: Don’t just announce the answer. Go through the step of setting context and getting input. Don’t always assume you know where the best ideas are going to come from. Develop the attitude that you can learn something from anyone. Practice being more curious. You will get some good ideas that surprise you. People like to be asked.

Listen even if you don’t want to: In meetings, give others time to talk, and listen instead of arguing, or quickly shutting them down, or telling them why their idea is wrong or won’t work. You may feel like you are wasting time, but you will win favor by listening. Even if you think their ideas are stupid, listening will pay off later when you need to get their support.

Don’t be mean: I know it doesn’t feel like you’re being mean. You are not trying to be mean. You are trying to be straightforward, practical, share the answer, and make progress. In fact, one of the things that is so frustrating about these people is that they accuse you of being mean when you are not.

But they have the right to their perception. What they see may be your dismissing their inputs, ignoring them, or picking fights publicly. Be more gracious. Be more patient. Use more steps in your logic. Get smaller agreements along the way. Say thank you.

Keep your mouth shut: If you are in a room full of stupid people who annoy you, try the strategy of just shutting up. Speak later, with your actions, and make the right things happen. You don’t need to show you are smarter than everyone along the way.

Make an effort to learn what their strengths are: Clearly these people don’t share your strengths if they annoy you this much. Try to discover what their strengths are. You may be pleasantly surprised. Or not. But if you can get someone talking about what they are good at, and show some appreciation of that, you can more easily gain their support for your agenda.

Give them the benefit of the doubt: Keep in mind that these people might be brilliant in ways that you don’t see–in ways that you are not.

What if someone in the room is really gifted at networking and connecting and getting others to get on board? Even if they never understand your project, and sometimes slow you down on the operational part, if you can win over that one person they can save you loads of time by bringing all the others along.
For example, what if the frustrating, ever-questioning numbers guy who is just not getting the big picture, has a relationship with the CFO that will get your idea funded if you can win him over?

Set your sights on effectiveness

OK. Even if you are in a room full of people who just can’t keep up, you have a choice to make. Jump to the answer alone and face roadblocks, or make the effort to bring them along, so you can get the job done.

It’s a choice you have. It may be frustrating in the moment, but the upside is that you will be getting more, and bigger, things done–maybe not as fast as you want to go, but way better than not at all.

Patty Azzarello is the author of Rise: 3 Practical Steps for Advancing Your Career, Standing Out as a Leader, and Liking Your Life. Follow her @pattyazzarello.

[Image: Flickr user Keith Loh]

About the author

Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker, and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk).