There are some people who just seem to have it all. Stunning good looks, a smile that could light up a dungeon, a voice that’s the audible equivalent of liquid silver... Everything they touch turns to gold. These guys can quote Keats, Shakespeare, and Hughes. They’ve read Chaucer, Nietzsche and Spinoza. They can draw parallels between any situation and the past: they’ll reference the Greeks (“Let’s quit rolling this boulder uphill like Sisyphus”, they’ll say, to the bewilderment of co-workers), the Romans and the two world wars to illustrate nuanced points. Their finely attuned, personal Geiger counter can detect when strategy needs to change, and they’ll be the one to lead the change. Everyone hangs on to their every word. Everyone loves them. In short, they’re annoying.
The good news is that you too can be smart. Or at least make a show of being smart, enough to get you noticed in the workplace. Here’s how.
1. Talk in Figures
Let’s face it, most of us would rather run for the hills than make sense of a spreadsheet of random data. And that’s just the point: an ability with numbers will impress everyone. This doesn’t mean you have to go on a crash course in advanced mathematics. Your elementary maths is sufficient. All you need to do is translate any numbers into other forms of quantification. For example, if you’re told that you now have 16 per cent of the market, translate the 16 per cent into a fraction: “So you’re saying that we now have one in six people buying our products…”Then, make a note of this on a piece of paper and affect cogitation and reflection, with a nod of the head and the odd “Hmm” noise thrown in.
2. Ditch the Fancy Words
Being able to use impressive words in context will not draw gasps of admiration from your co-workers, contrary to popular opinion. Far too many people use fancy, erudite vernacular, usually in long sentences, to impress others. Their rambles go on and on and on, often disappearing with the curvature of the earth. Moreover, these folk are not trusted as much as people whose language is simple, concise, to-the-point. Adopt the KISS principle: keep it short and simple. And on the subject of language, keep your language as clean as a whistle. Studies have found that those who swear often are perceived as unintelligent. Moreover, frequent users of bad language run the risk of being viewed as emotionally volatile and having a limited vocabulary.
3. Remind Everyone of “What We’re Ultimately Trying to Achieve”
Meetings are invariably opportunities for everyone to show how clever and on-the-ball they are. Unfortunately, everyone is trying to show how clever they are, everyone is jostling for superiority, all at the same time. This is a golden opportunity for you to encourage people to take a step back and remember “what it is we’re ultimately trying to achieve.” Your co-workers will soon be kneeling down before you because of your superior wisdom and objectivity.
4. Take Handwritten Notes During Meetings
Your very rejection of technology will catapult you to smartdom. Whilst your co-workers are tapping away on their laptops with little care for what is actually being said, your writing down of key words that are spoken communicates a level of attentiveness that will get you noticed. Especially when you make a great show of underlining certain words and have a pen stationed in the corner of your mouth, all the while nodding intently.
5. Stand up, Walk to the Nearest Window and Look Out of it Momentarily
People will be wondering what on earth you’re doing and thinking. They will be waiting with bated breath for your next move, or your next comment. Your co-workers will quite literally be freaking out on the inside. All you need to do is sigh heavily, then paraphrase what the cleverest person in the room has said in such a way that it sounds like a totally new take on things. Genius.
6. Take the Opposite View: Challenge Everything
Don’t accept everything you hear as being the truth. Challenge everything, respectfully (otherwise you could become extremely unpopular, and fast): “Our loss of market share isn’t necessarily due to our refocus on X” or “Correlation doesn’t point to a causal relationship” (that one will send your smart-o-meter into orbit). Or simply look for different explanations for everything and anything. Curious people are generally seen as intelligent, but also as brave: they’ve had the guts to challenge an orthodoxy or status quo. Building your contributions on a foundation of distrust will lead to new lines of enquiry and thought and you will be admired for your ability to steer a discussion in interesting and unexpected directions.
7. Ask, “Is it Scalable?”
I have no idea what that means, and you probably don’t either. Still, it’s a question that’s always asked by very smart people. Try it.
8. Ask, “What Themes Do you Guys See Here?”
We live in the world of big data, and one of the key attributes of smart people is the ability to spot trends and patterns in data. As with the “is it scalable” question, the “what themes do you guys see here” question will also give you a free ride to smartness. You don’t even need to have the answer: the fact that you asked the question in the first place suggests an appreciation of ’big data’, i.e. you’re smart.
9. Use Question and Answer Sites to Research Various Subjects
If you’re not yet acquainted with question and answer sites, I suggest you get to know them pronto as they’re worth their weight in plutonium. Quora, my personal favourite, brims in equal measure with fundamentally brilliant and useless answers from its community of curious and dedicated knowledge-seekers. Remember: the search engines are there for a reason – to give us all an inflated sense of our smartness, at the touch of a button. So go ahead and use them. If you visit Quora, simply type in a question, for example: “What are some stupid things that smart people do?” You’ll get a host of responses from a range of users, among them professionals, thought leaders, students, entrepreneurs and professors. You can then weed out the best responses (aim to collect good but different viewpoints) and weave this into conversations you have at work. Your co-workers will be mesmerised by your superior and wide-ranging knowledge.
10. Use Graphics
Line graphs, bar charts, Venn diagrams: they’ll all make you look seriously smart because they have a hint of the ‘scientific’. But visuals are powerful in their own right: we’re programmed to respond to them. Graphics can achieve what text alone cannot achieve, both cognitively and emotionally. If you’re unsure of where to start, simply sketch out a Venn diagram on a whiteboard and shade in the intersection, calling it the ‘cash cows’ or something like that. Then suggest that, as a group, you have a go at populating the sections to “see what we come up with”. No need for you to actually say anything. You’ll be amazed by the enthusiasm this brainstorming generates, and your group will see you as a natural leader. Kerching.
So you see, being seen as smart really isn’t particularly difficult. Having said that, these tips won’t actually make you smart. Sorry. But they’ll make you look smart in the eyes of your coworkers and who doesn’t want that?
Do you or does anyone you know use any of these techniques to fake smartness? How do your coworkers fake smartness? Share your comments below.