Never be the Smartest Person in the Room – Even in Your Head

“Never be the smartest person in the room.” It’s a common saying, and a favourite piece of advice to those in positions of leadership. But is saying it enough? What if we are guilty of thinking it? Will it matter?

Of course it matters.

Obviously, by not being the smartest person in the room, we literally learn new things as smarter people ‘transfer knowledge’ to us. There is also the not unimportant mental attitude of acknowledging that there are things to be learned. And from everyone as well, not just from the guy with the highest IQ.

And then there’s the ego check. Nothing quite spells humble pie than when we believe we don’t know it all (and we don’t).

The problem is with lip service.

I meet a ton of people in my line of work. These numerous interactions have somewhat taught me the difference between people who truly acknowledge that they aren’t the smartest persons in the room and those who secretly still think it.

It’s those guys with a weird glint in their eye. You know what I’m talking about. It’s the glint that says, “Go ahead and speak, but I’ve already judged your ideas, thoughts, and comments as dumb”.

This attitude is dangerous.

First, it breeds carelessness and arrogance. That people aren’t as good. That people aren’t as helpful, as participative, or yes, as smart. Second, it leads to unnecessary feelings of conflict, as the aura of arrogance make others feel defensive. Third and last, it creates a divide. A cold distance between the person and the others.

You and I have met at least one person like this. For all of his/her efforts to help the team, to start conversations, or to crack a joke, the air in the room just can’t help but turn awkwardly cold and silent. Some things just cannot be faked.

Hack Sheet:

  • Find the Smarter Guy in others. A favourite soundbite from one of our leaders is that, “Everyone has something to bring to the party”. No truer words have been spoken. No matter how flat another person’s ideas, thoughts, or comments are, find a gem worth polishing.
  • Every human interaction is a lesson waiting to be delivered. What we ‘learn from others’ needn’t be the big and serious. Some of the best life lessons I’ve learned are from conversations with the most random mix of people – many of them richer in experiences than in test scores.
  • Be genuinely nice and kind. Imagine how we’d feel if the people we look up to started giving us demeaning looks. It shatters confidence and self-esteem; let’s not do that to others.

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