When You’re Not the Smartest Person in the Room
9 ways that nearly everyone can gain respect.
Posted April 24, 2021 | Reviewed by Matt Huston
It's not often that we're the smartest person in the room. And when we think we’re not, the following tips have helped my clients and may help you.
Prepare. If you know what will be discussed, think or do research to identify one or two points that you believe would be contributory. To crystallize your thinking, write it out in 25 words or less.
Be the last to speak. On a given topic, wait until others have had their say. That way, you may come to realize a flaw in what you were planning to say. And if someone made your point, no biggie. It really is wise to not worry much about getting credit. If you follow these tips, chances are, sooner or later, you'll be respected.
Be brief. The longer you talk, the greater the risk that you’ll diminish your point’s perceived value. For example, as you keep talking, you might become less focused and more likely to get the complexities wrong, to go off on a not-relevant-enough tangent, or otherwise seem cognitively disjointed.
To help you stay concise, you might even give yourself a 15- or 30-second rule. Say it that concisely. If they want more, they can ask. That also leaves room for others to build on what you said. They may remember that it was your idea, and if not, so what? Again, people get in trouble by focusing too much on getting credit. Try to take pride in making a difference. Sooner or later, you’ll probably end up getting enough credit.
Structure. It’s easier to be cognitively solid if your comment has a structure. For example, make two points or one point plus one example.
Think twice before insisting. You may be confident that you’re right but generally it's risky if your previous insisting has often been proven wrong. Consider making your point once and then letting it go, perhaps even saying thank you. Even if you're right, you often pay a price for insisting—increased enmity.
Listen. If you’re contributing little, you may feel inadequate, but even highly intelligent people value a person who listens carefully and shows assent such as a nod of agreement or saying, “good point.”
Amplify. Sometimes, rather than make your own point, it's easier to amplify another person’s, for example, “Oh, I used that in situation X” or “I’m wondering if that might be applied to situation Y.”
Ask. When someone makes a point that you don’t quite understand, consider asking for clarification, for example, “Would you mind re-explaining that, maybe with an example?” Most people, no matter how smart, appreciate such a question, and worded that way, you won't be perceived as unintelligent as long as it wasn’t something super simple but you were spacing out.
Liberally dispense thank-yous. "Thank you" is potent, concise, not pandering, and nearly everyone appreciates it. As appropriate, consider writing a thank-you note, whether by email or even by hand.
The takeaway. With a little caution, nearly everyone can be respected, even if you’re not the brightest star in the sky.
I read this aloud on YouTube.