You feel smart but… is it what they get?
Your skills may not be enough. Or may be in the way.
Improving competence is basic, if you don’t want to earn a living by your wits. And even in the latter case, some level of competence is required.
Anyhow we all experienced that our competence is perceived so vastly different, from person to person. And more often then never it’s not appreciated. Worse, it’s misunderstood.
We all remember the disappointment when the boss looked at us with wide eyes for our brilliant idea, and was not exactly thinking of a promotion. Or a client declined our great solution of his problems, and was not a money problem. Or our interview did not arouse interest, even though we were cut out for that job.
Sometimes we are the problem. Sometimes we are not. Sometimes we did not size the opportunity to present us to the best.
The fact is that people are often so interested in themselves that they see only what fit in their perspective. And judge on that basis.
First rule, don’t even try to communicate without some sort of connection, if you are not forced to.
Why this connection? Because there are so many people, in the world. If you want someone to believe you (even if your arguments are obvious) or at least listen to you, he needs to know that you represent something of his own world, that you understand his feelings or you have some similar tastes, or values, or objectives, and so on. People, usually, do not base their choices and behaviour on reason, but on emotions, feelings, beliefs, a lot of unconscious, or simply, their own subjective knowledge. And to some extent they are also justified in doing so. We all do it.
There are techniques, at the extreme, especially in the sales domain, that even rely on a real mirroring of the interlocutor. If you dress similar to your interlocutor, use the same tone and rhythm of voice, the same gesticulation, it helps in inducing sympathy.
You can create this connection without any form of manipulation, nor flattery. It is sufficient to try to know others and focus on shared things, recognizing something they care. Differences do not help, unless needed.
If connection is not possible, you can at least leverage on emotions and feelings to get attention (curiosity, concern, and so on). But that will help you get their attention, not their liking. So, in that case, the work to earn their esteem is still all to do.
After the connection feeling, you can focus on content connection. This is no more a matter of personal connection but of connection with interests. You cannot give a solution to a problem they do not think exists. You have to introduce the problem and connect the problem to their needs. If they do not feel that you have something valuable to give, your smartest talk will be perceived as useless, or worse, stupid.
In introducing a problem, and then your ideas, the least thing you should do is prize yourself or use difficult jargon. Forget yourself. Impressing is often synonymous with scaring. The focus should never be your supposed intelligence or education or skills, if not strictly relevant, but the connection between the interlocutor and the matter. You should speak in clearly understandable terms, taking care to connect the interlocutor with what you want to communicate. And be sure that you communicate something understandable by your listener.
An important condition that significantly improves the effect of the above is the absence of comparison. If you are alone, and your listener is not competent on the matter, you are the smartest guy in the room, or at least have word precedence. But be careful not to abuse this advantage. Out of the room, the listener may speak with others. Or google.
At this point you did well, but the greatest opportunities to improve the opinion about you are still there. Up to here, you’ve been on the “active” side. The “passive” side has a lot to give.
There, the protagonist is… silence! People think they are smart. If you do not contradict them, they usually assume by default that you think like them. They do not doubt that you think otherwise until you tell them. Also, they appreciate that someone listen to them. In some cases, they can talk to you for an hour, with you saying nothing, and then leave the room thinking you are a really smart guy. It’s a pleasure to talk to you!
But the ultimate weapon is… the question.
Questions blend the power of connection with the power of silence. Placed at the right time, nothing can improve even more the opinion of others.
Questions require only basic understanding of the discussed matter and of the interlocutor concerns. With questions, you let the interlocutor speak further, letting know that you care of their concerns. At the same time, you do not expose your true competence (or ignorance). If some ignorance leaks out, you’re just asking.
Questions require a bit of attention, but they powerfully show interest, curiosity and willingness to learn. If you are able to ask the right questions they will love your mind and, of course, you can be of help. In some cases, you can even solve problems without doing anything.
All of the above should not have the purpose of pretending to be intelligent. Omitting the fact that it’s not ethical, sooner or later you will have to expose yourself and get results. But it’s important to know how people judge you, especially on first meeting, because it often has consequences and their appreciation rarely depends on your abilities only. How people judge you and your ideas has little to do with you and a lot to do with them. So, think more about them and less about your smartness.
Also, be aware that they might be the others, to try to seem smart. Let them expose and listen to what they say. Most of all, watch what they do.