On October 23, 1990, David Pologruto, a high school physics teacher, was stabbed by his smart student Jason Haffizulla. Jason was not a teenager you think would try to kill someone. He got straight A’s and was determined to study medicine at Harvard, but this was his downfall. His physics teacher gave Jason a B, a mark that Jason believed would undermine his ability to gain entry into Harvard. After seeing he received a B, Jason took a butcher knife to school and stabbed his physics teacher before being reprimanded in a struggle.
Two years following the incident in a New York Times article covering this story, it was reported that Jason raised his grade to 4.614, a grade that exceeds the perfect average of 4, by taking advanced courses. He graduated with highest honors.
How can someone as smart as Jason do something so dumb? Jason received above perfect grades and still emotionally lost himself by trying to severely wound his teacher. The answer? Smart can be dumb. I’m not saying smart is communication dumb, but in this article we’ll look at how intellectual intelligence can hurt the person’s emotional life, as studies show there is little or no direct relation between I.Q. and emotional intelligence.
This article may generate a fair bit of controversy, but I feel I give a balanced discussion in sharing my experience, knowledge, and getting you to think deeply about the topic. Whether you are intelligent, “mentally-challenged,” or curious about this topic in understanding those smart people in your life, I’m sure you’re bound to get some useful advice out of this article.
Being a somewhat smart guy myself, it’s painful to hear that intelligence, such a useful characteristic to possess, may be harmful. It is tough to imagine a quality that is so highly praised by everyone is detrimental to communication. For this reason, take a deep breathe now, relax, and open your mind to the possibilities of bettering your communication to improve your life.
During my early university years, I regarded myself as an intelligent guy. I was no Einstein, but I would get good marks in Mathematics, Physics, and other technical subjects. This lead me into starting a degree in Engineering, majoring in Mechatronics – an area of study that integrates mechanics, electronics, and computing. Basically, I would be able to design robotics and cybernetic systems – the wave of the future. Surely such skills would give me an edge in life.
After one year of study with decent marks, I began to see two major classes of students. The first was ones who would turn up to few lectures, party every weekend, enjoy a great social life, and do the minimum work to pass courses. The second class of students were intelligent, hard workers, got good grades, and were very focused on their studies. Surely these intelligent and hard working students would be the ones to get the jobs over the other, more “lazier,” class of student?
Not so. Students are often shocked when graduating that their qualifications are not as important as they once thought. They are guided to believe that their academic knowledge is all they need to get a great job and be successful. Students think that all power and success is derived from intelligence. Howard Gardner in Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences defines various types of intelligence and emphasizes that schools are too focused on logic and linguistic intelligence.
Graduates enter the workforce only to realize that co-workers hate them, less intelligent people are receiving promotions over them, and “suck-up” behaviour to the boss doesn’t get them very far. The students have the “hard skills” such as technical know-how, but they lack the “soft skills” such as conflict management and other human relational skills. The transition for intelligent people from being very goal-oriented to being process and people-oriented is usually realized through the hard school of knocks – experience.
If you’ve had some experience in hiring people, you know the importance of people skills. Without people skills, the educational skills become less useful. Sure, you can have great ideas, theories, and solve complex problems, but if you can’t effectively communicate that material in a persuasive and exciting manner by relating to your fellow human being, then you’re facing an uphill battle in whatever challenges you encounter. It’s not that people will dislike you because of your intelligence; it’s that people will dislike you because you’re rude, not understanding, or annoying to be around. The intelligent person with poor communication skills is insensitive, or just unaware, of another’s emotions.
Hopefully I can reveal the elusive obvious to you in this little exercise. I want you to think back to primary school or high school. Perhaps even college. Select the most memorable class to you.
I want you to categorize, and roughly rank, class members’ based on two sets of criteria: intelligence and popularity. You don’t need to go through every class member, but recall those at the end of each spectrum. That is, remember those who were the smartest in the class and those who were the most popular in the class. On a scale of one to ten, with ten being the highest, give a person a rank of ten in intelligence if you feel they were the most intelligent in the class. For the students who had lots of friends, give them a ten in the popularity category. Try to categorize roughly six students. If you have problems remembering, quickly write the ranks down on paper.
Now, with those students who you have ranked in one category, I want you to rank them in the other category. So if you’ve ranked the smartest student as a ten in the intelligence category, give the person a rank that you feel is appropriate in the popularity category. Do the same for the students you ranked in the popularity category.
Now that you’ve got several people in each of the two categories, think about the difference between each student. The purpose of getting you to do this exercise is in seeing the contrast between intelligence and people skills.
Genius Failure Paradox
Chances are if you are like most people and I, you would have noticed something distinguishable from doing the exercise. Those who were smartest in the class were generally not very popular due to poor social skills (I’m sure there are other similar measurements of poor communication than just popularity). They didn’t have good people skills. Presumptuous? I don’t think so.
This doesn’t mean all intelligent people have poor people skills or that all the unintelligent people have good people skills. I know people will say, “But I know someone who is smart and great with people.” Good. So do I. Intelligence and people skills aren’t mutually exclusive characteristics! Having one doesn’t mean you can’t have the other.
What I’m proposing, which has been touched on and backed by a couple of authors and teachers, is that academically intelligent people may have poorer people skills than others. The genius failure paradox describes this in stating that smarter, wealthier, or generally people who have feelings of superiority, refuse to seek help in dealing with people. I’ll continue to explain why this is so throughout the article. (You can read more about superiority, inferiority, and the self-image.)
Saying that intelligence doesn’t equal success is nothing new. Daniel Goleman in his book Emotional Intelligence, says that IQ is too narrow for indicating success. Your emotional intelligence is summarized in understanding your own emotions and the emotions of others. The implications of emotional intelligence are profound in communication and many areas in life. In his book he says, “Emotional Intelligence is a master aptitude, a capacity that profoundly affects all other abilities, either facilitating or interfering with them.”
Beginning at Childhood
A study titled Reading Difficulties, Behavior, and Social Status that was published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, found that 81% of children referred to aggression and social behaviour as the number one reason for disliking another child. As children age, the researchers found that a child’s academic performance increased their peer acceptance.
The study also found that achievement and other factors are influential to peer acceptance. We do need to keep in mind that peer acceptance doesn’t equate to just social skills. Peer acceptance can increase due to one variable that is completely unrelated to communication. What we can take out of this study, is that right from the beginning of our social interactions, we are liked or dislike based on our behaviour and social skills.
Herpreet Kaur Grewal in an article titled Lack of Social Skills Can Make Poor Even Poorer, refers to a study done by the Institute for Public Policy Research. The study confirms that the economy is making interpersonal skills just as important as academic skills. She says, “Those with good social skills born into poor families are 14% more likely to be well-off by age 30 than a similarly under-privileged person with average social skills.” The study presents a few interesting points that are worth noting for the purpose of this article.
Firstly, social skills and other communication skills were found to be more important later on in life. Maybe you’ve experienced the same thing. When you were young, you could get away with yelling at other kids. You could even have a physical fight with little or no repercussions. However, should you punch someone at work in the face tomorrow (I hope I haven’t given you any thoughts!) because of your inability to resolve conflict, then the quality of your professional and personal life will greatly decline.
A second finding from the study that is of interest to us is that the best way children can develop the communication skills required for life are through organized activities. These groups should have children of varying ages, experiences, and interests, as well as adult leaders that provide guidance to the young group. The adult leaders typically have a goal they want the children to achieve together. Team sports are a good example of activities that fit the described criteria to help children develop their social skills. Even for mature adults, interacting with diverse individuals is sure to improve your communication skills.
Seeing that organized activities have such an impact on developing a child’s communication skills, it is logical to assume these activities influence an adult’s communication skills. The implications of these findings on this article are vague, but I present them to you for your curiosity. Do smarter people participate in fewer organized activities that fit the criteria of developing children’s social skills? Do smarter people participate in more singular extra-curricular activities like learning to play a musical instrument? Is their a trade-off between social interaction and increasing your intelligence? Do the less-intelligent individuals spend their time in these socially-beneficial activities instead of studying?
Regardless of the answers to these questions, one thing we do know is that social skills, and other communication skills, need to be practiced on a frequent basis. While people can naturally have the gift of the gab, be emotionally intelligent, or win friends very easily, these people will lose their skills without practice.
When a person has poor communication skills, I’ve often seen the case where they experience a “cyclic effect.” Their poor communication thwarts them from putting themselves in situations which require those communication skills, which further decreases their skills. Should a person have poor communication skills during their developmental and independent years, I believe they will struggle to improve the skill for several reasons – mostly an over-reliance on their intellect.
Intelligent people solve problems with their superior logic. They are presented with many problems which they solve using rational thinking. A dilemma arises when they attempt to solve emotional problems with their logic.
The logic dilemma is partly given birth from intelligent people loving information. Finding information makes their lives a lot easier. With the Internet being a superhighway of information, intelligent people are inclined to read, learn, and continue to analyse their issues.
However, communication skills are skills. Communication skills are not information. Any skill is developed through practice. If you’re an intelligent person, I still want you to learn about communication skills, but know that acting on your knowledge is more likely to be a bottleneck in your personal development; rather than more information.
Back to the logic dilemma, people are an illogical formula. For the smart people who don’t understand that, I’ll put in a way that you can understand. If people were a formula, they would be defined by 1 + 1 = 3. Logic and intelligence cannot explain the complexities of human emotion. Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, emphasizes the importance of emotion in human relations and not focusing on logic. He says, “When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures of emotion.”
In my communication secrets of making people like you program, I define two distinguishing behaviors of those who fall into the logical trap. Firstly is a common mistake we all make – we point out the obvious. Stating the obvious is frustrating and emotionally ignorant. Some examples include:
- “Breaking up with someone is tough. Don’t worry, there’s the right person for you out there some where.” – We all know there is someone out there for us. The trouble is in finding them.
- “I can’t believe you burnt my toast. That’s stupid.” – Do you really think they burnt the toast on purpose?
- “Wow. I’m so sorry to hear about the burglar breaking into your car. You really should have locked your doors.” – Thanks for the advice. Idiot!
The second common logical mistake is making factual statements. People make the factual statement mistake when they talk about an emotional issue with logic and rational. An indicator of this type of mistake is when someone says, “You don’t get it” or “You’re missing the point.”
As an example of the factual statement mistake, Jill is talking to Michael about her recent break-up. Michael is an intelligent guy. They two have been good friends for sometime, so Jill begins to “open herself up” and discuss her broken relationship. The emotions she is communicating are discomforting to Michael. As is common with smart people, Michael perceives Jill’s affliction and his own discomfort in clear terms. He doesn’t see muddled-up emotions. He sees pain; not resentment and anguish; or hatred; not partial likeness and hatred.
Michael wants to resolve the hurt Jill is experiencing. In his black and white world, Michael sees clear emotions, problems, and provides a solution. He may use his intelligence to give advice, provide reassurance, or create some other type of communication barrier. Intelligent people are used to seeing problems, knowing what is going on, and providing a solution. The logically driven communication Michael gives Jill is frustrating to her. Jill probably just wants someone to empathize with her, but Michael is blinded from his intelligence and thinking too much. He is too intent on resolving problems and providing advice.
Logical Strength and Emotional Weakness
Intelligent people seem to think that they are stronger than their emotions. They seem to think that they can suppress or ignore discomforting personal emotions. Daniel Goleman says that it is the fears, anxieties, anger, and other emotions that guide us in our everyday lives, “Even the most academically brilliant among us are vulnerable to being undone by unruly emotions.”
I don’t advocate being psychotic or annoying to people so that you can get all your bad emotions “out of your system.” For people such as Michael in our example, the problem is in the logical reasoning that the emotions can be ignored. They may see pain as a sign of weakness. As a result, the best way to deal with the emotional pain is suppression. The thought of not being able to solve a problem causes smart people to avoid the issue.
When intelligent people can’t resolve an issue, they will likely complain and blame others for the outcome. Their knowledge and past experience in solving problems causes them to look outside themselves for a reason as to why the problem still exists. Even when blaming outside influences, a smart person may conclude that because they have an unsolved problem, it can’t be solved or it isn’t worth the effort to solve.
Pat Wagner from Pattern Research, a Colorado company that provides organisations with a very diverse range of communication development programs, says smart people have a tendency to convert their self-diagnosed failings into virtues. They use their intellect to convert their emotional weaknesses into strengths. Pat terms them as smart flaws.
One particular smart flaw used by Pat that stood out for me, because I’ve been caught out using the exact same rationalizing to excuse myself, was not engaging in small talk because I reasoned it was a time waster. Now that I’m more aware of the most common smart flaws I use, I try to stop myself in my tracks and identify the real reason as to why I’m rationalizing my behavior. Whenever I don’t talk to someone because “it is a waste of time,” it could be because I’m not dealing with my emotions such as hiding: the fear of talking to strangers, feelings of unhappiness, or the anxiety that I’ll be boring.
This leads onto another emotional weakness smart people have, particularly guys when they want to approach a woman they like – fear. David DeAngelo, expert dating coach for guys, says, “A smart guy’s strength is his mind. His weakness is often his emotions. Smart guys are often immobilized by fear.”
Women wonder why a guy won’t come up and talk to her in spite of all the obvious signals she is sending in wanting him to approach her. When the guy wants to talk to a girl he likes, his analytical mind switches on. A million thoughts, scenarios, and potential problems go racing through his head. It becomes a psychological war.
The guy’s mind has served him very well in the past to get him where he is today. Ancestrally speaking, he’s been able to identify predators, threats, and dangers to protect himself and his tribe. The analytical mind has its purpose. However, the problem for intelligent people who think a lot is they think a lot! They have a tendency to map out everything before taking action. This may cause them to lose spontaneity and avoid doing things “in the moment” in fear of repercussions. Such behaviors may manifest themselves in the form of neediness, validation, and indecisiveness.
In social situations, over-analysing is a killer mistake to make. The intelligent people try to mind-read those they are talking to. They micro-manage their interactions based on their analytical feedback which drives their fear and uncertainty in conversations.
The next time you catch yourself micro-managing your conversations and worrying about what the other person is thinking, remember that the other person is likely to be more concerned with what you are thinking about them. Remind yourself that you can’t mind read and that trying to do so only creates anxiety. Live in the moment more often and you’ll notice people naturally becoming more attracted to you. You’ll know when you’re too careless about other people’s thoughts regarding you when you begin to damage relationships or hurt others.
A few last points I’d like to make on logical strength and emotional weakness deal with conversation. We hunger for emotionally connected conversations. We love drama, fun, and controversy. Facts, logic, and technical subjects are often boring and too complex. The emotional side of conversations is more engaging to people. Academically intelligent people may focus on logic too much. Women are especially interested in any type of drama. Watch their eyes light up when you talk about the latest celebrity fashion stuff-ups and other popular dramas.
Another emotional weakness, in addition to the subject of conversations, is the vocabulary used. Academics often use technical vocabulary to prove their intelligence – a killer of rapport. Simple, duh-duh, language is often more effective than technical linguistics and non-methodologically circumstantial language that no one gives a stuff about. The same goes for writing to keep people interested. I try to write in a casual way – similar to how a conversation goes; not technical stuff, things, and other types of stuff, you know? This last reason is why so many great findings in academic journals go hidden for years – because the general public can’t be bothered reading about it.
On that last point of being too technical for people, something that may interest you is how some people write emails to me. Yeah I teach communication, but that doesn’t mean being technical, using complex vocabulary, and trying to be intelligent helps in building rapport. You can tell the difference. One example of such a “technical” email is: “Dear Joshua. Allow me to extend my formal gratitude in your beautiful array of teachings…” The intent behind such emails is great. It’s just that the person you are talking or writing to when you trying to be intelligent doesn’t experience a “connection” with you. Lots of organisations are hopeless in this when handling complaints.
Let’s compare that previous example of an email with this other example: “Hey Joshua. Thanks heaps for the articles. I’ve learned that… You’ve helped me improve my relationship with my partner.” Can you sense the difference? The last example is more friendly, but not overly casual. The person in the first example who appears intelligent doesn’t “connect” because they are too technical. Even if you are intelligent and have a complex vocabulary, you need to use terminology that the other person uses if you are interested in building rapport. Don’t try and prove your intelligence. We are interested in improving your communication skills and not boosting your ego.
Equating Intelligence to Skills
Take a moment to imagine you have travelled back in time to the Stone Age with a really smart friend. You and your friend have just arrived at a dangerous landscape. You two guys are amongst a tribe who are being approached by a couple of ferocious sabre-toothed tigers. What would you choose: Do you get help from your intelligent friend? Or would you rely on tribe members, who are only half as intelligent as your friend, but you know they have been able to survive and adapt to their environment for years?
Our trip in time to the Stone Age shows us that intelligence doesn’t equate to survival and other important skills. Those in the Stone Age are no where near in equal intelligence to people today. I remember hearing a strange statistic that the decisions we make when reading a newspaper (such as skimming sections, understanding an article, and selecting what to read) in just one day, exceeds the total decisions made by those from prehistoric times in their lifetime. The information age means we are quickly becoming an intelligent society.
Intelligent people need to acknowledge that they aren’t an expert in everything. Their intelligence doesn’t equate to effective communication skills. A person from the Stone Age is sure to teach you something. Instead of always having to be right, concede that you don’t know everything about communication. Find out the initial steps you need to take to develop expertise in an area of your interest. If you’re interested in becoming charismatic, find what you need to do first and continue asking those who have the skill what to do next – even though they may have less intelligence than you.
It’s funny how smart people sometimes think someone of lesser intelligence than them is inferior. They create a smart flaw by saying something like, “His friends are just weird. I wouldn’t want to be with them.” or “She isn’t mature like me. I’m not gonna be stupid to make friends.” I frequently have caught myself out in making similar statements. Someone with an IQ of 60 can have way better communication skills than you. Accept it. You’ll be more desirable in humbling yourself.
They Don’t Seek Help
What happens to intelligent people who are struggling in their social life? They keep quite. Intelligent people are so use to solving problems, being an expert, and logically working things out themselves that they refuse to ask others for help. They would rather freeze themselves with fear and uncertainty then ask someone about social skills. There are several very interesting reasons for this.
Not in all cases, but smart people will look down on those who are less intelligent. These people who are less intelligent may possess better social skills than the intelligent people, but there is “no way” an intelligent person can ask someone less intelligent for help. It is lowering, demeaning, and a sign of weakness to them if they were to ask for help – especially from someone who is less intelligent than them.
When helping an intelligent person improve their communication, it’s good to point out that their expertise will improve when working on their communication skills. Dale Carnegie talks about appealing to those characteristics you want in others to create those characteristics. Intelligent people know they are smart. One such statement in appealing to those good characteristics for changing the intelligent person’s behavior would go along the lines of, “You and I know you’re an intelligent person and improving your communication is another way of showing people your intelligence, expertise, and good skill-set.”
Another explanation for describing why smart people don’t get help, and a reason that I used to avoid having to ask others for help in developing my people skills, is that social skills are assumed to be natural. People skills can be a laughable skill to develop. If you need to develop your people skills, then you may get considered as a “loser.” Intelligent people can’t risk getting humiliated when asking for help, because it’s a sign that they “suck.” They need to maintain their feelings of importance and not feel inferior that is brought by seeking help.
It’s easy to talk about the importance of seeking help, but being able to do it is different. No one person on their own can gather the necessary life skills to overcome personal problems and succeed. We all have different natural abilities and experiences, and hence we require varying degrees of help. There is no shame in seeking help; only shame in not seeking help.
Someone who is of less intelligence than you doesn’t mean you can’t learn something from them. The areas of life that I consider myself very knowledgeable and an expert in, I find it very difficult to consider that someone with less intelligence, or even less skill than me in that area, can teach me something. I need to constantly remind myself that there is no shame in asking others for help and that I can learn something from everybody.
Once I remove my ego and pride, I actually find myself happier and more knowledgeable than I was before. People will be attracted to you when you’re not obsessed with always being right. Besides, asking them for their advice is sure to make them feel important and increase your personal magnetism. You don’t need to play dumb, but not showing off your intelligence to show superiority will win you friends because we hate feeling inferior to people.
“It is a real recommendation to be stupid,” says Arthur Schopenhauer. “For just as warmth is agreeable to the body, so it does the mind good to feel its superiority; and a man will seek company likely to give him this feeling, as instinctively as he will approach the fireplace or walk in the sun if he wants to get warm. But this means that he will be disliked on account of his superiority; and if a man is to be liked, he must really be inferior in point of intellect.”
There a millions of lessons waiting out there for you to take. You just need to drop your ego in order to see them. Don’t let your ego blind you from the many lessons humanity has out there for you. Doing so will prove your expertise more so than stubbornness.
I hope the article has provided you with some deep insight – whether you are an intelligent person or know of someone who is intelligent that lacks good communication skills. While intelligence is certainly very beneficial for succeeding in today’s society, effective communication skills will have you better relating to your fellow human beings. Intelligence is something you can do without, but you can’t avoid people.
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