You’re probably a pretty intelligent person. But you could very well be acting in ways that make you look like a complete idiot.
To help you create the best impression possible among coworkers and clients, we rounded up nine common behaviours that outside observers may associate with low intelligence.
Chances are you’ve been guilty of at least one, without knowing that it could be hurting your reputation.
1. Holding an alcoholic drink
The authors dubbed this phenomenon “the imbibing idiot bias.” Drinking and idiocy are so closely linked in our minds, they say, that when we see someone carrying a Corona, we assume that person will act like a buffoon.
In one experiment from the study, managers saw photographs and read transcripts from a hypothetical dinner interview. Results showed that the managers perceived the candidates who ordered wine instead of soda as significantly less intelligent and less hirable.
2. Using fancy words when they’re not necessary
Most undergrads admit that they try to use more complex language in their writing so as to seem intelligent.
Yet research suggests that choosing more sophisticated words just for the sake of looking smart usually backfires. In one study, researchers took a dissertation abstract with lots of long words and created a simplified version by replacing the clunky words with shorter synonyms. As it turns out, participants rated the author of the simplified version as more intelligent.
The takeaway is clear: Don’t sound all highfalutin’ unless you need to, or people may think you’re dumber than you are.
3. Misusing words and phrases
Harvard cognitive scientist Steven Pinker recently wrote a book outlining the most common words and phrases that trip people up.
For example, the phrase “begs the question” does not mean “raises the question.” Instead it means “assumes what it should be proving.” As in: “When I asked the dealer why I should pay more for the German car, he said I would be getting ‘German quality,’ but that just begs the question.”
Even super-polished people can make these mistakes, but if you can avoid them, you’ll sound that much smarter.
4. Walking too fast or slow
When you’re travelling in a group, be sure to sync your walking speed with everyone else’s.
That’s because research suggests people who walk slower or faster than those around them come off as less intelligent and less competent.
5. Avoiding eye contact
Maybe you’re just nervous, but looking down at the floor or off to the side while you’re talking to someone can make you look bad.
One study found that looking at someone while you’re speaking to them makes you seem more intelligent.
6. Cursing at work
No matter how frustrated you feel at the office, do not let loose a slew of expletives.
In a 2012 CareerBuilder survey, more than half of employers said they would think an employee who swore at work was less intelligent.
7. Frowning or scowling
Not only will you look unfriendly, but you may also seem less intelligent than you really are.
Recent research suggests that smiling faces appear more intelligent and trustworthy than angry faces.
8. Speaking in monotone
According to Leonard Mlodinow, author of “Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behaviour,” speaking expressively enhances the impression of intelligence. It’s a matter of altering your pitch and volume and not pausing too often.
This is a handy trick to employ when you want to impress your coworkers with your brainpower during your next presentation.
9. Being afraid to ask for advice
To test whether these fears were based in reality, the researchers had participants play a game in which they were paired with “partners” (the partners were actually the researchers) who either asked for advice on a brain teaser game or didn’t.
Results showed that participants rated the partners who asked for advice more competent. In fact, the participants who’d been asked for advice even indicated that they felt more confident, too, presumably because they were flattered that their partner thought they were smart enough to offer suggestions.
Bottom line? You could be so worried about seeming stupid that you’re missing out on prime opportunities to appear smart.
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