Our Selfish Desire To Look “Smart” Can Make us Look Dumber
The more you understand, the more qualified you are at solving the problem.
When a problem shows up, I always feel the urge to provide smart solutions to solve it.
Not sure if this is a “guy thing” but doing so makes me feel smart. It’s egotistic…but it’s the real intent behind unsolicited advice. I know you know people who are not qualified to give advice — simply because they don’t understand the full story.
Some give out advice to tell themselves they are smart or good people. Then, there are the few who genuinely want to help. But regardless of the intent, their advice typically does not address the real problem. This explains why we don’t listen.
While that happens more often in our personal life, it also happens at work…
It’s Best to Shut It If You Barely Understand It
Over time, I realized that it’s best to zip it if you barely understand what’s happening.
This is easier said than done. Humans are wired to help each other out. But we don’t realize that sometimes, our desire to help only creates confusion. You are like the cop who tries to help the superhero catch the villain — they get in the way of solving the problem.
The questions we ask and the solutions we provide are only as good as how well we understand the problem.
This explains why I’m quiet in meetings — not because I’m too shy to speak up but because I barely understand what’s being talked about. Sure, I’m encouraged to say something but that doesn’t mean I’m permitted to say whatever the hell I want. A lot of us chime in for the sake of meeting participation as opposed to contributing something valuable to the conversation. But doing that can make you look like a “can that makes a lot of noise”.
I get it. Staying quiet in meetings sometimes feels like you don’t care about the meeting. But staying quiet could also mean that you’re listening. When you listen with intent, you permit yourself to understand the full scope of what’s happening.
The more you understand the problem, the more helpful the suggestions or solutions you can provide to the group.
Don’t Be Afraid To Look Dumb
I ask “dumb” questions a lot. These are questions that have easy answers — the kind that makes others wonder, “How do you not know that?!”
Those are hard questions to ask because they make me look dumb. When we don’t fully understand something, a lot of us prefer to stay quiet and do our own research instead of asking for clarification. However, while that works, it takes time and it does not consider the context behind the conversation. You may have answers, but you can also miss the whole point when you do that
It would be more helpful and convenient to openly admit you do not know. I know this is easier said than done especially if you have the “I’m smart” image to preserve. But pushing your ego aside significantly helps to acquire information that is critical to your understanding of the matter.
Pretending you know something when you really don’t make you look dumber.
Test Your Assumptions As Much As Possible
Then, there are those cases when something makes sense to you, but it is different from the other person’s point of view.
This problem comes up often with projects that do not have a well-defined end result.
Your boss asks you to work on a project. You understand the overall goal so you immediately jumped into work mode. You finish the project and proudly show your boss what you accomplished…only to realize, that you missed the point.
Now, you can blame them for being unclear because they do not know what they want.
Or, you can blame yourself for trying to rush into solving the problem without fully understanding it.
Avoid that path by constantly checking in and acquire feedback as you progress with the project. Regularly gauge how well you understand the problem as new information or feedback comes in. You already know what they say about assuming — it leads to a lot of wasted time and effort.
If you’re not 100% confident you understand…ask.
Jumping to conclusions without careful consideration is what leads to fluffy discussions that are a complete waste of time. But you can easily avoid that by watching and listening carefully to the person or situation.
Ask for clarification if none of it makes sense.
Speak up only if you have something valuable to contribute.
Otherwise, zip it.