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, yet this was his downfall. His physics teacher gave Jason a B, a mark Jason believed would undermine his entrance to Harvard. After receiving his 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 average to 4.614, which 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. Smart is not communication-dumb because studies show there is little or no correlation between IQ and emotional intelligence, but in this article we’ll look at how logical intelligence can hurt a person’s emotional life.
This article may generate 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 am sure you will get a lot of useful advice from this article.
Being a somewhat smart guy myself, it is painful to hear that intelligence – such a useful characteristic to possess – may be harmful. It is tough to imagine a quality highly praised by society 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 got good marks in Mathematics, Physics, and other technical subjects. This lead me to start a degree in Engineering, majoring in Mechatronics, an area of study that integrates mechanics, electronics, and computing. I would be able to design robotics and cybernetic systems – the wave of the future. I thought such skills would surely 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 category of student turned up to few lectures, partied every weekend, enjoyed a great social life, and did minimal work to pass courses. The second category of students were intelligent, hard workers, got good grades, and were very focused on their studies. Surely these intelligent and hard-working students would fill the great jobs before the other, more lazier, class of student?
Not so. Students are often shocked upon graduation that their qualifications are not as important as they once thought. In school, students are lead to believe their academic knowledge is the primary determinat of a great job and success. 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. Robert Kiyosaki in Rich Dad, Poor Dad is a more famous author that demotes the common belief that the government’s education system leads students to wealth and success. Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers contains further proof that IQ has very little correlation with achievement.
Graduates enter the workforce only to realize that co-workers hate them, less intelligent people are the ones receiving promotions, and sucking up to the boss doesn’t help their personal earnings. 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 goal-oriented to process and people-oriented is usually realized through the hard school of knocks, experience.
If you have experience in hiring people, you know the importance of people skills. Educational skills are useless in some industries when people skills are absent. You can have great ideas, theories, and solve complex problems, but if you cannot effectively communicate that material in a persuasive and exciting manner by relating to your fellow human, you face an uphill battle in whatever challenges you encounter. It’s not that people dislike you because of your intelligence; it’s that people dislike you because you’re rude, not understanding, or annoying to be around. The intelligent person with poor communication skills is insensitive or unaware of other’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 the smartest few in the class and the most popular few 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 the students you have ranked in one category, I want you to rank them in the other category. So if you have ranked the smartest student as a ten in the intelligence category, give the person a rank you feel is appropriate in the popularity category. Do the same for the students you ranked in the popularity category.
Now that you have got several people in each of the two categories, think about the difference between each student. The purpose of doing this exercise is to help you see the contrast between intelligence and people skills.
Chances are if you are like most people and myself, you would have noticed something distinguishable from the exercise. Those who were smartest in the class were generally not very popular due to poor social skills. (I know there are other measurements of communication than only popularity). They did not have good people skills. Presumptuous? Likely, no.
All intelligent people do not have poor people skills nor does all 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 are not mutually exclusive characteristics! Having one does not mean you cannot 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 fail in predictable areas of their lives – and they don’t want to solve the dilemma. The genius-failure paradox describes that people who must feel smarter, wealthier – or generally superior – to others refuse to seek help in dealing with people. (You can read more about superiority, inferiority, and the self-image.)
It is nothing new to say that intelligence does not equal success. Daniel Goleman in his book Emotional Intelligence, says that IQ is too narrow to predicate success. The implications of emotional intelligence, which is summarized as an understanding of your emotions and the emotions of other people, are profound in communication and many areas of life. “Emotional Intelligence is a master aptitude, a capacity that profoundly affects all other abilities,” says Goleman, “either facilitating or interfering with them.”
It Begins at Childhood
A study titled Reading Difficulties, Behavior, and Social Status 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 does not equate to only 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 makes interpersonal skills as important as academic skills. Grewal 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 in life. Maybe you’ve experienced the same thing. When you were young, you could get away with yelling at other kids. You could evenl 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 ideas) because of your inability to resolve conflict, the quality of your professional and personal life will suffer.
A second finding from the study 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 diverse 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 improves their communication skills because it requires a person to adapt and understand different people.
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?
One thing we do know is that social skills, and other communication skills, need to be practised on a frequent basis. While people can naturally have the gift of the gab, be emotionally intelligent, or win friends very easily, communication skills atrophy without practice.
I’ve repeatedly seen a person with poor communication skills experience a cyclic effect. Their poor communication thwarts them from putting themselves in situations that require those communication skills, which further decreases their social skills. Should a person have poor communication skills during their developmental and independent years, I believe they struggle to improve the skill for several reasons – mostly an over-reliance on their intellect.
A Logical Downfall
Intelligent people solve problems with their superior logic. The individuals use rational thinking to eliminate problems. A dilemma arises when they attempt to solve an emotional problem with their logic.
The logic dilemma is partly given birth from intelligent people’s love for information. Locating information makes their life easier. With the Internet being a superhighway for information, intelligent people are inclined to read, learn, and analyse their issues via the World Wide Web. (Maybe that’s why you’re reading this article).
However, communication skills are skills. Communication skills are not information. Any skill develops through practice. If you are 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 than gathering more information.
Back to the logic dilemma, people are an illogical formula. For the smart people who do not understand that, 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 the little influence logic has on our behavior. “When dealing with people,” says Carnegie, “remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures of emotion.”
In my Communication Secrets of Powerful People program, I define two distinguishing behaviors of people that 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 finding them.
“I can’t believe you burnt my toast. That’s stupid.” – Do you really think he or she burned 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 her good friend Michael, an intelligent guy, about her recent break up. Jill begins to “open herself up” and discuss her broken relationship. The emotions she communicates are uncomfortable to Michael. As is common with smart people, Michael perceives Jill’s affliction and his own discomfort in clear terms. He does not see muddled emotions. He sees pain; not resentment and anguish; or hatred; not partial likeness and hatred.
Michael wants to resolve Jill’s hurt. In his black and white world, Michael sees clear emotions, problems, and provides a solution. He thinks giving her advice is best for her wellbeing. He may use his intelligence to give advice, provide reassurance, or create some other communication barrier. Intelligent people see problems and provide solutions – a harmful formula for human relations.
The logical-driven communication used by Michael frustrates Jill. Jill isn’t after a solution; she wants someone to empathize with her and understand what she feels, but Michael is blinded from thinking too much. He is too intent on resolving problems and providing advice. (My Communication Secrets of Powerful People program teaches you how to focus on emotions in extreme depth like no other program I’ve come across.)
Logical Strength and Emotional Weakness
Intelligent people seem to think they are stronger than their emotions. They seem to think they can suppress or ignore uncomfortable emotions. Goleman says that it is our fears, anxieties, anger, and emotions in general that guide our everyday lives. Goleman says, “Even the most academically brilliant among us are vulnerable to being undone by unruly emotions.”
I don’t advocate psychotic behavior or annoying people as you release your “bad emotions” and get them “out of your system”, but I do encourage people to constructively purge their emotions. For people like Michael in our example, the problem is in their logic that emotions can be supressed. They see pain as a sign of weakness. The thought of not being able to solve a problem causes smart people to avoid the issue.
When intelligent people cannot resolve an issue, they complain and blame others for the outcome. Their knowledge and past experience in solving problems causes them to look beyond themselves to explain why the problem remains. Even when they blame outsiders, a smart person may conclude that because they have an unsolved problem, it cannot be solved or it is not worth the effort to solve.
Pat Wagner from Pattern Research, a Colorado company that provides organisations with a diverse range of communication development programs, says smart people tend to convert their self-diagnosed failings into virtues. They use their intellect to convert emotional weaknesses into strengths. Wagner terms them as smart flaws.
One particular smart flaw I used that Wagner mentioned was not starting a conversation because it would be a waste of time. The real reason I didn’t start a conversation was my fear. I was scared ****less. Now I am more aware of my most common smart flaws, I stop myself in my tracks when I use them then identify the real reason why I’m rationalizing about my behavior. Whenever I do not talk to someone because “it is a waste of time”, I now realize it could be because I am not dealing with my emotions. I maybe hiding: the fear of talking to strangers, feelings of unhappiness, or the anxiety that I will be boring.
Another emotional weakness that smart people have – particularly guys when they want to approach a woman – is fear. “A smart guy’s strength is his mind,” says David DeAngelo, a dating coach for men. “His weakness is often his emotions. Smart guys are often immobilized by fear.”
Women wonder why men struggle to approach and talk to them when a woman sends obvious signals for him to approach. When a guy wants to chat with an attractive woman, his analytical mind switches on. A million thoughts, scenarios, and potential problems race 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 has identified 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 tend to plan everything before taking action, which causes them to lose spontaneity. Such behavior may result in neediness, validation, and indecisiveness.
In social situations, over-analysing is a killer mistake. Intelligent people may try to mind-read people in conversations. They micro-manage their interactions based on analytical feedback, which drives their fear and uncertainty in conversations.
The next time you catch yourself micro-managing your conversations and worrying what the other person thinks, remember the other person is likely to be more concerned with what you think about them. Remind yourself that you cannot mind-read – and trying to do so only creates anxiety. Live in the moment more often and you will notice people naturally attract to you.
A few last points I want 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 engages people. Academically intelligent people may focus too much on logical topics. 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 more effective than technical linguistics and non-methodologically circumstantial language that homosapiens find distateful. 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. The general public cannot be bothered reading through jargon.
On that last point of being too technical for people, something that may interest you is how some people write emails to me. I teach communication, but that does not mean being technical, using complex vocabulary, and trying to be intelligent helps build rapport. You can tell the difference. Here’s one example of a technical email I received last week: “Dear Joshua. Allow me to extend my formal gratitude in your beautiful array of teachings…” The intent behind such emails is great. The problem when you speak in jargon is the person you talk or write to does not feel connected 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 because…” Can you sense the difference? The last example is more friendly, but not overly casual. The person in the first example who appears intelligent does not “connect” because they are too technical. Even if you are intelligent and have a complex vocabulary, you need to use terminology the other person uses if you want to build rapport. Do not try and prove your intelligence. We are interested in improving your communication skill, not boosting your ego.
Equating Intelligence to Social 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 arrive at a dangerous landscape. Both of you are amongst a tribe when two ferocious sabre-toothed tigers approach. What do you choose: 1) Do you get help from your intelligent friend? or 2) Do you rely on tribe members half 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 does not equate to survival and other important skills. Stone Age dwellers were far from the intelligence people have 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 people from prehistoric times in their lifetime.
Intelligent people must acknowledge their expertise is limited. They are not an expert in everything. Their intelligence does not equate to effective communication skills. A person from the Stone Age is sure to teach you something. Instead of being right, concede that you do not know everything about communication. Find the first steps you need to take to develop expertise in an area of your interest – even from someone of less intelligence. If you are interested in becoming charismatic, find what you need to do first then continue to discover what next.
Smart People Don’t Seek Help
What happens to intelligent people who struggle in their social life? They keep quite. Intelligent people are habituated in solving problems, being an expert, and logically working things out by themselves that they refuse to ask others for help. They illogically freeze themselves with fear and uncertainty than ask someone about social skills. There are several interesting reasons for this rationalization.
Not in all cases, but smart people look down on less intelligent people. Less intelligent people may possess better social skills than the more intelligent individuals, 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 seek help – especially from someone with less intelligence.
People of less intelligence than you are not inferior. Their friends are not weird or immature. These are smart flaws. You can learn from someone with an IQ of 60. Accept it. You will be more desirable when humbling yourself.
[Rest in Article]