Ways to Look Smart — But Be Careful

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 11.40.15 AMThe role of intelligence in business success is often studied and from multiple perspectives.

Of course, there’s emotional intelligence, documented and made popular by, among others, Daniel Goleman. As reported in Entrepreneur: “How much of an impact does emotional intelligence have on your professional success? The short answer is: a lot! It’s a powerful way to focus your energy in one direction with a tremendous result. TalentSmart tested emotional intelligence alongside 33 other important workplace skills, and found that emotional intelligence is the strongest predictor of performance, explaining a full 58% of success in all types of jobs.”

And as we noted here previously, a group of MIT scientists has found out why some groups, like some people, are reliably smarter than others,

But often, leaders, entrepreneurs and employees try other tactics to impress others with their intelligence. They try to look smart. And as the Wall St. Journal points out, folks who do this just might be doing it wrong.

The piece states: “A growing amount of research is teasing out how people form first impressions of others’ intelligence—and how well it works when you try to manage those impressions. The cues people look for in assessing each other’s intelligence are simple. But they aren’t always easy to pull off under pressure. They include showing self-confidence, speaking clearly and smoothly, and responding thoughtfully to what others are saying, research shows.”

The report notes the work of Nora A. Murphy, an associate professor of psychology at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, and her 2007 study “Appearing Smart: The Impression Management of Intelligence, Person Perception Accuracy, and Behavior in Social Interaction.”

Among the study’s conclusions: “Impression-managing targets displayed distinct nonverbal behavioral patterns that differed from controls. Looking while speaking was a key behavior: It significantly correlated with IQ, was successfully manipulated by impression-managing targets, and contributed to higher perceived intelligence ratings.”

And there’s more. The WSJ notes: “People trying to look intelligent had a few behaviors in common. Among them were looking at others while listening or speaking, sitting up straight, putting on a serious face and avoiding certain gestures, such as touching their hair or face. But just the first two of those behaviors earned them a high IQ score from people watching the videos.”

If that doesn’t work, though, there’s another trick: Use a middle initial.

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 11.58.45 AMAccording to the report, which notes last year’s study “The impact of middle names: Middle name initials enhance evaluations of intellectual performance.” Among the conclusions: “the display of middle initials increases positive evaluations of people’s intellectual capacities and achievements. We document this effect in seven studies: Middle initials in authors’ names increased the evaluation of their writing performance (Study 1), and middle initials increased perceptions of status (Studies 2 and 4). Moreover, the middle initials effect was specific to intellectual performance (Studies 3 and 6), and it was mediated by perceived status (Studies 5–7).”

However, before you start employing different tricks to try to impress in meetings, the Wall St. Journal warns: “People who tried to appear intelligent risked exposing what they didn’t know, the research shows.”