Why dismissing people as stupid isn't very smart

For the past few months I’ve found myself getting frustrated by  those who, in business, blanket write their colleagues/clients/managers etc off as stupid.

This is something all of us are guilty of, myself included. It’s very easy (and sometimes accurate) when someone is proving difficult to work with, or giving you a hard time, to dismiss this as stupidity and that they’re just not smart enough to understand things in the way that you do.

It happens very commonly with client or manager relationships. There’s the old trope that clients aren’t smart enough to understand the great work we do. We get frustrated as suppliers that our work isn’t being valued and have an emotional response of anger and ultimately, blame.

This is really common and even the most intellectual esteemed publications are talking about it… (!) (note that URL ‘clients are morons’).

Now of course people have differing levels of capability, completely different skill sets and genetic capacity to digest information in certain ways; though to dismiss someone as just not smart enough to get it, really isn’t a very smart thing to do.

The reason I think this is not just because I believe it’s the role of the individual who is presenting an idea/product/service to make the person on the receiving end fundamentally understand that idea/product/service is, but also, because the moment you make a conscious decision that a person is stupid, then it’s game over.

Saying someone is stupid creates a psychological barrier for yourself where you’ve essentially written them off as incapable. And, writing someone off as incapable means that you’ll end up putting significantly less effort in to trying to translate your idea/product/service in to something they can understand, because, well…they’re incapable. It means that any communication you have with them in the future will be less clear and concise and detailed because, well, what’s the point in putting in effort if they won’t get it anyway? It means you’ll miss areas that they might be good at and the real risk, completely fail to understand their position and perspective.

It’s broadly acknowledged that in the world of work, the smart thing to do is the thing that makes us successful; and, shutting down relationships with key individuals because they’re not capable, is highly unlikely to result in success. It’s not that it’s fundamentally wrong to think people are stupid, it’s just not very helpful. It doesn’t achieve anything. It only creates barriers and blinkers to our own success, which isn’t smart.

Of course there are people who are just stupid, but even those come with history, influence, relationships and context you may not have access to. It takes time, perception and a whole lot of patience to understand a person’s real strengthens and weaknesses, so don’t make the mistake of not allowing yourself the favour of figuring out what that is.

I should like to hope people do it for me.

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