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Be brilliant ... by making others look smart

Daneen Skube

Q. I work with a new guy that I think is stupid. I don't mean that to be insulting, but I really think he is not very bright. He doesn't seem to remember what I say, gets easily confused and struggles to figure anything out. Do you have ideas on how to diplomatically get him to perform better?

A. Yes, intellectual capacity varies wildly in people in any workplace. Researchers estimate that even more than a 10 point difference between people creates communication problems. You need to tailor how you speak to where your coworker is on the IQ curve.

Most people don't think of intelligence as an interpersonal issue, but understanding how to work with people higher or lower than you is critical to effectiveness. The majority of people have an average IQ of 100. Every 10 points you are above or below takes you further into a category with dramatically smaller numbers.

Gifted programs in most school districts start at 128 to 135 IQ. People who have an IQ of 145 and up are a small number. People who have an IQ over 155 make it into the scary smart category and have often had social issues their whole life.

Where you are on the IQ scale isn't what makes or breaks effectiveness. What you do with your IQ is the key to being successful.

You can pretty much tell if someone is faster or slower than you are because someone who is slower will frustrate you and someone who is faster will be hard to follow. Here is a general guide to working well both up and down the IQ curve:

1) If when you interact the other person tracks you, remembers what you say, and you find it easy to understand him or her, just do what is natural. You are at the same level, and this coworker doesn't need you to change your style.

2) If you are consistently irritated and surprised that a coworker doesn't get your point, slow way down. Instead of verbally describing directions, take the person and physically show them the process, then have them do it, and then have them write it down.

3) If you find yourself barely able to follow a coworker, they are probably irritated with you. Admit you can see they are very skilled, and ask them to provide more detail. When someone is very smart, they will normally speak one sentence and think you get it. You will need them to speak paragraphs or pages about that issue to follow them.

Everyone in the workplace learns best when they experience new data through multiple senses. When they visually see the process, then hear the directions, then physically engage in doing the activity and even write the instructions, most everyone anchors a new skill into their memory.

If we're teaching very smart people, they learn faster with less repetition. If we're teaching people with less intellectual capacity, they need a lot of exposure through every sense, usually more than once.

Since most of us have considered being called dumb an insult and being called smart a compliment, it is easy to be quite judgmental of where we and others fall on the IQ curve. The truth is that the workplace is a large world where there are jobs for people at nearly every level of IQ.

If we pull out of judging ourselves and others as better or worse on intelligence, and think instead of simply needing to translate our language to people faster or slower, we'll make everyone's job easier. There's another great side effect of learning to communicate with everyone on the IQ curve. Since everyone will understand you, you'll actually appear to be the smartest person in the room!

Last word(s)

Q. Is there a good comeback to a guy who is always irrationally hostile and tries to start fights with his team in every meeting?

A. Yes, silence. Let his hostility speak for itself.

(Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel's "Workplace Guru" each Monday morning. She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). You can contact Dr. Skube at http://www.interpersonaledge.com or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.)

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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