You may have heard some recent small business advice saying “Don’t be the smartest person in the room.” The point of that statement is that it’s important to surround yourself with smart people, which makes sense. But the idea that “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room,” is overly simplistic and implies that the smartest person in the room is an arrogant jerk.
There’s nothing wrong with being the smartest person in the room – somebody has to be. But if you automatically think of yourself as the smartest person in the room, you will miss opportunities to connect and to learn, and, rest assured, you can learn from everyone. You simply can’t predict where that next incredible idea will come from. Being able to see things from others’ perspectives enlarges your world and opens your mind.
The Most Successful People Know They Can Learn from Everyone
The person who is glowingly described as the smartest person in the room is one whose presence raises morale and elevates the level of discourse. Typically, this person is humble and makes the effort to make every other person in the room feel like they have a place and are worthy of attention.
The person derisively described as the smartest person in the room, by contrast, causes everyone to shut down. This person intimidates people into not speaking for fear of being wrong and having that pointed out to everyone. He or she lacks self-awareness and sees no real need for the other people in the room except as appreciative audience members.
Which one of these “smartest people in the room” do you think will help generate and develop the most outstanding small business ideas? Here are some ways to avoid being that bad version of the smart person and, more importantly, to set the stage for better small business growth.
Listening without Formulating Your Response First
Most of us like fast-paced, intelligent banter, and don’t like conversations that stall. Unfortunately, that can lead to the habit of formulating responses to people before they have finished speaking. When we do this, we’re focusing on ourselves rather than the person who is speaking. That automatically devalues their contribution.
Before a meeting or conversation, remind yourself that you’re there to listen and that you need to check your ego at the door. Listening requires being present with an open mind. It is not about formulating the fastest, best sound bite to deliver as soon as the other person finishes talking. Seek to understand what the other person is saying and don’t jump to conclusions.
Evaluating Your Contribution to the Conversation
Most people like hearing themselves hold their own in high-level conversation, but unless you’re in a debate team event, you’re not there to score points. You may have a brilliant idea, but generally, the idea you come up with collaboratively will be better. If you look at your group as its own entity that’s more than the sum of individuals, you can see the potential for excellence in exploring and expanding upon small business ideas. If everyone has this mindset and evaluates their own contribution before blurting it out, the group can develop into a high-functioning team that achieves outsized results.
Minding Your Manners
It’s simply poor etiquette to finish people’s sentences out loud. Finishing them in your mind isn’t much better because you can miss out on what they’re really saying. We aren’t always right. By finishing others’ sentences, we assume they think what we think, which is the height of arrogance.
Likewise, interrupting is not only rude, but it practically ensures you’re minimizing others’ contributions and don’t put much stock into what they’re saying. Sure, the conversation may have a more leisurely pace if you listen, ask questions, and reflect before responding, but more will be accomplished and fewer misunderstandings will occur.
Finally, it’s important to resist offering advice before anyone has asked for it. You may think it indicates that you heard them and are being helpful, but mostly what you’re doing by giving unsolicited advice is validating your own sense of self-worth.
If you’re truly the smartest person in the room, you’ll ironically make everyone else feel like they are the smartest person in the room. I invite you to friend me on Facebook and join the conversation, where small business ideas flow and everyone’s contributions are valued. We all have much to offer, and the smartest among us are the most eager to learn.