Understanding Very Smart People

(Author’s note: I wrote this in response to an article that was posted on Facebook in June of 2017. It came up in “Memories” today and I decided to touch it up a bit and post it here.)

This “Understanding Very Very Smart People” thing came across my Facebook feed a couple of times today, then again in an IM conversation this evening when I was asked what I thought of it. Setting aside the fact that saying things like “very very” is, well, wrong, my answer was that I didn’t think it was helpful at all. I got to thinking about what the authors should have talked about, and eventually I decided to write my own version.

Does what I’m about to say represent absolute truth? Of course not. It’s a personal perspective, filled with personal observations and experiences that might not be the same as the readers. I’ll be interested to hear what other people think of my answer to….

Understanding Very V̶e̶r̶y̶ Smart People

  1. Assume they are waiting for you to catch up.

Studies have found that there is a clear correlation between the speed at which people think and their IQ. Very smart people tend to process information and reach conclusions faster. In turn studies link this trait to feelings of frustration and irritation. They are literally done before most people have hit the last turn.

This is where very smart people get themselves into trouble. IQ is far from the only form of intellect. EQ, or what some call psychological intelligence, is just as important. People who are have very high IQs and low EQs will say things like “Come on, it’s not hard, what are you stupid?”  At this point they are waiting for the other person to just agree with them so they can move on.

If IQ and EQ are in the same range the response can go from “Hurry up” to “Don’t worry you’ll figure it out later” to “What do you think?” Yes, it is more complex than that, but we don’t have all day.

How to deal with it

Keep in mind that they really don’t understand why other people find these things hard. For example, I do not have a math brain. My friend Mark does. When something comes up where math is required I don’t try to keep up with him. In turn Mark does not taunt me about not having a math brain.

  1. Assume that they will not take being wrong well

The thing is that very smart people are used to being right, because they usually are. The downside to this is that not everything that crosses their path is going to get their full attention, and THEY WON’T NOTICE. When it becomes clear that they missed something they are likely to evidence some frustration which can come in various forms.

Angry with themselves – I’m so stupid. Stupid and arrogant. Stupid, arrogant and insensitive. Etc., etc.

Angry with the messenger – What the hell do you know about it? You’re just saying that because you can’t handle the BLAH BLAH BLAH.

Crushed by self-doubt – If I was wrong about that what else have I been wrong about? Maybe I’m just too dumb to know I’m dumb. Maybe everybody else is smarter than me and… oh god why can’t I do anything right.

How to deal with it

Depending on the person and their response you might consider just not dealing with it. Just give them the correction and ignore whatever comes next.

  1. Assume they will over explain everything and hence be crappy at small talk.

Being very smart means being right, and being right means accounting for all the nuances and exceptions, and accounting for all that means understanding a lot of stuff about a lot of other stuff. All of which is to say that very smart people won’t think they have explained a thing until they have explained all the things that are connected to it. This is why when you ask them some simple social question like “How was your day?” they start by telling you about the products that their company makes, about how those products interact with other products, and about how they spent six hours trying to fix a thing because the people who built it didn’t know what they were doing and that made them upset so they snapped at their significant other and got in a big fight.

How to deal with it.

Ask them to stop. Most very smart people know that they tend to go on a bit. I will say “I need you to stop now because I want to talk about something else.” This works pretty well.

  1. Assume they will point out insignificant differences

Many very smart people have a hard time ignoring minor errors or omissions. Someone is telling a story about something and in response the very smart person is correcting verb tenses, pointing out that the person’s name is Jim, not Jeff, and generally being a pain in the ass. This is because to very smart people if Any Part of it is WRONG, it’s all WRONG.

How to deal with it

Depending on the person and the situation it might be best to simply state that, in this case, not all of the details are not important. Personally, I tend to say, “I don’t care” and move on. But whatever you do try to remember that all those little corrections really don’t have anything to do with how the very smart person feels about you, it’s just excess attention to unnecessary detail.

  1. Assume they are always a little bit irritated, depressed, and anxious, because they are.

Being very smart has very few actual benefits. Studies show that high IQ is a much worse indicator of future success than a similarly high EQ. In the end, while having a high IQ makes some things easier, it also brings into sharp focus many things that are unpleasant to have to live with. The so called “big questions,” time, sex, love and death are all tough concepts and the very smart person knows this from a younger age than is generally psychologically good for them.

How to deal with it

You can’t, don’t try. Thousands of years of written human history and the truly hard questions are still truly hard. You have your own hardships, don’t try to take on someone else’s.

  1. Assume they are horrid at something, because they are.

Sometimes very smart people will focus on being very smart and ignore other parts of the human experience. Eventually they can come to believe that if they don’t get it it doesn’t exist.

More often very smart people will make decisions (often at too young an age) that this or that is simply not important, and from then on they will just ignore it. Then, because their very smart, they will rationalize that decision. All all humans do, very smart people are just a bit better at it than most. This makes trying to convince a very smart person to re-examine something they have previously dismissed very difficult.

But no matter how smart  a very smart person is they will still forget their keys, take the wrong turn, underestimate the amount of time it will take to get to the party and forget people’s names, just like everyone else.