The Curse of the Super Smart Person
“I’m like a bad doctor … No patience.”
(My father was the king of one-liners. And this may be one of his best.)
Pretend it’s 4:25pm and you’re sitting in the 9th meeting of the day. The pace of this meeting is decidedly more tortoise than hare, and it’s beginning to work your very last nerve.
You know you should be patient.
You know you should wait for everyone else to see what you already see so clearly. You know you should wait for him to get to the point.
You should sit quietly as she asks a question that will hijack the conversation and guarantee that absolutely nothing gets resolved.
At this point, your knuckles are white, and your heart rate is soaring because those shoulds are looking less likely by the second.
Your impatience is about to win, and the wreckage could be major. What happens next determines how everyone in that room perceives you—for better or worse.
Listen, this situation is not exactly high stakes in the Tom-Cruise-Doing-His-Own-Stunts sense. But in its own way, it is high stakes. As Maya Angelou so beautifully said, “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will NEVER forget how you made them feel.”
And if you lack the skills to exorcize your impatience gracefully, you’re about to make someone else feel like shit.
This imaginary scenario is all too real for many of the brilliant clients I’ve worked with over the years. In fact, this kind of impatience is part of what I call The Curse of the Super Smart Person. Super Smart People get pissed off when the rest of the room can’t keep up with them. And it’s excruciating for pretty much everyone involved.
If you see yourself in this description, I’ve got some techniques that might help cool that righteous impatience, and to see things in a fresh light.
Rewind the Tape
I know I just told you to pretend that it’s 4:25pm and you’re in your 9thmeeting of the day, but to do this right, let’s rewind to about 9:07am … back when you had more patience in the bank. Let’s also pretend that—miraculously—you’ve got a pocket of 10 minutes to think. Here’s what I’d like you to consider:
There’s a Pattern to Everything.
Rarely are we made impatient at work by something new. It’s really the same people and/or situations that tend to trigger our impatience. This means that we can have good, compassionate, clear scripts handy for when things go sideways. Note: Tone is everything when it comes to delivering these scripts. Make sure your tone is open, kind, and curious, and you won’t go wrong. Here are a few of my favorites:
What Does Success Look Like?
When people gather together in a room, I find it crucial to start with these words “Success for this meeting is…” Or, if you’re not the one running the meeting, you might kindly ask, “What does success look like for this meeting? I want to make sure I don’t hijack anything or sidetrack us unnecessarily.”
Having clear success metrics sets a north star that can guide the meeting efficiently, helping everyone to ignore the siren call of meaningless side conversations. If you feel you’re being sidetracked, you can gently say, “While I hear what you’re saying, I want to guide us back to the original goal of X.” Everyone in that meeting will thank you.
Beware of “update” meetings!
If success for the meeting looks like everyone knowing what everyone else is working on, that’s a recipe for wasted time. Instead, consider saying, “Success looks like a 2 minute update from everyone—we will use a timer—and you can request more time if you have an obstacle we can help you clear.” If 2 minutes is too short, adjust, but you see where I’m going with this. “Update” is too ill-defined for it to be a useful goal.
Bridge to Sanity.
If you find yourself moving down a rabbit hole conversation, sometimes a gentle redirect can return the conversation back to relevance and progress. I love phrases like, “I think the real issue here is…” Or “I’m thinking X might be the better question here….” These phrases can be very effective if delivered with kindness and not (you guessed it) impatience.
Gracefully Take it Offline.
“Let’s take this offline” has become a trigger phrase for people who are caught meandering. What I’ve found, however, is people can sometimes feel dismissed and disregarded to be told to “take it offline.” A better phrase could be, “The point you raise deserves more thought than we can give in this short meeting. Can we have a separate conversation about that, because it is important?” Just validating the importance of the issue can go a long way to making someone feel seen and heard, while keeping the trains running on time.
Think about the people/situations that most trigger you. What scripts might help you intervene with kindness, compassion and clarity?
Beware of Your Ego and Remember Rule Number Six
Two prime ministers were sitting in a room discussing fancy, important matters of state, and twice they are interrupted—first by a rage-filled man, and second by a crying woman (it’s an old story, forgive the stereotypes). The hosting prime minister was able to instantly calm down both the angry man and crying woman by uttering one simple phrase: “Remember Rule Number Six.”
Amazed, the visiting prime minister says, “What is this Rule Number Six you speak of that seems to have such an immediately calming effect on these hysterical people??” The hosting prime minister replies, “It’s quite simple. Rule number six is: Don’t take yourself so damn seriously.” His guest replied, “Fascinating! What are the other rules?” The Prime Minister smiled, and said, “My dear friend, there are no other rules.”
Remember, whatever is driving you insane during that meeting really isn’t the end of the world.
You’re not that big of a deal, even if you are. Remembering this allows you to…
Just focus on a few inhales and exhales. Conscious breathing helps to relax that rising feeling of extreme impatience and frees you up to think rationally about how you might engage more thoughtfully in the conversation.
Sometimes our impatience can be a symptom of something deeper. It could be that we are so unaccustomed to listening to another person’s point of view, or honoring a different learning style, that we simply don’t know how to sit with our own discomfort and listen. And if you need to brush up on your listening skills, you’re in luck! I’ve just released a podcast episode on the art of Deep Listening, find it here.
I have found that the people who most often drive me insane are often also my greatest teachers.
So the next time you find yourself seething with annoyance, mentally check yourself.
You could be in the presence of your very own Yoda.
And as Yoda would say, “With me, you shall deal.”
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Pollan has long captivated us with brilliant books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Botany of Desire. But this time, he’s investigating far stranger territory. We’re talking LSD, mushrooms, and a few other substances of dubious distinction.
I listened to this book on Audible with my mom driving home from Tahoe last week, and it lead to some very funny conversations (along with an unspoken, mutual wondering … “has she taken LSD??”) It’s a beautifully researched book on something that has escaped serious scientific consideration ever since Timothy Leary bailed out of Harvard in disgrace.
I highly recommend it to anyone with even a passing curiosity about the nature of mystical experiences, and the history of these strange substances.
The Thorn Birds
by Colleen McCullough
Summertime makes me nostalgic, and nothing says 80’s childhood like The Thorn Birds. If, like me, you remember your mother furtively watching this series, feeling conflicted about finding Fr. Ralph (aka Richard Chamberlain) painfully hot, then you will absolutely dig this novel. The most surprising thing about reading The Thorn Birds in 2018 is just how goodthe writing is. I think I had mentally dismissed this novel as trashy and silly. But I was mistaken … Colleen McCullough can tell a story, and this story is full of vivid, strange landscapes, heart breaking sacrifices, and will make you thank whatever God you believe in that you don’t live in the Australian outback.
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