February 2, 2017

Fake It Until You Make It: Appear More Intelligent with Simple Adjustments

Yael Morowati

There are so many undeniable factors that lay the foundation for a person’s success. College GPAs, innate intelligence, hard work, genetics, and habits are usually the first ones that come to mind. But you know that old adage, “Fake it till you make it”?  Well, it turns out that developing your emotional intelligence (EQ) can lead to more success.

Intelligence only explains about 20% of how you do in life; the other 80% comes down to EQ. High EQ leads to better communication, empathy, understanding, and self-awareness, which involves not just knowing how you are but also how other people perceive you.  People with higher EQ tend to do better than their counterparts in the business world as they are masters of influence.  These individuals are skilled at altering their behavior to make the most of a given situation.  In an international study of 515 senior executives, EQ was a better predictor of success than either relevant previous experience or high IQ.

90% of top performers in the workplace have high EQs, and employees with high EQs make $28,000 more annually than those with low EQs. One study followed the hiring of sales agents for L’Oreal on the basis of certain emotional competencies.  Agents with high EQ outsold other salespeople by $91,370 for a net revenue increase of $2,558,360.  Higher EQ employees had 63% less turnover during the first year.

While you might not be able to alter your genetics, you can rely on some strategies to help you appear to be smarter which is especially helpful in the workforce.

Boost your confidence.

Nothing projects intelligence and success quite like confidence.  In 2012, world renowned social psychologist, Amy Cuddy gave a TED talk on how body language affects how others see us, but it may also change how we see ourselves. She demonstrated how “power posing,” standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident, can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, which may even have an impact on our chances for success.

When you believe in yourself, it shows, and research demonstrates that believing in yourself improves your performance on cognitive tasks. Conversely, self-doubt impairs your performance. Other people including your family, friends, and colleagues pick up on this doubt, which makes you appear less intelligent to them. If you want your team to believe in you, you have to believe in yourself or at least appear to.

Use your middle initial.

Michael J. Fox, William F. Buckley, Samuel L Jackson. John D. Rockefeller,  John F. Kennedy. Franklin D. Roosevelt.  You get the point. There might be a reason that so many people who hold a prominent place in history used a middle initial.  Using your middle initial enhances your perceived social status. It also boosts expectations of intelligence capacity and performance. In one study, participants were asked to read and rate Einstein’s essay on the theory of relativity, with authorship being attributed to either David Clark, David F. Clark, David F. P. Clark, or David F. P. R. Clark. David F. Clark got the highest ratings.  In a second study, participants were asked to choose team members for academic competitions.  Students who used middle initials were selected more frequently than those who didn’t.  Start using that middle initial if you want a quick perceived IQ boost.

Keep it simple.

In undergrad, my philosophy professor, Dr. Langston gave me the best piece of advice which I still apply today. He pointed to a poster of Henri Matisse’s Blue Nude II and told me that this is what good writing looks like. If you’ve never seen it, it’s a blue paper cutout of a female nude. For years, I tried using elaborate language to explain complex phenomena. True intelligence speaks for itself, so showing off your impressive vocabulary actually undermines your intellect. In addition to using lofty expressions, you always run the chance of using these elevated words incorrectly. Focus on writing effectively and directly. It makes a world of difference for the recipient.

Use graphs.

There’s a reason why powerpoint is so effective in the business world.  Even if you think that using graphs is trivial, doing this more in business meetings and with clients leads to inspiring confidence in others.  A Cornell study suggests that people are more likely to trust a source if it contains graphs.  Participants read a document on the effectiveness of a new medication. One report contained a graph; the other didn’t.  96% of the participants who read the report including the graph believed the claims, while only a mere 67% of those who read the document without a graph believed the same. Use graphs and verify their accuracy.

Establish eye contact.

Whenever I go to a dinner party or other social events, I’m especially aware of making eye contact. Apart from it being respectful, studies actually confirm that it also makes you look smarter.  Participants who intentionally managed their eye contact scored significantly higher on perceived intelligence.  Remember what it feels like to be on the receiving end of this kind of communication.  Even while in a social sea of individuals, people who look at you head on also make you feel like you are the center of their world (even if only for a brief moment).  Replicate giving that experience to the other person and you will actually increase their self esteem and boost the confidence they have in you.

Wear geeky frames.

Research shows that people wearing glasses—especially the thick, full-framed ones—are perceived as being more intelligent. So, if you want to seem smarter, leave the contacts at home and wear your glasses.  I’ve tested this out a few times and it actually works!  Even though I was concerned about looking less attractive, in the business world, attractiveness is measured differently.  Irrespective of your actual intelligence, appearances do go a long way and aligning yourself with the nerd tribe will lead to your overall success.

Dress the part.

Extensive research shows that how you dress affects how people see you. Dressing well makes you seem more intelligent.  In the workplace, it’s especially important to cover up, as showing more skin actually leads to you appearing less intelligent.  This should come as no surprise as your mind should be the focal point in business as revealing more skin directs people’s attention to your body rather than to your brains. How you dress also affects your performance?  Northwestern University found that making people wear lab coats improved their performance in tasks that required intelligence and concentration.  I always wanted to be a doctor. Well, at least now I have the permission to look like one.

Put down the Budweiser.

Don’t perform keg stands at the office holiday party.  While we know that people tend to do stupid things when they’re inebriated, it turns out that merely seeing someone hold a drink is enough to make them seem less intelligent.  The perceived correlation between drinking and cognitive impairment is so strong that all of us assume inebriation even if there isn’t any. If you’re on the market for a job, pay especially close attention to this one. Although job candidates frequently think that ordering a glass of wine over a dinner interview will make them appear intelligent and worldly, it actually makes them come across as less hirable. That being said, when in Rome do as the Romans.  Culture comes into play in a big way, and if you’re abroad looking for a C-level job then wait for your interviewer to order first.

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