TED Conversations

Gisela McKay

President and Co-Founder, pixcode


This conversation is closed.

How do smart people "find their level" in conversation?

I am interested in identifying how smart people (gifted/exceptional or whatever word we’re using this week) people recognize each other.

I have observed that they can identify each other relatively quickly, and even broadly determine where they sit relative to each other while average or “less smart” people can usually identify that they are dealing with “smart” people but not necessarily the extent to which they are smart.

Some things I have observed that are “tells” of being “quicker”:

1. A willingness to leave the conversational basics behind and explore deeper into the subject (and if the person they are conversing with does not follow, drop back to the level the other can cope with).
2. Anchoring - taking the current topic of conversation and looking for a frame of reference they are already familiar with to understand it better.
3. Quips and parallel commentary - fleeting comments that are not meant to derail the main thrust of the conversation.

Any other keys you have observed in your experience?


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • Aug 11 2011: Gisela, thank for posting this stimulating topic

    As has been said, "Smart" comes in many varieties. This needs to be stressed. If the definition of "smart" is to be: "someone selected by a committee to attend a certain function or institution" then we must be clear that this is exactly what we mean. There is nothing wrong with this definition. Perhaps we can add to it additional points like "well-educated," "history of accomplishment," etc.

    But if this is what you are looking for when you seek out other "smart" people, you should be aware that professional con-men often seek out self-designated "smart" people when looking for a target. This is because people who know they are "smart" in one area (like business operations or particle physics) are convinced that they must therefore be smart in other areas. This false confidence makes them easy prey to "confidence" men, who simply ply their pride and take their money. As is said, pride goes before a fall.

    Also, on a more personal note, perhaps the most impressive individual I have ever met would not fit into any category of "smart" people. We became friends when I had a summer job at a fast food restaurant. without any formal education or access to philosophy or history this friend would say the most profound and beautiful things. He was small and African-Anerican, yet had an enormous caucasian wife who he loved. both their family were against it. He said, "I just don't understand why they care what color her skin is." After a theft at work he said, "Why would you steal from someone else? You'd hate it if they stole from you." And he meant it. And he lived accordingly. Staggering stuff.

    So, Gisele, while you may find exciting people with "sparkle" in their eyes and effective co-workers with a history of accomplishment, you should also be on the lookout for good "friends". Which, I admit, is just as vague a term as "smart."

    • thumb
      Aug 12 2011: Ah yes, there is a big difference between book smart and street smart, or being able to spot patterns and being able to read people. Thank you for your reply.

      As for friends, mine tend to be culturally varied, but philosophically similar - you can select your friends far easier than you can limit the people you interact with on a day-to-day basis. The philosophical similarity is more stylistic than say creating an echo chamber (because where would be the fun in that?), but if you are going to make an argument I disagree with, you'd better have some damned good reasons because I'm not all that good about biting my tongue for more than a few minutes.

      As my best friends will tell you, if I am this crotchety now, I am going to be one hell of a scary old lady. ;-)

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.