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Gisela McKay

President and Co-Founder, pixcode


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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?


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  • Aug 11 2011: Im not sure what you mean by "finding my level." I dont seek out more intelligent people or try to avoid less intelligent people, so I dont try to "find" anything regarding IQ. Now "EQ," thats another story. I definitively try to find people with higher EQ, regardless of their IQ. But I do agree with others that your first clue regarding intelligence is in the eyes. Intelligent people do have a "brighter" quality to their eyes, and they are generally active observers, very aware of their surroundings. They look alert, they look aware of their surrounding, and curious about whats going on.

    Of course sometimes people are lost in thought, so I mean that when they are engaged with someone else you will notice those things.

    In conversation, a dead give away is flexibility. More average minds have trouble speculating and tend to be more inflexible in their thinking. Curiosity is also a dead give away. More intelligent people are more keen to understand your point, even if they then disagree, than the more average mind. They ask more questions, generally. Vocabulary, the use of jargon or labels, etc., I do not find useful in determining someones actual intelligence, although, too heavy a reliance upon these things is generally a give away to me that I am dealing with a very educated average mind.
    • Aug 12 2011: I agree with you Alyson, we don't go around looking for smart people nor we try to put them at some level. I interact with everyone that comes across my way from the gifted people to the non gifted. And we learn the differences in them. By the way you find smart people in places where smart people tend to go you get the point. ;)
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      Aug 12 2011: Certainly, we all interact with whoever is in our sphere, but when we select out for long-term friendship, i.e. people we want to see again and again, there tend to be certain commonalities.

      When you look around you at the people you have deliberately selected as friends, do they irritate you with pointless chatter? Yeah, I didn't think so. I have a couple of friends who, frankly, I think talk too much (for my taste) but at least the content is interesting.

      I get the whole Zen "you must learn to transcend your circumstances" thing (which really conflicts with the whole "be in the moment" thing, doesn't it?), but if I have to find my "happy place" to spend time with you, it just becomes much easier not to spend time with you, doesn't it? I'm also pretty sure most people don't want to be transcended.
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        Aug 12 2011: I think you perhaps misunderstand the concepts you refer to as Zen. Spontaneity (living in the Now) is freedom from the usual constraints of 'craving, aversion and confusion' all three of which the thinking mind imposes or operates from inside of. The Zen concept here is No Mind (wu hsin/mu shin) or acting out of what is needed in this situation right here and now without thinking of how someone else might act, or what if this or that, or what will happen next, or what will people think, or etc etc etc (the thinking mind). Transcendence, if I understand it well enough to speak of it, is simply finding what you need in whatever is available right now: liking what you have vs having what you like. I don't think spontaneity and 'transcendence' are in conflict - if fact they seem to be two sides of the same coin.
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          Aug 12 2011: "I think you perhaps misunderstand the concepts you refer to as Zen." Probably.

          For me, finding what I need in moments of "too many words, not enough content" involves tuning the person out. ;-)

          I'm sort of being facetious, but mostly not. There's a reason why I run my own business.

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