New Manager

The smart man’s disease…

C Mahalingam | Updated on January 23, 2018


… you agree with someone’s view but just cannot acknowledge it with a firm ‘yes’

Have you ever noticed how you responded to someone making an important point during a conversation, a point you completely agreed with? Probably not. If you recall, you vociferously agreed, but stated your agreement with the opening words, “No, no, I agree with you!” In reality, if you are in total agreement, should you not be responding, “Yes, yes I agree with you?”

This is what I would call the “smart man’s disease”. You agree, but say it hard with a No, No. Most of us do so and more often than not, because we are smart!

It is interesting that how this disease, if I may call so, develops on most smart people. And this has broader implications for how smart people in our organisations will learn and grow. The Smart man’s disease, as I have seen, has the potential to hurt than help. And that is why this needs attention sooner than later by the very smart people who suffer from it.

Being smart is a critical key success factor in growing up and reaching heights, but when this manifests as a disease, it begins to have far reaching negative consequences on how smart people learn and grow at work. The good news is that symptoms that confirm you suffer from this disease are not hard to recognise. And better news is that you can work on it and cure yourself of this career-derailing disease.

The symptoms

Let us start with the symptoms:

• You are growing impatient during discussions, conversations and debates at work and even in social settings. You wonder why people can’t understand “even simple things” and agree with the “obvious conclusions” you are drawing!

• You negate suggestions from others but intelligently. There is a pattern in how you do this and this may be referred to as the “Yes-But” game. When someone suggests something, you say you see value in what they are saying, but the “smart man” in you refuses to buy it. So, you handle this by saying, “Yes I agree, but let me tell you why it may not work.” And the entire conversation is full of “yes, but” till you prove the other person “not OK” and collect yourself the counterfeit stamp of “being OK.”

• You personalise “success and wins” and externalise when things go wrong or displace them elsewhere.

• You interpret your “opinions” as “facts” and others’ “facts” as “opinions”.

• You argue for the sake of arguing even when you are not familiar with the subject or the context.

• You rush to conclusions and over trust your own judgment.

• You tend to confuse between assertiveness and aggressiveness in your relationship with people.

• You switch off when your colleagues persist with their arguments.

As with any body vitals like blood pressure and pulse rate, smartness is good and necessary within a range. When it exceeds the range, smart man’s disease begins to manifest its ugly side. This is when your strength turns your weakness.

So, what is the remedy? Often organisations have several tools that help you recognise you have this disease, including 360 degree feedback and more. But even without these mirrors, you can notice many of the symptoms listed above.

Some remedies

More the symptoms, more serious the disease as can be understood. Some of the remedies could include the following:

• Enlist some of your colleagues to help you recognise the symptoms by flagging them off when they see them.

• Be not the first person to offer views, but listen carefully and then offer your views.

• Acknowledge value of others’ viewpoints before you state yourst.

• Broaden your perspective and horizons through reading and listening to thought leaders.

• Practice saying occasionally “pass, I don’t have a point of view on this.”

• Monitor your “Yes, But” game and stop playing it by simply responding to others’ suggestions with a “Thank You.”

• Invite others to critique your views and learn from it.

• Develop a healthy sense of “paranoia” about your own knowledge and currency of your perspectives.

• Ask yourself if you are sharing opinions but professing them as “data” and scale back this habit.

The smart man’s disease is not incurable, although the cure takes time. Dealing with this begins with recognising you have it and resolving to address this. And remember, your colleagues and manager will only be very willing to help you in your recovery process.

(The author is an Executive Coach and HR Advisor to Corporates)

Published on May 26, 2015

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