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Don’t call me stupid! February 21, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in societal commentary.
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I’ve been a situation where I’m having a discussion and I eventually think something along the lines of, “Either they think I’m really stupid…or they’re really stupid.”

What do you do in those situations?

I don’t think too much about this when I meet random people off the street.  However, when I meet someone who is supposed to have a particular competence, especially if technical, I’m always in a quandry.

First, I try not to make snap judgements.  Sometimes I’ve probed a bit further and either found out that the person was just unfamiliar with a particular area but may be pretty brilliant in another.  Other times, it turns out that they really are…ummm…undereducated.  I remember one person who, after ten minutes, had me convinced that finding their way out of a paper bag would be challenging.  Other people around me were willing to give this person more time to figure things out.  About a year later and many, many episodes of this person’s stupidity, people started saying, “You know, you were right about hir.”  In another situation, I began discussing my work with someone who smiled and basically said they had no idea what I was talking about.  Later I learned that while they didn’t know much about my work, they were pretty brilliant in their own field.  (I always appreciate people being up front about their strengths and weaknesses.)

But what do you do if you can’t probe further?

Another problem I run into is people being condescending because I apparently have an “I’m stupid” look on my face when they’re explaining something.  I admit that when people are explaining things, I often need some ‘offline’ time later to process all of it.  This is especially true the farther I get from my field.  I do try to ask questions as I think of them.

But there are some people who start explaining things to me, and it’s like they’re reviewing high school physics.  I feel like I’m ten steps ahead of them, but I can’t figure out if they’re trying to be helpful or if they don’t think I really understand.  In this situation, I don’t want to say, “Yes, yes, move along,” because they may not be able to…or they may think I’m rude.

So, dear readers, what do you do in these situations?  Put up with it or tell them to pick up the pace?  Or is there another option? Also, how do you avoid being the one that is condescending?

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Comments»

1. Pramod - February 21, 2012

I’ve made too many mistakes in my past attempts at estimating others’ intelligence so now I try my best not to judge this.

If someone is explaining something that I already know well – something that happen fairly often – I tell that I’m already familiar with that topic and follow it up with a pointed question. For instance, “I understand transactional memory reasonably well so can you tell me what specific problem you’re working on.” I think if you say this with the right tone and a nice smile, people are unlikely to take offence.

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2. GMP - February 21, 2012

“Put up with it or tell them to pick up the pace? ”

Tell them to pick up the pace.

Never allow yourself to be condescended to; I used to do that a lot, like to protect people’s feelings and not be rude, but it turns out they end up thinking you are stupid, and that is way worse than looking rude.

When in doubt, always ask yourself “What would a guy do?”
We women are conditioned to protect the feelings of others; it does not bode well for many professional fields.

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3. B - February 21, 2012

Tell them to pick up the pace. The best way to show you are ten steps ahead is to ask a question that is ten steps ahead.

I have seen many different variations of this – sometimes with the person who thinks they understand actually being more lost than they think. Asking a pointed question usually clarifies which case you have pretty quickly.

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