Do you think you're smart? If so, why?
If it's because someone told you that you were, you're not alone. As you go through school and progress in your career, you're often labeled based on your skills, your performance, and other factors you'll never know.
But what happens if someone doesn't think you're smart? Suddenly their arbitrary - and potentially uninformed - opinion takes on a different weight. Although managers are quick to sort employees into categories based on how they're performing, calling people "smart" or "unintelligent" isn't useful. It's also probably inaccurate.
According to psychologist Howard Gardner, there are 9 different types of intelligence. Labeling people as "smart" or "unintelligent" isn't taking the full scope of intelligence into consideration. Given that diversity is increasing, it's an especially inaccurate category for today's workforce.
Here are three ways using those two categories serves no purpose:
1. It forces potentially dangerous labels on people.
Most of us aren't experts in judging someone else's intelligence, but that doesn't keep us from labeling people "smart" or "unintelligent" anyway. These labels might not seem dangerous, but they're hard to reverse. In reality, they can often destroy someone's confidence - and maybe even their career.
2. None of us is an expert at assessing someone else's intelligence, which means we're often wrong.
When you judge someone's intelligence, you're making a broad assumption about their ability or inability to succeed at any task rather than at a specific task. Different jobs call for different capabilities. If someone isn't succeeding at a task, it often means that they're not the right fit for that task; it doesn't mean that they aren't the right fit for every task. This kind of assessment is often inaccurate anyway, which means it's ultimately unhelpful when trying to work with others or get things done.
3. It promotes a fixed mindset.
Carol Dweck, a Stanford psychologist and author of "Mindset", writes, "In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success--without effort."
Having a growth mindset, on the other hand, means that people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. Carol has found with her research that having a growth mindset is one of the keys to long-term success, which is why promoting a fixed mindset is so dangerous.
Rather than making assumptions about someone's intelligence, you should do this instead:
1. Assess fit to the task.
Start looking at whether a person is the right for the job they're in. Identifying a mismatch in task is much better than judging a person's intelligence because it's not a reflection on the person's capabilities as a whole.
2. Use more descriptive language.
Instead of trying to convey something with one word, try to describe someone's genius (the thinking or problem solving that they naturally excel at) or what is missing (i.e. - the distinct ability to move a task from inception to completion). This will clear up any miscommunications that could arise from calling someone "smart" or "unintelligent."
3. Pay more attention.
Not using the word "smart" forces you to pay more attention. By paying more attention, you're giving yourself time to accurately identify what's not working and what kind of skill is required that is not present. You can also more quickly solve the problem, rather than waste time and energy by leaning on broad generalizations that aren't helpful.
Doing this takes time and energy. However, you'll be a much better leader in the long run if you start doing this now.