Are You Too Stupid to Know You’re Being Stupid?

A few years back I was amused by a study that explained why stupid people continue to think they’re smart. Clearly, the study concluded, stupid people don’t have the intelligence to accurately assess just how stupid they are.

Kind of makes sense.

Of course, there may be ways to figure it out. As the indomitable and arguably stupid Forrest Gump learned from his beloved mama: “Stupid is as stupid does.” That’s certainly one way to look at it.  From that definition, Forrest wound up being anything but.

Alternatively, we could wear our IQ test scores on our heads to prove whether we really know what we’re talking about. If the score on the other guy’s head is lower, we win. Pure and simple. That sure would make things a lot easier.  Stupid is as stupid tests – no matter what real world evidence might offer to the contrary.

But seriously…no matter what criteria we use, I’m not big on calling people stupid. I think it’s mostly an easy way to dismiss someone else’s opinion. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t have at least something of value to contribute – although for those more frustrating folks in our lives we do at times have to reach to figure out just what that might be.

And there are times when we meet people who are just soooo horribly misinformed or those who are unwilling to open their minds even a smidge – and who therefore rush headlong into something most would consider stupid. So that alone might be evidence of their stupidity. But stupid results may happen even if the person who brings them about isn’t lacking in innate intelligence. (A good reason for making quality education – that includes a solid well-rounded foundation in facts and differing points of view as well as emphasis on critical thinking rather than mere test results – a top priority. But I do digress.)

Look. I’m not here to argue whether or when to classify someone as stupid or intelligent. Personally, I can’t stand labels. Not only do they limit our communication, but they often make it hard to find optimal solutions. (Although admittedly there are times when it sure does feel right, such as with political points of view from the other side of the aisle.)

But thinking about how all this applies to the workplace, for me the study’s premise offers an important window on how we deal with others. Whether we’re actually stupid or not – and fyi most people assume they are not – while we probably have the intelligence to understand another’s point of view, we may shut off critical listening because we’ve already decided they’re stupid and our way is better. And THIS is a big mistake in business.  Some might call it stupid.

Listening and digging for more information as if there truly might be something you need to hear – no matter what your personal feelings are about an individual or idea – will lead to much smarter results in the long run. And you just may wind up learning things that could be useful to your own career in the future. And you also might wind up showing enough respect to the other person to help get them to actually start listening to you, rather than labeling you as stupid. Because often when you’re sitting there thinking how stupid that other person is who just won’t agree with you, they’re doing the exact same thing right back at ya.

When open communication is shut down, everyone loses. Even if you win by pushing past everyone who is too “stupid” to understand, in the long run you lose a chance to build allies and miss out on key information.

Maybe Forrest Gump’s mama was right after all.  Maybe stupid is as stupid does. Maybe, listening with an open mind and true respect for what someone else might offer is the most intelligent thing anyone can do. No matter what that IQ score on your forehead shows.

Ronnie Ann


About the author…

Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker. She can also be found on her new blog, and on Google+.


  1. Besides, as your headline suggests, you may well be the stupid one in certain situations. A good post, Ronnie Ann. I’ve definitely learned a thing or two on occasion when I’ve gotten over myself and actually listened to “stupid” people.

  2. Well, Terry…when you use the word you, are you specifically pointing to me??? Of course it’s true, but I really hoped you wouldn’t tell everyone. Ahem.

    So many of us turn off and tune out and, as a result, lose a chance to learn something we never would otherwise. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Maybe some stupid people say they’re smart because they’re trying fake it untill they make it.

  4. Hah! Maybe they are at that, Marsha. And sometimes they actually get there. Thanks for the interesting perspective.

  5. I was with you 150% until you started to apologize for the article and let me know you’re not here to argue whether or when to classify someone as stupid or intelligent. The answer to the title question would be classification.

    Kudos for wtiting the article. This is the reason why so many problems can’t be solved. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just life and a numbers game.

  6. Hahahaha! Great comment Jake.

    Yes…I have a bad habit of trying to be open to all POVs and possibilities – except when someone just really really bugs me. But your solution works for me. Glad I wasn’t too stupid to understand your comment. 😉

    Peace out and in dude!

    ~ Ronnie Ann

  7. … Cant seem to abate the the conviction i have that there are stupid people. I think stupid is by no means simply defined by intelligence. I am convinced it manifests when the individual doesnt recognize their inherent lack of higher order thinking. Like me.

Speak Your Mind