Leadership Barometer 57 Dumb is Smart and Smart is Dumb

July 5, 2020

In his famous program, “Effective Negotiating,” Chester A. Karrass, makes the observation that, in negotiations, often appearing dumb is a great strategy.

The idea is that acting clueless causes the other party to fill in some blanks with information that may ultimately be helpful to you in the negotiation.

Conversely, acting as if you know everything is usually a bad strategy, because you end up supplying too much information too early in the conversation. This habit gives your opponent in the negotiation a significant advantage.

As I work with leaders in organizations of all sizes, a similar observation could be made about leadership. Being dumb is sometimes smart, and being too smart is often dumb. Let’s examine some examples of why this dichotomy is a helpful concept.

To make enlightened decisions, leaders need good information. It sounds simple, but in the chaos of every day organizational issues, it is sometimes difficult to determine which set of information is true.

Rather than blurting out their preconceived notion of what is going on, if leaders would simply act a little confused, like the brilliant detective Colombo, they would elicit far more information from other people.

The way to execute this strategy is simple. Refrain from making absolute statements, and ask a lot of open ended questions. This draws out alternate points of view from individuals and allows the leader to hear many nuances before tipping his or her hand.

When leaders display hubris, and expound their perspective on every issue before others have a chance to voice their ideas, it stifles collaboration and creativity. Therefore, being smart is often a dumb strategy.

Of course, no rule of thumb works in every situation. Leaders need to know when the time is right to divulge their opinion.

Unfortunately, due to over active egos, most leaders like to weigh in on issues far too early. This colors objective conversation and cuts off interesting alternate perspectives.

The same logic holds when making decisions after the information has been gathered. If leaders would say, “I wonder what we should do,” instead of, “Here is what we have to do,” they would draw out the best ideas available.

Smart is dumb and dumb is smart in terms of getting a smorgasbord of options from which to choose. It creates a diversity of ideas that may lead to superior decisions.

The antidote to this problem is simple. Leaders need to understand this dynamic and catch themselves in the act. By being alert to the dangers of advocating too early, leaders can improve their batting average at allowing everyone to enter the conversation at an appropriate level.

Sometimes in a crisis situation, it may be necessary for a leader to be highly directive and quick on the draw. Usually, it is better for the leader to allow conversation around sensitive issues, and then work with people to find the best solution.

If you are a leader, it is important to catch yourself on this issue and begin to train yourself to have more patience and improve your listening skills.

It has been said many times that the Lord gave us two ears and one mouth, because we should listen twice as much as we speak. Many leaders do not understand this simple logic, and it works to their detriment.

They are dumb because they are too smart.


Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. He can be reached at bwhipple@leadergrow.com


Body Language 10R Scratching of the Head

January 12, 2019

Sorry – I had to reissue this article with a different picture to translate well in the LinkedIn environment.

This type of body language is very well known, and the meaning is hard to miss. Perhaps it is a bit more conscious than other BL gestures because we actually refer to it in daily conversation.

We might say something like, “His actions yesterday really left me scratching my head.” The translation is one of confusion or not knowing how to interpret something.

The vision I have with this body language is stuck in my mind. I once saw a man who was driving a little black sports car. I came up upon him when his car was broken down by the side of the road. He had gotten out of the car and just raised the hood as I was going by.

Out from the engine compartment steam was billowing out toward the man’s face. He stood there with his hand near the back of his head and fingers reaching down to scratch his head. It did not take a rocket scientist to derive the meaning of his gesture. It means, “What the heck is going on?”

Often there is a physiological explanation for a specific type of body language, such as the need for more oxygen leading to loosening of the collar. The link for scratching the head might originate in the inability of the brain to comprehend exactly what is happening at the moment.

We may scratch our heads as a way to see more clearly the issue, much the same as when we rake leaves we can see the grass better.

In addition to confusion, this form of body language may signify doubt or uncertainty. In some circumstances, it may be an indication of lying. If someone starts to scratch his head while you are talking to him, check to see if the indication is that the person does not believe what you are saying. You would usually see another facial indication of doubt along with the head scratching.

For example, if the person furrows his brow while scratching his head, it may be a signal that you are damaging the trust this person had built up for you.

Whatever the source of the emotion, the person making the gesture is usually not aware he is doing it, unless someone points it out. We see the behavior in others very quickly, but we are normally not conscious of when we do it ourselves.

The scratching head gesture may have a logical physical explanation such as eczema or severe dandruff. As with all body language, you need to consider the person’s habitual movements. If this person routinely scratches his head with no apparent stimulus, it is likely the problem is a physical itch rather than puzzlement.

The best way to grow in your interpretation of this type of body language is to catch yourself in the act and bring it to your conscious mind. You will be using your Reticular Activation System (RAS) to become more alert to the signals you send out.

The best way to describe RAS is with an example. You are driving down the highway, and you do not notice any specific pattern to the different makes and models of the cars and trucks. Your mind is focused on other things. Then you turn into a Ford dealership and look at a specific red Ford truck that you fancy. You have a negotiation with the dealer and get enough information to make a decision in the next couple days. As you drive back home, you will see every red Ford truck on the highway. You will be amazed at the number that are flowing by when you did not notice them at all on your way to the dealer. Your RAS will have been activated.

Use your RAS to sensitize yourself to the various body language signals you send and you will gain greater control of how you project your emotions to others.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/Bodylanguage or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 600 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Body Language 10 Scratching the Head

January 12, 2019

This type of body language is very well known, and the meaning is hard to miss. Perhaps it is a bit more conscious than other BL gestures because we actually refer to it in daily conversation.

We might say something like, “His actions yesterday really left me scratching my head.” The translation is one of confusion or not knowing how to interpret something.

The vision I have with this body language is stuck in my mind. I once saw a man who was driving a little black sports car. I came up upon him when his car was broken down by the side of the road. He had gotten out of the car and just raised the hood as I was going by.

From the engine compartment, steam was billowing out toward the man’s face. He stood there with his hand near the back of his head and fingers reaching down to scratch his head. It did not take a rocket scientist to derive the meaning of his gesture. It means, “What the heck is going on?”

Often there is a physiological explanation for a specific type of body language, such as the need for more oxygen leading to loosening of the collar. The link for scratching the head might originate in the inability of the brain to comprehend exactly what is happening at the moment. We may scratch our heads as a way to see more clearly the issue, much the same as we rake leaves so we can see the grass better.

In addition to confusion, this form of body language may signify doubt or uncertainty. In some circumstances, it may be an indication of lying. If someone starts to scratch his head while you are talking to him, check to see if the indication is that the person does not believe what you are saying. You would usually see another facial indication of doubt along with the head scratching.

For example, if the person furrows his brow while scratching his head, it may be a signal that you are damaging the trust this person had built up for you. Whatever the source of the emotion, the person making the gesture is usually not aware he is doing it, unless someone points it out. We see the behavior in others very quickly, but we are normally not conscious of when we do it ourselves.

The scratching head gesture may have a logical physical explanation such as eczema or severe dandruff. As with all body language, you need to consider the person’s habitual movements. If this person routinely scratches his head with no apparent stimulus, it is likely the problem is a physical itch rather than puzzlement.

The best way to grow in your interpretation of this type of body language is to catch yourself in the act and bring it to your conscious mind. You will be using your Reticular Activation System (RAS) to become more alert to the signals you send out.

The best way to describe RAS is with an example. You are driving down the highway, and you do not notice any specific pattern to the different makes and models of the cars and trucks. Your mind is focused on other things. Then you turn into a Ford dealership and look at a specific red Ford truck that you fancy. You have a negotiation with the dealer and get enough information to make a decision in the next couple days. As you drive back home, you will see every red Ford truck on the highway. You will be amazed at the number that are flowing by when you did not notice them at all on your way to the dealer. Your RAS will have been activated.

Use your RAS to sensitize yourself to the various body language signals you send and you will gain greater control of how you project your emotions to others.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/Bodylanguage or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 600 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763