Within fractions of a second, in a phenomenon that psychologists call “thin slicing”, we make evaluations about various characteristics of people we meet. One of those characteristics is intelligence. A moment is, obviously, too short a time to hold an in-depth discussion, so on what are our “gut feelings” based?
One key factor affecting our first impressions about intelligence is eye contact. A 2007 study led by Loyola Marymount University professor Nora A. Murphy found that looking your conversation partner in the eye had an enormous impact on your perceived smartness.
Speaking expressively is another factor that influences people to think you are bright. Opinions offered in a monotone, no matter how brilliant, might not impress. But varying your tone and volume will serve you well—especially if you maintain eye contact while you do it! This research intrigued us because we have been teaching these skill sets for years in our course on persuasive presentations. Interesting to discover how important they are in interpersonal influence as well.
We want to hear. What criteria do you think you use to determine if someone is intelligent? Do you actively try to manage people’s perceptions of your own intelligence—and how so? To join the conversation, click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
If you would like to read more about creating a habit around masterful communication, check out our book: Be Quiet, Be Heard: The Paradox of Persuasion.