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The Nerd Manual is meant to be both a useful resource for nerds and a guide for the people involved with nerds. If you're a nerd you can find information here that will help you improve your life and perhaps better understand yourself. If you're close friends with, dating, or married to a nerd, I want to give you insight into things nerds do that a lot of people have difficulty understanding.


I hope to avoid offending anyone--either nerd or non-nerd--but please understand that the manual will get into some sensitive topics, stray into contentious territories, and even use stereotypes to illustrate points. It's OK to disagree with something, but keep your comments civil.

2017-01-05

Nerd Q&A: Why Are Smart People So Quiet?

I've heard the phrase "still waters run deep" too many times to count, so I think most people (and I include myself in that group) consider intelligence and silence directly connected.

Before I go on, I need to get the obligatory disclaimer out of the way: not all smart people are quiet.

But this is still a fair question that has a lot going on behind it.

To start off, I am certain most people have a preconceived notion that intelligent people are introverts, non-social, and want to be alone. This idea is generally incorrect. Sure, there are genius hermits out there who prefer solitude, but most people like being around and talking with other people, so let’s consider the multitude of reasons why smart people might be quiet. 

Some quiet people are simply shy, which is often a learned behavior. Believe it or not, there are people who ridicule intelligence and say things like, “did you hear what that nerd said? What a loser!” If you grow up surrounded by bullies like this, you learn to keep quiet so as not to attract their attention. As a result, there are quite a few smart and quiet people who enjoy conversation, they just take a while to warm up. Once they get to know you and feel secure they’ll talk a lot more.

Sometimes intelligent people are thinking too much to talk. This doesn’t mean they’re ignoring you. They might simply be giving consideration to a response that adds something to the conversation, in which case they talk, but not as often as other people. Unfortunately this can get out of hand if the person over-thinks things, dissecting all of a conversation’s possible outcomes to the point that the group has already moved on to some other topic when the person finally comes up with something to say.

Of course, intelligent people become intelligent by gathering information, which is easier to do if your mouth is closed and your ears are open, so smart people tend to listen more than they talk. These are the people who will look at you intently as you’re speaking, and won’t say anything until you’ve gotten to the end, then they ask questions to learn more about what you’ve been saying. 

There are also times when extremely intelligent people know they won’t be understood by the people around them, so they say the bare minimum necessary to get through social interactions. This isn’t to say they think they’re better than someone else. Instead, it's a learned behavior similar to shyness, the result of years spent dealing with mortifying situations when they say what they’re thinking and everyone stares at them like they’ve just told an inappropriate joke.

Sometimes intelligent people simply aren’t interested in the same topics that most people want to talk about. This isn’t a case of thinking the subject matter is beneath them, it’s simply a situation where even though the majority of people in a room might be interested in some aspect of popular culture--sports, fashion, politics--there are other people who don’t keep up with those things because they spend all their time on topics most people don’t find interesting. It’s similar to being in a room full of people who speak a language you sort of understand, but aren’t fluent in.

Jason Ippolito - Conversation
There’s another level to this question involving perception: we tend to assume that quiet people are smart. I believe this assumption is often based on incomplete information. When people don’t say much, we don’t have a baseline to decide if they’re smart (or funny or depressed or anything else). There are quiet people who simply seem smarter than everyone else because they don’t say anything stupid...which is pretty smart.

And remember to consider the other side of the conversation--you. If you find yourself regularly facing quiet people, it’s entirely possible you’re such an extremely interesting person that no one wants to interrupt what you’re saying.


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