How To Work With Stupid People

I wrote the popular essay How To Manage Smart People years ago, and often heard the feedback: “advice on smart people is easy. Tell us how to work with stupid people.” I hoped to get to it eventually, but Jason Crawford beat me to it. And he wrote about it in much the way I would have:

 Unless you’re a world-class genius (statistically unlikely), you are probably mis-diagnosing people as stupid.

His post is as a series of questions, almost a checklist, for challenging assumptions. If by chance the person you’re working with is a moron, walking through his post will show you how to think more clearly about whatever it is you’re working on and find a better way to deal with it.

Do you fully understand what they’re saying? Or are you talking past each other?
Are you answering the same question? Maybe each of you is answering a different angle on the question (e.g., “what’s our next step?” vs. “what’s the long-term solution?”)
Are you using terms in the same way? Sometimes disagreements come from differing definitions and terminology.
Are you talking completely in abstractions? Give examples, and ask them for examples, to get clear and concrete

Read the whole post. It’s worth reading once a year, and gift for new leaders and managers.

7 Responses to “How To Work With Stupid People”

  1. Mike Nitabach

    Reminds me of that old saw: If everyone around you is an idiot, maybe you are really the idiot.

    1. Scott

      Ha. I’ve always heard it as “If everyone around you is an asshole, then you’re the asshole”

  2. Snorkasaurus

    I think I would have preferred “People Are Stupid… How Quitting Work Can Reduce Your Interaction With Stupid People.” – though I guess it wouldn’t relieve anyone of having read this comment.

  3. Sam

    When playing an online game, a team-mate in a randomly generated team complained that every team he got played like idiots, and he couldn’t get any wins because of it (those weren’t his exact words, but once you filter out the “noobs” and profanity, that’s the gist of it).

    I replied that it was funny that the only things those teams all had in common was that he was in them. The discussion did not progress beyond that point, but I still felt I got the message across.

    Oh yeah, and we lost the game. F-ing noobs!

  4. Yeah Sure

    I am a world class genius. Statistically proven, thank you very much.

    I do have to work with sub-normal intellects. I’m not asking for genius or even above average IQ, but when you have a manager who:

    1) Cannot read (I’m serious here. This is a person with zero literacy skills.),
    2) Cannot add,
    3) Is convinced everyone around him is an idiot,

    … well, you begin to ask questions.

    No answers here though.

  5. Anonymous

    Statistically unlikely heh. So you are telling me than less than 50 people have read this article. Well, I better spend my time well read articles instead.

  6. Sandi

    Oh, yes indeed I work with stupid people. I have no problem admitting I don’t know everything but when I am asked the same question over & over & over again and I answer concisely and the same mistake is made that person is labeled stupid. I don’t even get aggravated anymore. I know part of my day is to answer the same question. Luckily it doesn’t reflect in my own work.


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