People whose intelligence is consistently underestimated usually display these behaviors (without realizing it)

Think about it. How does an intelligent person usually behave?  

While there are no hard and fast rules, we can probably all agree on a few things… 

When we think of an intelligent person, we picture them as being calm and in control of their emotions. They are articulate, choosing their words carefully. They display confidence and ease. They are organized and competitive.

This is not to say that everyone displaying these qualities is extremely smart. That is hardly the case (just look at some of our politicians). But the point is, they appear to be smart.  

Conversely (and sadly), there are many people whose intelligence is consistently underestimated because of certain behaviors. And they probably don’t even realize it.  

So, let’s look at some of the behaviors that cause some people to doubt other’s brilliance.  

1) Being self-critical

Contrary to popular belief, intelligent people are not always bursting with confidence about their competencies and eager to show off their knowledge and expertise. In fact, they are sometimes self-critical, can feel insecure, often underestimating their own abilities.  

And funnily, those with less intelligence often perceive themselves as being extremely smart.  

This is known as the Dunning Kruger effect.  

It describes when people with limited competence and aptitude sometimes overestimate their abilities and those with less intelligence often perceive themselves as being extremely smart. A result of a lack of awareness of their limitations and a simplistic understanding of the subject they’re dealing with. 

And the opposite is true for high performers. They often underestimate their competence because they are acutely aware of their own limitations. They are hard on themselves when it comes to appreciating their own knowledge or capabilities and can only see the expanse of the things they don’t know.  

Sometimes they don’t think they are smart at all.  

To paraphrase a quote often attributed to a variety of intellectual heavyweights (such as Aristotle, Socrates, Einstein), “the more you know, the more you know you don’t know.”  

And unfortunately, when people doubt their intelligence, this can create doubt in the minds of others too. 

(Remember what you were told about believing in yourself first so others could too? Makes even more sense now, doesn’t it). 

So, the next time you’re tempted to think that the flamboyant smooth talker is smarter than their slightly clumsier and less confident counterpart, think again! 

2) Being soft hearted

People often underestimate the intelligence of others when they perceive them as being too soft.  

It’s the old troupe of the emotional, sentimental simpleton versus that of the restrained, pragmatic, (and dare I say, harsh) intellectual.  

Sympathetic and nurturing people are often viewed as weak and naive, with the more reserved and less emotional among us considered more competent.   

But this isn’t the case.  

People who are sympathetic and responsive to the feelings and needs of others as generally high in empathy, a key component of emotional intelligence. Being empathetic means being able to sense when those around you are struggling which results in a great awareness of what others think and feel and excellent communication skills.  

Wouldn’t we all like more of that?  

3) Cursing, a lot

Traditionally, using bad language was considered a sign of low intelligence as well as a lack of education and an underprivileged upbringing.  

But this theory has been debunked by psychology.  

A recent study found that the broader a person’s vocabulary, the more likely they are to use curse words, often becoming just as fluent and articulate in foul language than in regular speech.  

Interestingly, other research has also found that there is a strong link between swearing and honesty.  

So, the next time you hear someone with a mouth like a sailor (as they say), be sure not to underestimate their intelligence.  

4) Speaking with a thick accent and a high pitch

This is not fair, but people’s accents have a major impact on how others percieve their intelligence levels. And those with the thicker, harsher-sounding accents are often considered less competent than those who speak with softer accents.  

Similarly, people with high pitched voices are often thought of as being less intelligent than those who speak in lower tones. 

They may seem like small details, but they have a massive impact when others are weighing up our smarts.  

5) Being messy and disorganized  

It’s easy to think a person who is put together on the outside is also put together on the inside; that their mind is in as good order as their physical appearance.  

A similar correlation can be applied to the state of people’s desks… 

And similarly, we often correlate outwardly messiness and disorganization with a mind that is scrambling all over the place. But this is far from accurate.  

Disorganization points to high intelligence because messiness inspires creativity, encouraging people to think outside the box. The fact that it drives people to innovate makes it vital to intelligence.  

And they don’t devote time to cleaning or organizing because they are too focused on more important things!  

On to the next behavior that gets people’s intelligence underestimated by others…  

6) Being unassuming

We live in a time where we’re told we have “sell ourselves”, where social media engagement is used as a measure of success, and where public relations prowess is key to reputation.  

Therefore, it’s no surprise that those who don’t make ‘noise’ fall under the radar. And hence the reason why the unassuming people of this world often get their acumen overlooked by others.   

Often, we fall into the trap of thinking the person with the highest profile is the most talented, or the most intelligent. But research has found that humble people are often more intelligent than people think. They just don’t go around seeking acclaim or putting their smarts on display.  

They are far more likely to be quiet observers, reading the room.  

7) Being uncomfortable around people

Onto another type of quiet observer, and one who would rather not be in the room at all!  

The socially awkward don’t like meaningless small talk. This is because they tend to over-analyze events and words, looking for deeper meaning and are instinctively aware of other people’s state of mind

However, to others, they can appear to lack social graces and have an unsettling effect on those around them. So instead of getting plaudits for their intelligence (which they often have in abundance), they will likely have it underestimated.  

As my grandmother used to say, “When words are sparse, thoughts are plentiful.”  

8) Opting out of the spotlight

In a world where so many people chase status and fame someone who rejects this is often viewed with suspicion. They are sometime seen as strange, unambitious, or foolish. Because everyone wants to be famous, right?  

No, not really.  

In fact, choosing to keep your profile on the low side and spend more time alone indicates intelligence, not the opposite.   

Many intelligent people prefer to keep their social circles to a minimum, because they value privacy over popularity. And they certainly don’t crave attention or external approval.  

They would much rather have the respect of the few people they value as that of the masses. Plus, they are generally super busy with their personal projects!  

But whatever the reason for them rejecting the need for society’s approval, this behavior often gets their mindset and their capabilities underestimated by others.  

Final thoughts

So, now you know the behaviors of people whose intelligence is consistently underestimated.  

I’m sure you’ll agree, some are more surprising than others.  

Please know that this article is not about persuading people to change these behaviors. (Not in the slightest – please don’t change, we need more people like you!)  

It is about helping us all to become more aware of the impact certain behaviors can have on others’ perceptions of us. (While leaving them to it!)  

Niamh McNamara

A freelance writer fascinated with human nature and social dynamics, Niamh read literature, history, and philosophy at university before spending time in journalism and PR. Armed with a passion for words and ideas, and a healthy appreciation of the ridiculous, she tries to make sense of it all. Connect with Niamh on X @NBMcnamara123

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