While it’s not always the case, highly intelligent people struggle with socialization that it’s become a well-known stereotype.
But why do we associate book smarts with a lack of people-smarts?
Is there some truth to this… and is it really their fault, somehow?
The reasons might perhaps surprise you!
1) They doubt themselves
One would think that being smart would make one confident.
But it doesn’t, and in fact the smarter one gets, the more one doubts themselves! This is because the more they know, the more they realize that they don’t know.
During conversations, you’ll often notice them stutter and say phrases like “Uhmm…I’m not really sure, but…”, or “Well, that’s how I understand it but I might be wrong”, even if the topic is something they’re quite knowledgeable about.
Self-doubt leads to anxiety and excess caution, both of which hold them back a lot when talking with other people.
2) They think too much
Another problem that intelligent people have is that they have a tendency to overthink and overcomplicate things.
They’d break into a sweat just answering the question “What’s your favorite food?” or “Who’s your favorite author?”
Intelligent people are extremely aware of the fact that their every word and action can have an impact. So they try to answer as “correctly” as possible, which can make them look and sound a little stiff.
Together with their severe self-doubt, overthinking makes them doubly careful about what they say and how they behave in public.
Most other people have no trouble fitting into a conversation because they naturally don’t think too hard and just go with the flow.
Unfortunately, overthinking keeps smart people from finding that “flow.”
3) Others find them intimidating
An intelligent person would never intentionally try to look intimidating. In fact, many of them want to seem friendly so people would talk to them.
But the fact that they’re smart and that the people around them know that, is enough to make them intimidating.
It’s quite normal to find intelligence intimidating, especially if one is not quite sure of themselves. One of our deepest fears, ultimately, is being proven wrong or seen as “unintelligent”.
What if some genius would talk to us about history or physics and we have nothing to say? Or we keep saying “Oh, I didn’t know that.” We’d look dumb! And no one wants to look dumb.
Because of this, some people stay away from smart people. And sometimes, it’s actually other people who end up being somewhat awkward around intelligent people.
And when intelligent people sense this awkwardness—that people are not comfortable in their presence— they can’t help but get a bit awkward, too.
4) They lean too much on logic
Socialization is something that relies more on emotion and intuition than reason.
Furthermore, there are many unwritten social rules that need to be learned, and may differ from culture to culture.
Both of these things are a bane for intelligent people, who would rather rely on clean-cut logic and reason. They’d rather be frank or straightforward than play by a set of rules that’s always changing and often seem contradictory.
5) They simply don’t feel a need to socialize
The reason isn’t always the same every time.
Sometimes it’s because they’ve gotten used to socialization being an awkward event they’d have to endure rather than enjoy.
Sometimes they simply have other priorities and actually enjoy being alone, considering that 75% of smart people are introverted.
Generally, intelligent people aren’t as into socialization as most everyone else, and are more than happy to do their own thing all alone.
6) Others can’t relate to them
It’s not impossible to relate to someone just because they’re intelligent, of course.
They might get involved with things the general population find boring or too eccentric, and they might have a “strange” point of view compared to everyone else…but hey, they’re still human!
But unfortunately, people don’t always try to relate to them. Or, they just can’t.
Some people simply see that they’re different and won’t even bother, and some are too intimidated by their intelligence that they’d rather be with people who are “in their own league”.
7) Simply listening exhausts them
One of the reasons that intelligent people struggle in social situations is that simply having to listen to people is something they find draining.
It’s probably because they absorb and process things differently.
A lot of people think that intelligent people are awkward because they aren’t paying attention to the conversation.
But on the contrary, they’re actually trying extra hard to listen to and understand what everyone else is saying. And they’re also trying to not let their minds wander too much.
Unfortunately, they’re not going to get everything, and the more people are involved, the more taxing it becomes.
That’s why, whenever possible, they’d rather talk to one or two people at a time. Anything more is often just too overwhelming that they’d rather withdraw from social interactions altogether.
8) They’re easily intimidated by others
As intimidating intelligent people might be to others, it’s perhaps a touch ironic that intelligent people also find those same people intimidating.
In their case, however, they’re intimidated because they are aware of how bad they might be with socialization. And so, they’d rather wait for people to approach them first.
They don’t want to have embarrassing encounters because they have plenty of that already.
They aren’t exactly thrilled at the possibility of looking like a “nerdy” fool who fumbles and stutters.
And of course, they hold back from trying to talk about their interests in fear of being thought of as weird, or to end up oversharing and being considered boastful.
9) They simply don’t get “small talk”
Conversations have a natural tendency to slow down, stop, and then pick back up again as topics get brought up, discussed, and then replaced.
Part of the art of conversation is in knowing how to keep the pace by sandwiching heavier topics between lighter ones. This keeps the mood easy and light, where otherwise it would get glum very quickly.
But intelligent people only really see all of this as a waste of time.
They might understand the reason why people talk about “nonsense”, but they don’t find them necessary and would rather just get to the heart of the matter.
Because of this, they don’t know the art of bringing up small talk, and often end up coming off as blunt, impatient, and awkward.
10) Others assume they’re bad at socializing
A thing must be said that while a lot of intelligent people struggle with everything I’ve described thus far, not everyone does.
But the stereotype exists, and unfortunately most people buy into that stereotype.
So when an intelligent person makes mistakes that validate this stereotype, people notice it. And they notice it when people notice it, making them even more self-conscious.
They might not be inherently bad socializers, but everyone else has decided that they must be bad at socializing, and thanks to that…they struggle!
It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
It’s perhaps important to note that being good at conversation itself is a kind of intelligence—social intelligence, in fact.
That said, it can’t be denied that there’s an association between academic, musical, or logically intelligent people with being socially unintelligent despite the fact that none of these are mutually exclusive with one another.
The things I’ve described above all lend a hand in why that stereotype exists, and a good part of it comes from the fact that many highly intelligent people tend to be neurodivergent and thus act visibly differently from everyone else.
In the end, it’s good to know these things, not only so that you know how to understand the intelligent outcasts better, but also so that you can look past that stereotype.
Lost Your Sense of Purpose?
In this age of information overload and pressure to meet others’ expectations, many struggle to connect with their core purpose and values. It’s easy to lose your inner compass.
Jeanette Brown created this free values discovery PDF to help clarify your deepest motivations and beliefs. As an experienced life coach and self-improvement teacher, Jeanette guides people through major transitions by realigning them with their principles.
Her uniquely insightful values exercises will illuminate what inspires you, what you stand for, and how you aim to operate. This serves as a refreshing filter to tune out societal noise so you can make choices rooted in what matters most to you.
With your values clearly anchored, you’ll gain direction, motivation and the compass to navigate decisions from your best self – rather than fleeting emotion or outside influences.
Stop drifting without purpose. Rediscover what makes you come alive with Jeanette Brown’s values clarity guide.