6 ways to show you’re smart without saying a word, according to psychology

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We’re all smart in one way or another.

Intelligence is a broad spectrum, after all, and while I may not exactly excel at mathematics, I’m much more skilled when it comes to learning foreign languages or coming up with creative ideas.

Unfortunately, some people – especially those who think themselves more intelligent than they are in reality – like to make their wits known.

In other words, they boast, brag, bring others down, and exhibit as many different signs of intellectual snobbery as you can imagine.

True intelligence, however, lies in the subtle skill of coming off as smart without saying a word.

And here are the 6 ways to do exactly that.

1) Listen with genuine curiosity

This one sounds like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at how many people don’t put in active effort to listen with curiosity, empathy, and proper focus.

According to psychology, only 10% of people listen effectively.

Wow.

“How is that even possible?” you might ask.

Well, positive psychology coach Caren Osten explains it perfectly when she says: 

“We often think that we are listening but we’re actually just considering how to jump in to tell our own story, offer advice, or even make a judgment—in other words, we are not listening to understand, but rather to reply.”

If you feel called out, don’t worry. You’re not alone.

What this means is that you still have some space to grow, which is actually a good thing, seeing as a life with no potential for progress would be pretty boring.

Here are a few tips for how to listen with genuine curiosity and care:

  • Stay grounded in the present moment (don’t let your thoughts drift away while the other person speaks)
  • Calm down your nervous system by employing some breathing techniques before an anxiety-inducing social situation to make sure you feel relaxed (otherwise you might overthink what you’re going to say next and not pay proper attention)
  • Try to change the topic if the focus of the conversation is becoming too boring for you
  • Instead of seeking validation, concentrate on building a connection

And ta-da!

That’s our first way to show you’re smart without saying a word done and dusted.

2) Stay quiet if you have nothing valuable to contribute

This one sounds a bit harsher than what it actually means.

Look, I’m sure you have plenty of valuable ideas to bring to the table.

You shouldn’t doubt yourself just because some writer on the internet told you to stay quiet if your idea isn’t 100% unique and world-changing.

The point I’m trying to make is that not always do we use words to their full potential. Words carry weight, after all, and way too many people throw them about without thinking about the meaning too much.

And if there’s one thing you can do that undermines your intelligence, it’s to misuse words, ramble on about pointless topics, and chime in with useless suggestions or obvious statements at every opportunity.

Again, this isn’t to say you should doubt yourself when you have an idea you’d like to bring up.

It’s just to remind you that sometimes, the smartest thing you can do is to stay quiet and listen.

3) Become a life-long learner

I once dated a guy who was really smart. What I liked about his intelligence the most was that it wasn’t in your face – on the contrary, it was subtle and unassuming.  

He wouldn’t mansplain or go on long rants no one asked to hear.

His interest in knowledge manifested through his lifestyle and hobbies, such as the YouTube videos he watched (mostly physics and chemistry), the books he consumed (history and religion), and the one time he was reading a Wikipedia page about the secrets of bread while eating bread.

True story.

In other words, he always longed to learn more. Seeking new knowledge was kind of his favorite pastime.

Without him even saying anything, you could tell he was smart because he continuously tried to understand the world a little bit better.

So, what trait should you cultivate in order to come across as intelligent without even opening your mouth?

Curiosity.

As developmental psychologist Marilyn Price-Mitchell Ph.D. says, “Curiosity is at the heart of lifelong learning. It not only gives children an advantage in school, but today’s business leaders agree that it is also at the heart of thriving organizations.”

4) Practice patience and mindfulness

The art of keeping your cool under pressure and remaining patient in stressful circumstances says more about your intelligence than you might think.

And that’s because intelligence isn’t just about how high your IQ is or whether you graduated from university. It’s also about how well you can recognize and regulate your emotions.

If someone has a meltdown in a queue at a supermarket, you’ll probably think to yourself, “Jesus, can’t they keep it together for five minutes?”

What’s more, people who are too impatient have a much harder time turning their lives around and working toward a goal because they simply give up too soon.

All in all, impatience serves no purpose.

As Judith Orloff M.D. states, “You can drive yourself crazy, behave irritably, feel victimized, or try to force an outcome—which are all self-defeating reactions that alienate others and bring out the worst in them. Or, you can learn to transform frustration with patience.”

So, our fourth lesson is this: practice patience and mindfulness and learn to regulate your emotions. Trust me, you’ll immediately get extra intelligence points.

5) Pivot when needed

Smart people understand one crucial truth about life: it cannot be predicted.

You might think you’re about to buy the house of your dreams, get married, or get the promotion you’ve worked hard for, just to find out other buyers got there first, your fiancé cheated on you, or the company you’re working for is going bankrupt.

If you stick to your expectations and plans too rigidly, there’s a high chance you’re going to have a massive breakdown when things don’t turn out the way you wanted.

And while it is completely normal and understandable to feel shocked, betrayed, disappointed, and hopeless, truly intelligent people:

  • Process their emotions in a healthy way
  • Are gentle with themselves and foster a great deal of self-compassion
  • Slowly pick themselves back up
  • Find a new way to make it work or come up with a new plan entirely

Life is simply too complicated and random for you to have a rigid mindset. Flexibility is an essential skill.

And when someone pivots as needed, they immediately come off as smart.

6) Read a book in public

Let’s end this on a light note, shall we?

As a huge bookworm, I love to read. Obviously. In fact, I take a book with me everywhere I go.

And you wouldn’t believe the number of people who view me as highly intelligent just because I’m reading a fantasy series about faeries in love on public transport.

So, if you’re looking for a quick way to show you’re smart without saying a word, open a book on the subway and get reading.

Mia Zhang

Mia Zhang blends Eastern and Western perspectives in her approach to self-improvement. Her writing explores the intersection of cultural identity and personal growth. Mia encourages readers to embrace their unique backgrounds as a source of strength and inspiration in their life journeys.

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