Australia markets closed

Here’s how being too smart could sabotage your career

Image: Getty

Wish you could be smarter? You might want to rethink that.

While being the smartest person in the room can seem to be a good thing, it can also set you up for a number of workplace challenges, explains former clinical psychologist and author of The Healthy Mind Toolkit, Alice Boyes.

“Raw intelligence is undoubtedly a huge asset, but it isn’t everything,” she said in The Harvard Business Review.

“And sometimes, when intellectually gifted people don’t achieve as much as they’d like to, it’s because they’re subtly undermining themselves.”

What’s going on?

If you’re an absolute brainiac, you might unwittingly undervalue other skills like relationship building as you believe intelligence is everything.

The reality is that it’s not.

And success is the result of so many factors, not just intelligence.

The tricky part is that for a lot of smart people, they’ve grown up being told their intelligence is their most important asset.

“It’s easy to understand why, as a result, they would continue to focus on their intellect as a adults,” Boyes said.

“But in most workplaces, you need more than raw intelligence to get ahead. And only focusing on your greatest strength, rather than also addressing your weaknesses, tends to be self-sabotaging.”

The good news is that if you’re smart, you should find it relatively easy to learn those other workplace skills like diplomacy, collaboration and teamwork.

Fear of criticism

If you’ve always valued your intelligence above all other skills, you might struggle in situations where you’re not the smartest person in the room.

Criticism and failure can be terrifying and concerningly, the fear of these normal workplace occurrences can actually hold smart people back, Boyes said.

The best way to overcome this is to focus on the benefits of working with those who are smarter than you in some ways.

And you should try to cultivate relationships with those who do give you constructive feedback.

“The more you become accustomed to receiving critical feedback from people who believe in your overall talents and capacities, the easier it will become.”


Did you daydream a lot in a slow class? Become frustrated with teamwork where the rest of your team worked more slowly than you?

The reality is that smart people become bored easily. And the challenge is remaining interested in a job after you know how to do it, or know everything about it.

But focusing on the benefits of that monotonous task, or the overall benefit of those few hours of boredom can be the trick to overcoming it.

For example, you could think about the financial benefits of that boring but lucrative task. The task could be boring but could also be giving you the financial freedom to pursue creative opportunities.

“Instead of attempting dramatic change, decide when tolerating short periods (a few minutes or hours) of boredom could have a very beneficial impact on your success,” Boyes said.

“Additionally, make sure you have enough outlets for your love of learning across the various domains of your life, including your work, hobbies [and] physical fitness.”

Make your money work with Yahoo Finance’s daily newsletter. Sign up here and stay on top of the latest money, news and tech news.

Now read: 7 bizarre ways millionaires got rich

Now read: Taxing times for Aussie expats overseas

Now read: 8 Australian inventions that changed the world