Playing Dumb

Playing dumb is better than playing smart.

When someone asks a questions that you think you should know, think of the possible reactions and outcomes of these two replies:

  1. You play smart, acting as if you know exactly what’s being asked of you. You hem and haw, throwing around office speak that will hopefully get you by, end the conversation, and give you time to google whatever the topic is hopefully before you have to talk about it again. It makes you nervous, makes for a horrible interaction and the guy you’re talking to knows that you’re full of it.
  2. You play dumb, asking more questions to clarify, even questions you might already know the answer to. The conversation starts rolling, your counterpart feels like an appreciated expert because you’re asking him questions and you appear to be the type of person who really wants to dig into things and get to the bottom of it, in a genuine way.

At a former job, I worked with a CFO who was a master at playing dumb. He had no reservations in asking questions most execs would think they should know instinctively and therefore never ask. More importantly, though, is that he clearly asked such open, obvious questions not so much to learn the answers, but rather to hear your thoughts on the topic. In a way, it was an excellent form of management – it made me feel like I most know something, since the CFO is asking; it helped me relax around one of the head execs; and it allowed him to get a good understanding of my capabilities and planning. Most importantly, it culminated into an outstanding professional (and personal) relationship.

So, can you be smart enough to play dumb?

(For the record, being dumb is most often NOT better than being smart, ok?)


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