How to not act superior?
March 24, 2013 9:13 PM   Subscribe

I received some feedback recently that I come across as arrogant, condescending, and pretentious. How can I stop coming across this way, externally? How can I get at the root of underlying attitudes, internally?

I'm highly intelligent verbally - according to a few standardized tests you take before going to college and grad school - and less so socially. Not inept, but not someone who finds it natural to relate to everyone.

I have always had a larger vocabulary than most of my cohort, and tend to prioritize precision over simplicity. The person conveying this feedback suggested that this might be a part of the problem.

What do I need to be on the lookout for, behaviorally? Emotionally/attitudinally? Advice from those who have made this adjustment in their own lives is especially appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (53 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure if/how often you bring up/make reference to your high intelligence or large vocabulary, but definitely make sure you stop and think about whether it needs to be said before you mention those things in conversation.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:30 PM on March 24, 2013 [6 favorites]

Hey, a lot of this is just going to get easier with time. Be gentle with yourself. We all have our hard stuff and the fact that you want to make changes is great and puts you ahead of most people.

I'd suggest whatever helps you think before you respond to a given situation. For me that's been a regular meditation practice (there might be free resources on campus for this), and just intentionally practicing, forcing myself to count to 5 in my head before I respond to something. Take a breath. Ask yourself, "what do I want to get out of this conversation?" "Do I need to be right, right now?" Remind yourself, it's better to be happy than right. Remind yourself, "What does this person want right now?" Ask yourself if it will cost you anything to just give that person what they want in the moment.

You may not be able to change the root of the underlying behavior, but you can, with practice, change your responses. On one level this comes down to faking it till you make it. But your responses, not the underlying stuff, is what actually matters to social success.

Best of luck to you. I think you're going to be fine.
posted by latkes at 9:33 PM on March 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

How to Win Friends and Influence People has many relevant suggestions, and it's a fun read--much more pleasant and engaging than most self-help books.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 9:40 PM on March 24, 2013 [6 favorites]

One of the hardest adjustments to make is to realize that you may be right, but that there's no value in proving it. You value the precision so much that it's hard to recognize that others don't.

This taps into my geek side - there's an episode of the original Star Trek series where Spock has command of the ship in Kirk's absence. Spock dresses down crewmembers every time they don't give an absolutely precise down to the decimal point answer. To him it's just logic and the way he thinks. To everyone else he's being a complete asshole. I can't remember the name of the episode (they're all free on Hulu through the end of the month) but if you see it, it may give you perspective (obviously exaggerated, but hey) of what others may be seeing.

I have had these issues in the past. I had to teach myself that you save the arguments over precise things for when they're needed, not for every little nit. Being right all the time drives people away.
posted by azpenguin at 9:42 PM on March 24, 2013 [14 favorites]

Do you find yourself judging people who talk dumb?

(Like, right here: did you just roll your eyes or maybe make a mental note about me, given how I worded that question?)

If you do, you want to stop that. Granted, that's a hard thing to do. The first step is to notice if you do it. Pay attention to your internal monologue when you come across someone talkin' dumb. Also pay attention to your physiological state, posture, etc. A lot of times, when we're used to some particular way of judging the world or others, we may not even be aware that we're doing it. It's just second nature, until we stop and actively reflect on it.

So, if you start to notice that you're judging people when they talk dumb, you can try to work on that. Try to think why they might not prefer precision over simplicity. Think about the ways that culture, class, social dynamics, etc., can determine how one both can speak and chooses to speak. It may be worthwhile for you to ask yourself this question: why would this person choose to speak in this imprecise way? And come up with a good answer. Yes, a good one. One that respects them as intelligent and reasonable. Assume the best of them (note the question assumes it was a choice, on their part, to speak that way). Practice this enough, and it can help you counteract your reflective judgments. It may also help you see the value in less precise modes of communication, which may help you engage with those who don't value precision the way that you do.

Again, this is all assuming that you are judging people who don't speak the same way you do. You don't say in your question whether you do or not. If you don't, I'm not sure if any of this will help you. But, I know a lot of people who value precision in language to a high degree -- and I know a lot of those people are rather judgmental about how others speak, even if they don't admit it to themselves.
posted by meese at 9:44 PM on March 24, 2013 [11 favorites]

Stop correcting people.

In a lot of social conversations the accuracy of the content doesn't really matter. Your prioritization of precision is probably annoying people if you're constantly correcting small details that have no real importance ("That was arugula in your sandwich, not kale!") .

If someone is telling you something and they get a detail wrong, try to gauge the importance of it before jumping in with a correction. If you're always correcting people you could come off as constantly trying to one-up everyone, even if that isn't your intention.
posted by ODiV at 9:47 PM on March 24, 2013 [20 favorites]

This is a huge topic that is hard to address all at once. Here are some small parts:

Do you cut people off or interrupt them? Or do you fake listen until it is your turn to talk? Do you directly contradict their statements with "the truth" even when it is inconsequential (no one will be hurt)? Do you not ask questions of your conversational partners? These habits tend to make the other party upset in the vein of Kanye's infamous "Imma let you finish." I'd try to engage in several conversations where all you do is ask questions or listen unless you're asked a direct question, in which case you'll answer as simply as you can and go back to asking/listening. As a next step, you could try to work in some genuine thank yous and/or compliments, as humility is a direct contrast to arrogance/pretentiousness.

Vocabulary-wise, if I get the sense I've just used a word that my conversational partner doesn't understand well, I casually insert a synonym or definition into the sentence without making note of it at all. "Nancy is a bellwether, you know, you can tell by her response how the rest of the group will feel, so I'm planning on..."
posted by vegartanipla at 9:52 PM on March 24, 2013 [7 favorites]

I have no idea why, but I have a pretty strong feeling you are a woman. I think you are going to get great advice on general aspects of this, so I just want to say, if that is the case, sometimes there is just no way to win. Some people will just be really put off by you if you are a woman and you are not self-effacing. Some people just do not want to take criticism or correction from a woman at all. Some people will only be open to your "corrections" if you very indirectly lead them to realize what they did wrong, and flatter them into thinking they led you both there and little old you would have never noticed it. Some people will try to put you swiftly into your place for merely saying that you know a lot about something.

So at times, when someone tells you you are arrogant and condescending or whatever, it is their problem and you have to ignore them.
posted by cairdeas at 9:53 PM on March 24, 2013 [22 favorites]

I've kinda been where you are, at least to some degree. I definitely got accused of being arrogant when I was younger and of throwing too many big words at people. It didn't get to the point where it was costing me friendships, but it did eventually get to the point where I felt like I needed to get over myself and take some of that criticism on board.

Things to consider:

- It's very, very common for people to want to feel superior in some way. You see it all the time; conservatives bagging on liberals and vice versa. Sports fans bagging on other sports fans. The geek hierarchy flowchart I'm sure everyone on here has seen. Etc, etc. So yeah, like Latkes says, be gentle with yourself and recognise that this is very, very common human behavior that has been kicking around in our monkey brains for a very long time.

- It's also pretty common for bright people to want to show that off a bit. People want other people to see the best parts of themselves, so again, there's nothing inherently wrong with that. But it can get annoying when that person does it all the time. The thing I've noticed among the "folks who always have to be the smartest guy/gal in the room" is that they often feel like they don't have much else to bring to the table (It's usually not true, either, but that's a whole other thread). The people I personally know who do this all the time often have fairly low self-esteem and have difficulty valuing themselves for anything outside their own intelligence. A lot of them were picked on at some point in their lives for various reasons. Not sure if this applies to you, but I thought it might be worth throwing out there.

- Behaviorally: try to be aware of others' social cues. Be aware of your audience, and tailor your manner of communication accordingly. Maintain a reasonable level of eye contact. If you tend to waffle and use big words too much, challenge yourself to be clear in as few words as possible. This is a real skill: it takes discipline, and, dare I say it, intelligence to do this. This is a game I play with myself quite a bit (and I game I'm probably losing already in this post, but... yeah).

- Emotionally: be gentle with yourself and recognise that you're a work in progress. Yeah... that's about it really.

- Attitudinally: the single biggest thing you can do here, I think, is be receptive to other people. Realise that there are a ton of people out there you can learn from, and that almost everyone has something they can teach you, even if they're maybe not as intelligent as you or don't have as big a vocabulary as you. It's almost impossible to be genuinely receptive to someone else and still come off as arrogant and superior. People are interesting and cool. People have a lot to teach you if you'll let them. So let them.

Good luck.
posted by Broseph at 9:53 PM on March 24, 2013 [7 favorites]

I spend time at two places. At the first place everyone has a minimum of a bachelor's degree, and they all work in a white collar environment. At the second place some people finished high school, no one attended college, and they all work in a blue collar environment. I don't insert $10 words at the first place, nor do I talk down to people in the second place. However, I do modify my vocabulary so that it fits the people and the environment.
posted by obol at 10:22 PM on March 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

My boss is brilliant - not your garden variety gifted kid brilliant - truly brilliant. He's book smart (multiple doctorates), people smart, and street smart. That said, if you know more than he does on a topic or if you have a different perspective, then he listens.

Here's the deal. He knows he's probably the smartest guy in the room. He doesn't need to make sure you know it. As smart as he is, he's never perceived as arrogant.
posted by 26.2 at 10:24 PM on March 24, 2013 [8 favorites]

Are you a woman? If so, you're doubly doomed by these habits. Just learn to smile sweetly instead of showing irritation at other people's slowness or bumbling imprecision. Unless lives are at stake, nothing that happens is all that serious.
posted by zadcat at 10:31 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I behave like this (and other "idiosyncratic" ways) in social contexts constantly and this subject is really the struggle of my entire life.

What people don't understand is that when people act this way it's not because they want everyone to know they have superior intelligence (or superior anything). They (we) behave this way because social interaction in general has been an impenetrable mystery to us since social interaction became a part of our lives. The way most people seem to navigate any social situation with ease looks like magic to us and when it's our turn to do it we freeze and nothing seems natural to say. It's possible to avoid this by avoiding social interaction, but most of us find pretty quickly that this is absolutely not a satisfactory solution to the problem. Because we need people in our lives or else we feel terrible about ourselves.

When we cannot bolster our confidence by getting direct, social, face-to-face contact with human beings, due to the stress of it and the inability to perform socially, we turn to other methods. We know by most standards we are considered to be quite smart, so we bolster our confidence by way of the pursuit of knowledge or of difficult skills.

Then, when we get older and braver, we say 'Fuck this shit, I'm tired of not talking to other humans. Whenever I try I fall on my face and have nothing to say, so I will just start talking."

I have met these people, who are like me, many times over. From the outside it looks like we are shitty at listening, shitty at making eye contact, shitty at conveying interest in conversational partners. We just talk about whatever we're thinking about so we can participate at least a little bit, and fall instinctively back on 'being right,' not because we want to be seen as better than anyone, but because we're frantically seeking some social validation and don't really know how else to do it.

I can completely understand why people find this off-putting, and I even find it off-putting myself at times. But what they don't understand is that we are not narcissistic people trying to dominate a conversation, we are hopelessly socially backward people who are trying desperately just to JOIN a conversation because we are sick to death of being alone.

I guess I don't have an answer, and I should probably just speak for myself, but this is the way I have been able to explain this behavior to myself and maybe it will help you. And maybe if you meet someone who acts this way you can recognize their struggle a little bit, too.
posted by TheRedArmy at 10:31 PM on March 24, 2013 [27 favorites]

An exercise I went through that changed my perspective a lot was, just for a while, that every time I wanted to tell someone something, I instead asked them for the information. Rather than sharing my opinion, I asked for theirs. If I felt they were incorrect or vague, I asked for more information instead (and I don't mean I asked leading questions to get them to say what I wanted them to say, I mean I asked very open questions that could easily be answered however the speaker wanted to).

When I did this, I found that others seemed more interested in talking to me, and that I never felt like important bits were left unsaid. I'd respond to direct questions, but kept lobbing the ball back to them.

I'll bet that a lot of how you're being perceived is that you tend to state your opinion directly and confidently, and do so continuously. Informationally this can be wonderful, but socially it comes across as you squashing the mutual grooming that is conversation. Try this exercise for one day a week for a month, and notice how people react to you being solicitous rather than declarative.
posted by fatbird at 10:55 PM on March 24, 2013 [13 favorites]

I have a couple of friends who have somewhat the same problems; I am still struggling with this issue myself too.

You have to ask yourself what you really think about people who are different from you. For instance, I don't like people being imprecise when discussing technology. What do I think of them? Are they "lazy" people who couldn't bother to do proper research, or just people who are more interested in the idea than using the precise correct words? This is important, as for the former I have made a judgment; the latter I tried to see where the person is coming from.

If I think the person I am talking to is a fool, lazy, stupid, uncaring, immoral because of a view or stance or something the person has done (even such as the poor usage of grammar, such as I am doing now), eventually I will come across as arrogant to him or her.

Despite that, there are some techniques that may help

1. As mentioned, stop correcting others or interrupting others (which I am guilty of)

2. When advising, try not to use 'should'. Try using "How you have tried doing such and such?"

3. Don't judge or blame. Here's a personal experience - a friend of mine was ranting how some of his classmates didn't come for a talk despite saying they would. He was saying they were just not serious about improving themselves and just don't want to keep their words. That they may be falling behind assignments, have last minute emergencies etc. doesn't occur to him or...

4) Don't expect people to be perfect, or to be you. The above-mentioned friend is good at planning and schedule (and does think lesser of those who don't). Usually now I find myself thinking, "He promised to do such and such, but he didn't. Oh he has this reason, but if he has been more aware of his schedule, he wouldn't have missed out etc. etc.", I'll stop immediately.

5) Don't in anyway indicate that people have problems or you are superior. Example: I am asking for a friend to come to a talk on "Living Victoriously" and saying "Oh I think this talk is good for X, Z and you", and not referring to yourself (especially when I am at the talk too!)

6) Try using "I" statements, such as "I think this is the correct term", or "From my readings, I believe this is another way of stating it" instead of "The term is wrong! It should be..."

Hope this helps.
posted by crowbar_of_irony at 11:30 PM on March 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Big words make you sound pretentious, and you probably aren't entirely aware that you're using words other people don't know. You might benefit from practice in stating your meaning precisely without the 'crutch' of a pre-existing perfect word. I work with a lot of non-native English speakers and it's been a terrific education for me in the difference between using the perfect turn of phrase, versus being clear. Sometimes it's fun to use just the right word, but for most items what's important is the substance of the communication. Using the precise word is actually worse communication when your audience won't get all the same shadings of connotation that you do.

One other major thing that leads to being perceived as arrogant is avoiding 'personal' interactions. So you can usually seem a bit friendlier if you talk to folks during breaks or at lunch and ask them about their lives, and say a few things about your own life. Or when you're talking to them about work business, make a point to look up from your computer / make eye contact, smile when you see them, and generally try to remember that it's not just an exchange of data, it's a conversation with a person.
posted by Lady Li at 11:44 PM on March 24, 2013 [5 favorites]

Awwww, fuck all that!

Don't change.

My best roommate - EVER - with a higher degree in university than me, never understood half of the words I said. Do you know what she did (I found out after months into our association)? She bought a dictionary to look up every word I said that she did not understand.

I will love her forever.

Look. If you are truly that bright, there's no helping it.

When you are socially adept (and this comes with experience/age) you stop needing to, "make your point."

Really. That's the secret. You don't ever have to prove you are correct. Often, it is better to let people learn what you know on their own.

This is true both in personal dealings, and in business. I SWEAR.

You will learn this over time. Be aware of others and their reactions. Keep practicing being true to yourself WITHOUT being A Know It All.

Oh, yeah

It is true that if you are female, you will have to feign stupidity to be likeable and get ahead. This was more true even 20 years ago, things are better now.

That said, women were only granted voting rights in the US less than 100 years ago, and you are still waiting for that right if you are female and live in Saudi Arabia, so maybe things have not changed enough?

I guess my point is that I don't understand the context of this criticism, or if it even truly applies to you. It kinda depends on the source, yes?

The type of people who have the temerity to proffer this kind of feedback, I generally don't put much stock in.

At this evolved stage in my life as a thinking and caring human being, I'd be more positive, effective, and truly subtle when prompting another autonomous person to consider their demeanor in this type of way.

In short, the person giving you this feed back sounds like an asshole.

Make of that what you will.
posted by jbenben at 12:19 AM on March 25, 2013 [6 favorites]

A big vocabulary is fine, but you can't use words that people probably won't understand. Practice speaking descriptively. Instead of using the more precise, but rarely used, word, construct sentences that make the same point with "normal" words. And use words appropriate for the situation you are in. Maybe most people at your gym know what the word ennui means, but it's not really the kind of word you use casually. They are going to think you are weird if you use it before you've developed a relationship where it might be a shared vocabulary. For example.

And don't judge people for not knowing things. I'm not sure if you do this, but some people with large vocabularies seem to use big words "at" people, just waiting for their audience to ask them what they mean.
posted by gjc at 3:14 AM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Don't bring up your high IQ or a 'preference for precision over simplicity'. If someone says anything about how you use that extensive vocabulary, don't mention those high test scores: smile and say something about how you just like obscure words. Telling them your IQ or your test scores comes across as bragging that you're better than they are; smiling while you tell them you enjoy fancy words brings it down to an acceptable quirk.

Just because someone doesn't accept your opinion or statements does not mean they are automatically wrong or stupid: there used to be an old saying about how a person convinced against their will is never really convinced at all. Try to pick your fights and let the unimportant stuff go --- example: one of my siblings started arguing with me about women's corsets in the 1870s (!) recently: did I KNOW if I was right? Yes. Did I fight her about it? NO..... it wasn't worth it, and I knew I'd never change her mind.
posted by easily confused at 3:49 AM on March 25, 2013

I'm assuming you are talking about social circles rather than workplace, school etc.

The word "pretentious" is revealing, it may say more about the person making the accusation than about you, it is frequently what a dumb person says about a clever person. Knowing stuff is not pretentous, far from it. Pretending to know stuff is pretentious (doh!), and it is a sign of ignorance to misuse the word "pretentious" in an accusatory fashion, especially when they almost certainly mean "condescending" :-)

Equally, "preferring precision over simplicity" may mean you can be a windbag, talk less, listen more. Suit detail to the situation.

Only you know how and to what extent this is a problem. If you are always asserting your vocabulary, by e.g. correcting people, then this is socially gauche and you should stop it. If you over-explain things then again, socially gauche, suit detail to the situation. If you find yourself offering unsolicited advice, again stop it. But if you simply know more and better words than your peers then do not change yourself for short term social reasons, if they have a problem with it find a better social circle.
posted by epo at 4:26 AM on March 25, 2013 [5 favorites]

I have had this problem! And it's a two-fold problem, not just yours.

Especially when one is young (and it's likely that you are, since the whole "you are so condescending with your big words and everything" bit is something one is more likely to hear in youth)...well, hey, the people around you are young, insecure and lack worldly experience. So they're not well-adjusted enough to say "hey, anonymous uses big words, that's cool, that's their thing; my thing is [some other skill or hobby]" and they probably have trouble separating out the big words thing from whether or not you use sort of a pedantic tone. Also, it's hard to learn that whole "you are responsible for your feelings; if someone has no temporal power over you and they want to use big words and it makes you feel anxious/inferior/frustrated, that is something for you to work through, not them" - I'd say I did not learn that until, holy crap, my early thirties.

Also, consider your social position - are you socially "inferior" in some way? Nerdy, less than classically beautiful, a person of color in a largely white environment, poorer, female, queer? The threshold for "you're using intimidatingly large words there pointdexter" is a lot lower when you're "supposed" to be inferior.

Honestly, I wouldn't stop with the words. People around you have to grow up and understand that they are lucky to be around someone who can challenge them intellectually. That's not something they'll always have. Or failing that, they need to grasp that your intellectual interests don't get put on hold to make them feel warm and fuzzy - I'd say that this is ten times true if you're from a socially marginalized group.

What I've found helps (aside from just getting older - I have a social circle where people get a kick out of my interests now, even if they hate reading and nerd stuff) is simply asking people more questions about their interests and opinions - talk less. Don't change what you say, just ask people what they think more often. (You're probably the kind of person who assumes that others will jump in if they have something to say and it's hard to adjust to needing to coax.) Also, practice signaling that you find people's input valuable - pay good attention with eye contact, ask follow-up questions, really think about what they say especially when it is couched in non-fancy language. It's easy to overlook good insights if you're accustomed to a certain type of language. You don't need to be perfect at this for it to really help your social life - just signaling that you care about others' opinions (which you probably do right now - you're just not signaling it effectively) makes everything go better.

Also, you know, seek out other people like yourself. One mistake I made early in my social career was failing to do this. In the US, people totally overvalue the whole simple rustic wisdom thing and readily embrace the narrative of "[snob - because all intellectuals are snobs and/or repressed] intellectual will be much happier if they abandon the big words and learn to live a little". In my experience of deeply nerdy smart people, abandoning big words for rustic simplicity and an "ordinary" life is a disaster, not a remedy.
posted by Frowner at 5:28 AM on March 25, 2013 [14 favorites]

I'm the same way. I do my best to balance it out with some (self-deprecating) humor, smiling politely and being a good, active listener. Focus on adding rather than subtracting traits from your conversational repertoire. It's a lot easier and quite a bit more rewarding that way.
posted by Orchestra at 5:33 AM on March 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

Talk less, disagree less. That's really all there is to it. Everyone knows you're smart, you don't need to prove it.
posted by empath at 5:59 AM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

It's not only your vocabulary; it's how you talk. People who get called pretentious and condescending seem to overenunciate a lot. Or they talk in an over-precise, nitpicky way. That doesn't actually make it easier for people to understand you, and it pisses them off. I knew a French teacher who was always talking like he was in class demonstrating how to pronounce words. He was a sweetheart but he came across as being very superior.

Also, don't use specialized terms from your education/profession when you are not in that setting, unless you have reason to think people will be interested. Generally if you think it is your duty to educate people about stuff, you are probably considered a bore.
posted by BibiRose at 6:12 AM on March 25, 2013

I once went on a date with a guy who -- mid-date -- asked me to "stop using such big words."

(To this day I have NO idea what word set him off...)

Guess who didn't get a second date?

I am right there with everyone who says you're doubly screwed if you're a woman, so my best bit of advice is to do more listening and less talking, and if this is a job superior, get the hell out of there because they're never going to appreciate you. There are plenty of places that will, though!
posted by at 6:19 AM on March 25, 2013

One thing that has always worked for me is that I'm often forced to work or socialize in my second language. Not having access to one's finely honed vocabulary in one's home language is instantly humbling. So I suggest you arrange to work in a foreign country for awhile where you need to manage in a language you don't know very well (at least at first).
posted by zadcat at 6:31 AM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't wish to wade into the gender discussion that is going on, but I would like to point out that your stated preference for precision over simplicity may be worth examination and that I, an internet stranger, rather suspect it falls apart on consideration. Whether you like it or not, you also simplify and are not perfectly precise. You just draw the line in a different place than does the company in which you find yourself.

There's a wonderful story by Borges that makes this point beautifully. You simplify because you use the same word to describe a dog seen in profile at three-fourteen and a dog seen from the front at three-fifteen. Of course you do. It would be ridiculous not to. Communication would break down. So you simplify. We all do.

What you are perhaps hearing from your audience is that point at which you strike a balance between simplicity and precision is not the point where they strike that balance, and as a result, there is friction.

There's no right or wrong place to strike that balance. But there is such a thing as appropriateness to an audience, and it is worth considering one's audience when one endeavors to communicate with them. In theory, after all, you are speaking not for your own benefit but for theirs.
posted by gauche at 6:36 AM on March 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

In my experience, this is three-fold. First ,you gotta find Your People who will get you even when you're being "yourself." It's not always easy, but when you do it's amazing.

Second, this is just a social skill that needs to be honed. Being able to relate to people appropriately is a skill. I agree it will get easier with time and as you "practice" socially more.

Also, a lot of this is reaching inside yourself and finding humility. That concept is something you can keep in mind and think on, whenever you feel your sense of superiority rising.
posted by Katine at 6:47 AM on March 25, 2013

When you answer a question, start by asking yourself why the person asked for that information, and why they asked you. Then select your words carefully: each word is the tip of an iceberg of associations, emotional and intellectual -- the way you phrase things carries clues about the relationship of yourself to your audience.

Joe: How far along are we on the project?

You[1]: I estimate the project to be 60% complete. We are 50% finished with the AbsChecker module. Jennifer needs the output from the AbsChecker subproject before she completes the PercNodule subproject. The delivery date is unchanged.

You[2]: 60%.

You[3]: We're about 60% done, as expected. AbsChecker's half done, which is good since, as you probably know, Jen needs that for PercNodule. We're still on track for June 1, maybe even a little ahead.

These may not seem to focus on especially advanced vocabulary, but word choice is significant here.

The second is so terse as to seem hostile - do you see why it would seem hostile?

The third conveys the same information as the first, but includes words and phrasing which imply that the speaker feels optimistic, which makes the speaker seem open and invites Joe to ask more questions or even comment positively. Joe recognizes that the speaker can use nuanced expression, and so could also reply in a nuanced way. You may notice that it's actually slightly shorter than [1], and could be made shorter still - this helps Joe take in the information more efficiently, which actually is a significant improvement when you consider the quantity of information the average person has to process every day, especially managers.

There are so many factors going into a team's productivity that communicating about all of them would be very time consuming; by using emotionally nuanced phrasing, we are communicating less precisely about numbers, but sharing more information about other things: our relationships. It matters: if you don't like Joe, or feel unhappy about the project, you're likely to work on it less and with less creativity. However, it's difficult to talk about emotional relationships to people and work - the formal language structures just aren't there, so talking directly usually leads to misunderstandings unless we devote an extraordinary focus to it. At the same time, an atmosphere of friendliness, even joy, can be a truly wonderful thing, not only for everyone's happiness but for the project output itself. That's why choice of words, phrasing, and tone of voice matters as much as it does.

At the same time, we don't want every single phrase to be overladen with subtext; we prefer to think that most of what we say is emotionally neutral, or neutral-positive. The way to do that is to avoid choices that draw attention, and to choose phrasing that people won't notice. Sometimes that's impossible; if someone is already emotional, or believes you don't like them, then it's easy to interpret what we intend as neutral as written or said with animosity, unless we go to some trouble to dissuade them.

Most of the time, though, when we want listeners or readers to focus on the literal meaning of our words, or the real events they represent (rather than our emotional state as speaker/writer) we choose words, phrases, and sentence structures that are so familiar that they don't draw attention to themselves. Often, this means mastering the style of the audience.

When you speak or write in a different style, you draw attention to the style. People can't help, they literally cannot avoid, assigning an emotional subtext to whatever you write or say. You do it yourself, I promise. If you have not gone to some trouble to be friendly, and if you do not have a history with the audience such that they know you view them and as an equal, you will seem to be something you may not intend, whether it's arrogant, submissive, overcute, lonely, immature, worldly, or any other quality that probably doesn't apply to the real you.
posted by amtho at 6:57 AM on March 25, 2013 [9 favorites]

I'm on my phone, so please excuse the typos, but as someone who studied writing and communications, I read your post and thought: Too wordy.

I like big words, but I also know how to say what I mean in plain English.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 7:09 AM on March 25, 2013 [5 favorites]

When my best friend was job-hunting, I saw an ad for a job that looked like a good fit and I sent him the info. He agreed and sent the hiring manager a cover letter and resume. The hiring manager replied and said that she was interested in passing his cover letter along if he rewrote it in English. He wanted to reply that he didn't think he could completely mitigate his grandiloquence because large words reflect his personality and identity though he would ruminate further and respond accordingly. I told him that was not a good way to answer her email.

I think a lot about the words I use. For a while, I eliminated most "um"s and inappropriate "like"s from my speech because they're just filler and they waste time. Lately, though, I've put them back in my speech. Effective verbal communication isn't just about expressing your ideas but it's also frequently about making others feel comfortable and, yes, giving them reasons to like you. If saying "um" or "like" occasionally makes people relate to me more and more receptive to what I'm saying, that works for me.

Good verbal communication is about knowing your audience and using your speech to build bridges between people, not barriers.
posted by kat518 at 7:27 AM on March 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


nth'ing "Listen more, talk less" and no using jargon from work in your personal conversations. So many of my social difficulties disappeared when I simply made an effort to get ahold of myself and think carefully about what I wanted to say. Restraint, composure, and reserve go a long way.

Also, socialize more with people who aren't the sort of people who take issue with your vocabulary.
posted by deanc at 7:39 AM on March 25, 2013

I need to second what Cairdeas is saying, as well as many others such as Frowner. Everything is absolutely on target, as far as the additional behavior modifications - ridiculous as they are - particularly expected of women. If someone thinks you're condescending, it might be true. They might also be deeply insecure, and once they focus on you, whatever you do might be misconstrued as "wrong".

In high school and college, I was criticized by some of my female friends for being too confident, too superior, thinking I knew it all. I started saying, "in my opinion," all the time, to show that I wasn't so high and mighty, and didn't actually think I know everything. Fast forward a year or two out of college, and two friend/colleagues in their thirties are telling me that I sound insecure and unsure everytime I use that phrase, and that I have to stop it if I want people to take me seriously. I told them honestly, "Oh, well, I picked up that habit because some of my friends in college thought I was conceited." I remember them quite clearly telling me, "Look, do you hear men saying that sort of thing? They just state their opinion, and everyone accepts it as being their opinion."

So, are you very young? In college? In your twenties? Looking back, I entered school with more real world experience (travel, work etc) than my friends; if anything that solidified my feeling that I had a lot to learn. These girls were projecting their own insecurity onto me; I suspected it - but at the time I cared a lot about being liked. I was heartened when two different people told me later on, "You know, so and so says this, but you're not like that at all." That's part of the learning process when you're young, whether you're in college or not - learning to take your own counsel and being more particular about what others tell you.

There is a LOT more pressure for women not to stand out as individuals, but instead to be at the same level, all in a circle, rather than a hierarchy. The pressure usually comes from other women in the form of "policing" each other's behavior. If you are someone who focuses on excellence and precision, that freaks some insecure women out who expect constant, positive reinforcement from other women, especially at work. To be fair though, some people use excellence and precision as an excuse to be dominant and aggressive towards other people.

Your best bet is to learn how to "read the room". Consider the "Dale Carnegie" suggestion you've been given, as far as learning to listen better and develop empathy and interest in other people. If it drives you up the wall when people are imprecise about a technical or other term, then be self-effacing about your need for correct terminology. Make it a joke, say your piece. People will see it as your habit, not as you criticizing them.
posted by mitschlag at 8:14 AM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

BibiRose touched on what came to mind for me. The people I know who think of themselves as favoring precision and who use a lot of big words often hyperarticulate in an off-putting way. If this sounds like you, it's something worth working on a little bit (if not, feel free to disregard the following thoughts). For example, if you want to ask a question like, say, "How are you going to do that?", it should sound like "Haya gonna do tha'?" and NOT like "How arrr yoo gowING Too Doo thaT?". This is true for all but the most formal of contexts. Pronouncing words like a robot isn't "better" by virtue of being more faithful to the dictionary -- it's worse because it shows that you don't understand how to match your speech style to your social context. Being able to effectively shift speech styles is part of basic human sociolinguistic competence.

It's interesting to me that people are turning this into a gender discussion. I didn't get a strong "female being penalized for being smart" reading from the question, and I'm usually hyper-sensitive to that sort of thing (having been subject to it myself). The people who I thought of, and who my don't-hyperarticulate suggestion is based on, are all socially-awkward men whose social awkwardness takes the superficial form of pretension, and who I end up resenting because it feels like they are arrogantly mansplaining.
posted by ootandaboot at 8:28 AM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

It could be helpful to ask your friends (the person who made the complaint, perhaps others whom you trust) to point out when they feel that you're being that way, so that you can pinpoint what's going on. You could arrange a secret signal, ask them to remember some examples to discuss with you in private, or have them say right then and there, "Hey, anon, you're coming across as a little stuck-up!" depending on the context and your comfort level.

Then don't argue with them. You'll probably feel defensive, but just say, "Thanks for the feedback," and then think it over for a while. You may gain some useful insight. You may discover there are some things you could do better, or that the people accusing you of being pretentious are full of it, or some mix of both.
posted by BrashTech at 8:43 AM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Some things that have helped me:

- As already mentioned, spend time in a second language. I spend most of my time in my second language, feeling like an idiot, laughing and guessing at how to say things, resorting to gestures at times. It's humbling in the right way.

- Related: Volunteer with people who are at or near the bottom of the social ladder. I worked with illiterate immigrants and hardcore alcoholics. You'll both simplify your language and see from a very different perspective that has plenty of heart.

- As also mentioned, make your conversation 90% friendly questions. Everyone has something interesting to say. Ask friendly questions to get them to say it. If people are spending most of their time talking about themselves, they'll think you're a warm, wonderful person and you'll learn more about the people around you and can't help but develop compassion that will soften your self-presentation.

- Consider how your appearance might be influencing people's reactions. I'm taller than normal and have a face that's been called "stern" even when I'm just blandly or even cheerfully looking around. The overall package has been called "intimidating" by several. A softer hairstyle and warmer colors in my clothing are supposedly helping. This is likely a gender thing (I'm female).
posted by ceiba at 9:06 AM on March 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

You might actually be using those SAT words more than you need to. It is not better or more precise to say "the person conveying this feedback" vs. "The person who gave me this advice." Simplicity and precision are not mutually exclusive. You will need to communicate with the general public in your career. It is worth your while to learn how to use plain english. You don't have to pretend to be dumb. Read some Hemingway.
posted by steinwald at 10:10 AM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Never start a sentence with the word "actually."
posted by mskyle at 10:12 AM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm annoyingly pedantic, all too frequently. I don't think I have an outsized vocab, but maybe that has more to do with the academic sorts I'm surrounded by. (I'm also female, but I really don't think this question is about that- I've got guy friends who screw this up just as much as I used to/still do).

Two suggestions I haven't seen above that help me:

1) Find people/places where your full vocabulary and manner of speaking and interacting are appreciated. (Metafilter might be one such place, but it's good to have one or two of these offline, as well). That way you can get your chance to be precise or to intellectualize everything.

2) Treat adjusting your register as a challenge. You're smart enough to know these words or those facts; but are you smart enough to know when to use them? Be proud of yourself when you connect with your actual audience rather than when you use a word or concept they don't know.

I'm still working on it, but these things help.

Ooh, and another one- interact with people who are as capable as you but in different ways. I'm a sciencey type and it does me a world of good to interact with folk whose talents are in other areas-- from my literature PhD housemate to my art-world aunt.
posted by nat at 10:23 AM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Are you a woman? Flag it and move on.

And male or female, it depends on context. If the person telling you this is a boss, then ask for specific behaviors and how exactly those behaviors don't benefit the company, its bottom line, or its culture, and get it in writing. Because for the most part, companies should want smart people. If they can't draw a straight line from your behavior to how it negatively affects the company: FIAMO.

If it's a friend telling you why you don't get more dates: FIAMO (to the next date).

If it's a friend or lover telling you that they feel stupid around you, I think saying something like, "Yeah, I like to be precise and language is a real skill of mine. I don't mean it to take away from your skills/talents/temperament. You after all, kick ass at _________ , __________, and _______. Together we make an awesome team!" Then remember to authentically compliment or praise this person when they show this skill. ("Wow, I never could have talked the hostess into seating us without a reservation. You're a master of persuasion and congeniality!")

Really, the idea that you have to make yourself smaller or dumb yourself down to make other people feel better is...wait for it: STUPID.

(I speak as someone who was ridiculed for many years for fully pronouncing words. I then spent a decade or two slurring everything ("gonna" "wanna" "coulda" "nah") and boy how I regret that. I spent 10 years in a relationship with a whip-smart guy who went toe-to-toe with me and we loved that we were intellectually exciting to each other. I spent another 10 years with another very-smart-someone who was frequently threatened by my "intellectual" interests and actively minimized me. Guess which relationship I think of fondly?)
posted by cocoagirl at 10:28 AM on March 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

People might project onto you arrogance, condescension, and pretension because they know their vocabulary is not as extensive and feel embarrassed, ashamed, stupid for having to work out what you mean by context. Or not being able to because the context is still impenetrable. Communication is a two-way street, but telling someone they're being arrogant with no additional context-- "I don't like how you talk about XYZ" or "I don't understand foo, bar, and baz"-- is not trying to communicate. It's lashing out.

Don't let someone project their inadequacies onto you. If you're a woman, this goes double.

As said above, flag it and move on. I've been accused of this before, but I can be condescending and am trying to change my behaviors on a case-by-case basis. A lot of it does have to be with my being female, I think. (I get called over-educated despite going to a community college, etc.)
posted by RainyJay at 10:55 AM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have to disagree with those who say, "If you're a woman, ignore the feedback." From your question alone, I can see why you're getting that feedback. You kinda sound like a robot.

Focus on being helpful, above all. Don't worry about absolute precision. Don't worry about what the other person thinks of you. Don't worry about coming across as smart, or prepared, or anything else. Just try to be helpful and, as a secondary goal, friendly. When you're talking to someone, think about what THEY want and are interested in, and try the best you can to meet them there.
posted by chickenmagazine at 10:59 AM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

The root of the probem- Are people with higher intellect superior than people without as much intellect? I would argue that they do have superior skills and superior abilities to contribute, and superior ability to notice if their actions might cause harm.

For pretty obvious reasons you might consider that IQ tests don't necessarily measure the kind of intelligence that will promote the most human welfare and be of most benefit to individuals in the world.

You can have a very high IQ, use it to get rich on the backs of miserable people with bad pay who never make it to a salary, see yourself as "superior" and I would argue that you are in fact, the inferior to many of the people you've stomped on.

Because if you're defining superiority as a person who should be recognized for great contributions, this is just another schmuck using the abilities to get rich on the backs of the suffering masses. Nothing impressive by my standards.

I measure worth on how someone uses their abilities and whether they are aligned with the welfare of more than themselves. Poor intelligence can in fact mean a person is blind to how harmful they are to others-- not WILLFULLY blind, just genuinely not intellectually capable of the exercise of seeing how their behaviors translate to others experience.

Not understanding human health and behavior and psychology can lead to not treating people very well because you don't understand how various ways of treating people can harm their health and well being.

So that's the long way to say-- if your sense of superiority comes simply from having greater skillsets than others and not from a deeper capacity to see the worth of every human being regardless of their skill sets, you're the one behind. It's ok to have vision- to see the harm that results from human error and stupidity when others don't.

Human stupidity and ignorance causes a LOT of suffering and the whole "Oh be NICE, don't say anything, don't ruffle feathers!" routine can actually be the cause of stagnation and suffering that could easily be remedied if people actively sought to uproot stupidity and ignorance instead of nicely look the other way. I can see both sides of this. But just remember, the nature of stupidity and delusion is that you don't see it. It is certain that you have caused harms to others you can't see clearly because you are human.

So just remember-- even if you are speaking with someone whose stupidity or delusions are causing real harm in the world-DO be kind. They are still a human within it, and at some point the tables could be turned. So what if some humans have less intelligence? Does a child not have worth by nature of feeling and experiencing the complexity of being human rather than just the output they can generate with their intelligence and skill? Care about people because they are human first. Sure, DO call out bad behavior and false thinking that causes harm in the world, but remember the people who are doing these behaviors and thinking false thoughts are human beings with innate worth. Then seeing your own flaws isn't as scary because it's not an exercise of proving one person is a piece of shit for being wrong, it's an exercise of already meaningful beings being given the gift of seeing the truth. Being wrong doesn't make a person worthless, but it can cause a lot of suffering in the world. Creating safe spaces for people to be wrong without being hated or demoted to inferior status creates a place where people are more willing to be introspect, face their own flaws and really seek the truth.

Also remember there are different types of intelligence and different types of skillsets that are meaningful contributions. You may be under-appreciate the worth of human beings who love and care for each other without being so judgmental- which is also a gift to the welfare of human beings. Don't devalue the benefits of your intelligence in order to value others. Just remember that all humans have worth regardless of what those skillsets are. Build your capacity for empathy toward low intelligence people and empathy toward people with different kinds of skill sets than intelligence. It takes a village of different types of contributions to make a healthy society and we are all stronger when we value each and every person among us, if for nothing else than that we share humanity.
posted by xarnop at 11:07 AM on March 25, 2013

I sort of have a crazy idea for you. Watch all the videos featuring Darcy on the Lizzie Bennet Diaries. (Starting here, other videos will mention in the credits if that actor is in them or not.) As we all know, fellows named Darcy tend to come off in this fashion. But the more you get to know him, the more you get a sense of (a) how he's perpetually feeling awkward, along with a tendency to be more formal than the average bear, and (b) the more you get to know him, the more you can figure out how he isn't actually a snobby Mr. Douchey. But it takes awhile. I think maybe it's just a comfort level--both that you get used to them and that they get used to you.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:19 PM on March 25, 2013

You wouldn't be asking this question if you were genuinely "highly intelligent verbally."

What you have is a high test score, not necessarily meaningful and useful intellectual talents. Speaking as somebody who took too long to figure that one out. The sooner you can let go of the 'I am meritorious because I did well there,' the better. Look for better stuff to be proud of yourself for. The rest will fall into place.

You don't need to relate to everyone, but it should be a priority to respect the people you share your world with. Lots of good comes from making 'How can I make this person's life better?' routine. Prioritise humanity -- remind yourself that you're an eating, crapping, sleeping mammal just like everybody else -- over vocabulary.
posted by kmennie at 2:20 PM on March 25, 2013

I used to be like this.

Short words. Short sentences.

Let go of the idea that longer words are better than shorter ones.

Say what you want to say as simply as possible. Simplicity is good. Brevity is the soul of wit/"verbal intelligence."

"I have always had a larger vocabulary than most of my cohort" = I use more big words than most people.

The fewer syllables the better.

It's hard at first, but it gets easier.
posted by 4bulafia at 3:10 PM on March 25, 2013

Oh, and I never use utilize when I can use use.
posted by amtho at 4:35 PM on March 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

Maybe your peers are not really your peers because you are currently in an environment that simply isn't nurturing. For instance, if you are in a place where the culture is just plain anti-intellectual and people let it be known that they think you're super snobby for stuff like reading literature, listening to obscure music, watching films with subtitles, and expressing yourself in a thoughtful way and with an advanced vocabulary. But if you were at, say, a liberal arts college, or on certain communities on the Internets, you would have plenty of company.

I mean, you ever go on Facebook and people in your newsfeed are sharing all these image macros that are supposed to be thought-provoking and uplifting and heartwarming and get thousands of likes but they are just plain dumb? I have to own a certain degree of arrogance, condescension and pretension when I roll my eyes and think to myself that this stuff is dumb, but.. some of it is. I don't need to tell them so I just let it go by, online and in person - I'd doubtless cross a line into offending lots of people if I gave off signals about it. It's really a challenge to relate, sometimes. Practicing kindness and openness versus thinking, quite a lot, wow.. that thing is just wrong/stupid/terrible.
posted by citron at 5:15 PM on March 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

Looking back, I've come to realize that I was using my love of precision as a way to avoid being vulnerable. It always hurts to be rejected, even by someone you don't respect. I found that if I focused the conversation on what was objectively right and wrong, I got to avoid being myself in front of people who might not like me. However, it meant that people could sense that I wasn't being myself, and they didn't want to be themselves around me either. Which meant we would both walk away from the conversation feeling no connection and no desire to reconnect. And that is how I ended up being a very lonely person who wasn't sure if anyone liked me at all.

I worked on it by spending time with all kinds of people--when you hit a bottom like that, you start to feel happy that you get any positive attention at all. I also stopped caring about how right I was about things, which meant I talked more about what I liked and felt. It meant I made friends in unexpected places and situations. Over time I came to realize that it will really surprise you to find out who genuinely likes you, and how different it is from having someone admit that you are right.

So if your reasons for getting all robot-like on people are anything like mine, my tips are these:
a) Seek out nice people who won't jump all over you for making a mistake. This isn't the same as seeking out people you have nothing in common with--just remember that there are a lot of smart, interesting people out there who aren't going to bully you for misremembering a theorem.
b) Smile a lot when you speak, so that it's obvious that you want to connect and that you like the people you're talking to, even if you're using words they don't know.
c) Let yourself make mistakes in front of strangers. You can't actually die of shame. Also, the dirty secret about making mistakes is that if you don't draw attention to them, people will forget about them quickly.
d) Value your time. Don't waste your time on people you really have no interest in being around. People can tell when you don't like them or don't want to be around them. Conversations that start on that footing probably won't go anywhere good.
posted by rhythm and booze at 5:21 PM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

I also have a pretty big vocabulary, and frequently will use a specific uncommon/long/50-cent word not because I am trying to show off, but because I like words and I like finding the right word for the right thing. Usually I'm not aware I'm doing it. Sometimes, particularly when I was younger, I was teased because of it. Once I had a partner tell me off for it (which actually said more about their issues). But mostly I find what helps is being able to speak and write in different registers, as well as having friends who either know what I'm saying or don't feel I am putting them down when I use a word they don't know. Some of them like learning new words the same way I do.

Part of what helps with learning different registers is reading a lot and listening a lot. You start to learn the way different ways of using words can be more effective in different situations. I echo what others have said above: speak less and listen more (I struggle with this daily). Reading a lot - particularly outside your predilection/interests - takes the pressure off, because you can pause and reflect and consider how the language works, and the book/magazine will not be offended.

Some examples that may help: I was investigating a particular kind of surgery and had done some background reading before consultations with surgeons. One used overly-familiar and colloquial language to describe procedures (eg "tummy tuck" instead of "abdominoplasty") (not actually the surgery I wanted). I found this patronising and off-putting, as if he were talking down to me. Another one used the normal medical terms, and if I didn't understand what something was, I asked. I have decided to go with that surgeon - other reasons come into it, but the speech mode was actually relevant.

However, I have an acquaintance who is a doctor and after I'd had a bad fall from my bike and scraped up my face, I wound up on the phone to him. He began talking about the dilation in the capillaries (or something along those lines, this was a number of years ago) and I didn't take it well. I was hurt, in shock, and slightly panicky about having a big scar on my face. I understood what he was saying, but the precise medical terminology made me feel he was treating me as a medical problem from a textbook, not a person. What I needed to hear at the time was something like "Scrapes on your face will always bleed a lot, but if it's not deep don't worry about it, it shouldn't scar."

Which is to say, even someone with a self-confessed predilection for precise terminology, such as myself, sometimes needs to hear things simply. The skill - and pleasure - in communication is working out what kind of register works when, and reacting to the mistakes you make with a degree of humour and attention.
posted by Athanassiel at 6:35 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Other respondents have covered the diction aspect with respect to the sociological / ethical / "be a good person" / "screw society's double standard women" aspects. But syntax has gone unmentioned! Here is a thing:

Be careful to be standardly imprecise with your adverbs.

e.g. "you only live once?" No -- you die only once also. "I only eat fish." Oh, you don't catch it from the river? You don't fry it in a pan? You only eat it? "Why can't you shoot a man with a wooden leg in Carson City?" Because your adverbial phrase is ambiguous!

Normal people: #YOLO

Once in a while, I play a game where I try hard not to use words with more than one part. It's fun and hard at the same time, but I find that with some work, I can be close to [gah really want to say "fluent"] my day-to-day pace in this new style.
posted by batter_my_heart at 11:44 PM on March 25, 2013

I can't help with your original problem, but after reading the responses I just wanted to warn you not to go too far in the opposite direction. I preface everything I say with a qualifier of some kind like "I think [even if I know]..." or "I'm not sure [even if I am], but..." or "this is just my opinion [even if I'm fairly sure it's accepted as fact], but..." and, in certain situations, I have a hard time getting anyone to take me seriously. Maybe you need to tread a line somewhere between these extremes, maybe you have a sufficiently authoritative demeanour to say things like "I think..." without that being a cue for others to dismiss you, or maybe this is a gender issue, and you just can't win...

About this being a gender thing though - I teach in a girls' school, and one of my colleagues was saying recently that he wishes he could get his pupils to join in with discussions without beginning every sentence with "this is probably wrong, but..." or "this might be a stupid question, but...". He thought this sort of thing was "really girly" and that boys just say whatever they think. I didn't think "ah, this is a woman!" immediately upon reading your question, but having read others' thoughts, I do absolutely agree that women are to an extent conditioned to express themselves with a degree of humility and hesitance and that there are those who will interpret an absence of hesitance as arrogance. Unfortunately.
posted by raspberry-ripple at 3:08 AM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ooh another thing: cite your sources! If you're telling someone something that might be unfamiliar to them, say, "At my high school they taught us..." or "I read a magazine article that said..." or "On 60 Minutes they had a piece about how..." This makes you look like less of a know-it-all and more of a curious, informed person.
posted by mskyle at 7:12 AM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

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