Suffer stupidity: Even dummies can prove useful

One of the most common gripes I hear from corporate complainers is that they’re surrounded by people who see the world incorrectly. Sometimes it’s the accountant who works for a CEO who doesn’t understand numbers. Or it’s the artist who works for a marketing team that doesn’t understand fonts. It’s always someone who’s so sure she’s right, and so sick of the other person’s ignorance, that she even sometimes thinks of quitting.

But when you quit, you never know what you’ll get in the next job– all you know is that in every company some people feel alienated by stupidity. So instead of thinking about leaving, think about how to get along.

The key to getting along with other people is to keep your eye on what really matters and let the rest go. This attitude conveys poise and self-confidence and is the way to learn to stop caring who’s right and who’s wrong.

If you find that more than 45 percent of verbal exchanges matter a lot, you’ve lost all perspective. Most things people say at work don’t matter. In the face of ignorance, you must learn when to ignore it and when to take action. The standard for something that matters is if it will have long-term impact on your life.

I learned this lesson early. I became philosophical about who’s right. I realized that in most cases it doesn’t matter that I’m right and others are wrong. But sometimes capitulating isn’t an option– for example, if someone is breaking the law or making you truly unable to do your job. Even in the case of ignorance, there’s a way to compromise.

Many people find themselves surrounded by people who are, in effect, colorblind. They don’t know what they’re looking at and don’t care. Instead of insisting that these people admit they’re wrong, let them think what they want while you keep your eye on the parts of your job that matter long-term.

Meanwhile, to quell your urge to be rude or mean, remember that few people are stupid in every category. So keep good relations with the chronically ignorant because they could prove useful later.

I find that the most annoying part of being surrounded by the metaphorically colorblind is that I’m right and there’s no one to acknowledge that I’m right. And that goes back to top managers being poised and self-confident. In most cases it’s our own insecurity rather than our brilliance that makes us feels alienated by stupidity.

In search of poise and perspective in my career, I’ve tried to focus on myself and the smart people around me, and that has made me feel smarter and happier in my work.
Penelope Trunk
has worked for many businesses and even started a few, and now she's too busy to write her column, so this advice is reprinted from an earlier edition of the Hook.