How to Look Smarter Than You Are

An entirely ethical tip on faking it.

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Times are tough and everybody’s looking for an edge. So here’s an easy, and ethical, tip for looking smarter than you really are at work:

Talk more.

Yup, that’s it. Research shows that people who speak up more often in groups are viewed as more competent and more instrumental to a group’s overall success. Maybe they aren’t the smartest people in the room, and maybe what they have to say isn’t always 100 percent right on, but talkative people are perceived as more dominant. And, for better or for worse, dominant people are perceived as competent people.

Let’s hope you’re still reading because this part is important: No one is asking you to fake competence here. No one is asking you to pretend you know something you don’t, or to spout nonsense, or to shout people down, or to fall in love with the sound of your own voice.

All you have to do is speak up more often. You don’t need to know everything about everything to have an opinion or make an observation. Ask questions! Invite dialogue! Admit ignorance! Demonstrate that your objective is the success of your organization and that you want to help. Just the very act of contributing is enough to establish yourself as a key player.

Result: People will come to look to you for ideas. You will begin to be perceived as a leader. You’ll be viewed as more indispensable to the organization, and your position at work will be more secure.

Karen Burns, Working Girl, is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use, to be released by Running Press in April 2009. She blogs at karenburnsworkinggirl.com .

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