I know what you’re thinking: This sounds like a terrible idea. In a setting where your goal is to show how capable you are, why would you ever want to downplay your brilliance?
Because it can help you navigate challenging situations—and actually preserve your shining reputation. If you’re looking to push back against the status quo, build inroads with an angry client or co-worker, diplomatically disagree with someone, or stay out of office politics, playing dumb (OK, confused) is the way to go. Read on to learn how it works.
1. If You See an Area for Improvement
I’ve written before on the power of “I’m new here.” As a newbie, your first couple of weeks on the job are the perfect time to mention that something brand new—and (coincidentally, wink) inefficient—doesn’t quite make sense to you. Your unfamiliarity is an in to discuss other ways you’ve seen similar tasks accomplished, as well as parts of the process that seem counterintuitive.
While you can’t play that card once you’ve been somewhere for months or years, you can always ask for more information. In other words, if your boss doesn’t usually take too kindly to, “Let’s change this,” skip that approach. Instead try, “In our next meeting, could you walk me through the thinking behind [a certain process]? It would help me [sell our product/work collaboratively/train someone new] if I had a better understanding of the [context/details].”
You’ve tied learning more to doing your job better, so it’s likely your boss will oblige. Then, when you are discussing the particulars of how a certain process works, ask the occasional, “Have we considered [this innovation]?”
Another possible outcome: Once your boss walks you through the details, maybe you’ll understand the why and no longer see the need to make improvements.