29 Jun 2015

Why Smart People Play Their Cards Close to their Chests

Smart and successful people have been playing their cards close to their chests (and breasts) since centuries. Why? I’ll tell you why. But first, let’s talk about some incidents.

Something was nagging me. I discussed the case with a friend. I was just looking for someone to hear me out. I had barely spoken for half a minute when he interrupted, “See, I don’t know much about this, but here’s my advice.” “I don’t want it!”, I wanted to scream. Apparently I didn’t, and my face didn’t betray my mood either, because he carried on talking while I dreamt about visiting Iceland.

Another time, I wanted to try something adventurous. I shared my thoughts with someone I know - I want to call her a friend but the incident left me wondering. “Bad, bad idea! You’re bat shit crazy!”, she disapproved. Discouraged and feeling rather low, I proceeded regardless, expecting little from it. The response, however, was the opposite. It was better than what I expected even before speaking to her.

On both instances, when I got something off my chest, I wished I had shut my mouth instead. And these aren’t isolated cases (how I wish!). They frequently occur in daily life. I’ve suggested some brilliant ideas in my previous companies (yeah, I’m bragging) only to get responses drier than a dead leaf. And when I tried to justify the ideas, or push them forth with conviction, people said that I was being defensive. Maybe I was. Who am I, the Dalai Lama to nonchalantly smile while people trounce my ideas and thoughts?

I’ll bet my life’s savings on you having experienced similar emotions too. Many times…

playing cards close to chest

So, why do most people either pull you down or start giving you unsolicited advice, despite meaning well? It’s the feeling of self-importance. People like to plug themselves into every damn conversation and situation. “What would I have done in such a case?”, they think. And they respond without considering that your and their circumstances are different, or that you didn’t ask for their advice. And in case you did ask, they either believe that you will fail or are gripped by sheer jealousy because maybe… just maybe… you may succeed.

“People love you when you’re average. It makes them comfortable. But when you pursue greatness, it makes people uncomfortable. Be prepared to lose some people on your journey”, said Tony A. Gaskins Jr. So damn true. Now you get why people who achieve more often speak little in public?

People who speak less don’t have highly classified, CIA-type plans. Instead, they share those with a few trusted people. This eliminates the pretentious concept of ‘democracy’ where many people state unwelcome opinions and nothing is achieved. Instead, the smart folk put their plans into action, and when those yield good results, the world commends them saying that it knew that they always had it in them. MS Dhoni and Narendra Modi come to mind.

But the discomfort caused by people telling them what to do is not the only reason smart people play their cards close to their chest. Here’s one instance when I shot myself in the foot by being too honest.

I shared a unique thought on a topic for an assignment during college with a friend. He went on to tell the teacher the idea, as if it was his all along. So he created a good impression in her mind (in those days that was important to us), while I was left introducing my forehead to the wall repeatedly.

You get the drift. And again, I’ll bet my life’s savings.

The world has enough people who will take whatever you say or do and twist it to benefit themselves. It is also full of people who will support you in your pursuits and stand by your side rather than ‘advice’ you on what to do at every step. It’s important to find the latter and only have those people surround you. In this amazing infographic, James Altucher states that most successful artists, businesspeople, performers and the likes have surrounded themselves with people who have supported them in their ventures - something that played an indispensable role in them achieving success.

So think before you speak. Take your time before opening up to someone and sharing your beliefs and secrets with them. Be decisive with what you share. Test the waters before you dive into it headlong. Share your deepest thoughts and concerns with a select few who encourage you to do what you intend to. And until you find such people, be tenacious and silent. It not only saves you emotional distress of but also makes you resolute. People may call you stubborn and rude, but you can simply shrug and walk away, knowing that these are the very people who will suck up to you when you succeed.

I can count the number of people I trust on the fingertips of one hand. What about you? Whom do you trust? And why? I would love to hear from you.


  1. “People love you when you’re average. It makes them comfortable. But when you pursue greatness, it makes people uncomfortable. Be prepared to lose some people on your journey”, Yup, this is way too true!

    Moreover, I feel that telling people about my plans and aspirations just makes them jealous about the way I think and the heights to which my intelligence can rise. And that's the reason why people like mediocre people!

    1. So true Mithila. I was sure you would be able to connect with this post...

      Thanks for dropping by :)

  2. Aha. :) I guess we are all in the business of jumping in with our opinion and advice even before we have given the other person a chance to say their side. A friend of mine says that advice is always unwanted even when asked for. Essentially, we are just interested in sharing and finding a listener while we all end up being speakers.

    It could be for multiple reasons: bad listeners, an illusion of self-importance, an opportunity to show that they know, a veiled attempt to pull you down, a silly attempt to raise your morale by showing how great they are etc.

    An interesting post, Vishal.

  3. Advice is always unwanted even when asked for.

    Superb line Rachna... The multiple reasons that you mentioned plague all of us... And yes, we all want to speak even when someone wants us to listen, and then we claim to be rock-solid listeners ;)

    Thank you for dropping by :)

  4. Yes, it has happened with me many times. I also feel that we feel compelled to help people who are going through some painful times (irrespective of whether they need help) because it doesnt involve money.. Advice is free.. And if the advice fails, you always have another advice coming up.. :D

    PS: Vishal, I think you misunderstood my points on Dhoni in my post. I wasn't doubting his decision to drop Rahane. All I was saying was I trust a person's instincts especially when you know that the same person has won everything that is there to be won in a matter of years.. :)

    1. Thanks Binu. Maybe all this non-stop Dhoni-bashing put me in a foul mood. I now see your point of view and completely agree with it. Thank you :)

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