When it comes to intelligence, we frequently like to think we know best. We assume that we have a good handle on our capabilities and can accurately judge our own performance. However, a well-documented phenomenon suggests otherwise: the Dunning-Kruger effect.
This effect is a common cognitive bias named after two psychologists, David Dunning and Justin Kruger. Please keep reading to learn how it shows up in business and what to do about it.
What is the Dunning-Kruger Effect?
We’ve all been there. That moment when we realise that we aren’t nearly as smart or talented as we thought. That’s the Dunning-Kruger effect in action.
The Dunning-Kruger effect happens when people with low competence levels tend to overestimate their abilities. This often leads to poor decisions because they’re unable to see their shortcomings or adequately assess the situation. In other words, they don’t know what they don’t know.
The Dunning-Kruger effect happens across various domains, including politics, business, and even personal relationships. The causes of the Dunning-Kruger effect are not fully understood, but it’s thought to be a combination of factors, including overconfidence and a lack of self-awareness.
The Impact on Your Business
In the business world, it shows up as employees who believe they are more skilled and competent than they are. This overconfidence can be detrimental to a company if left unchecked.
This overconfidence often leads to bad decision-making and a lack of willingness to listen to others who may have more knowledge or expertise, or may simply provide an alternative view of a situation. Furthermore, the Dunning-Kruger effect can also lead to an unwillingness to change course, even when it is clear that a different approach would be more successful.
On the other hand, in some professions and situations, it can be beneficial. For example, employees confident in their abilities may be more likely to take risks that result in innovation. In addition, the Dunning-Kruger effect may help people persist in the face of adversity.
Do you have Dunning-Kruger biases? How about a partner, co-worker, or employee?
Use the following strategies to ensure no one handicaps their career by being overconfident.
Do a reality check. Be aware that the Dunning-Kruger effect can deter you from seeking help and advice. The most effective way to counter the Dunning-Kruger effect is to seek out people who can give honest feedback about actual skills and abilities.
Ask a colleague, boss, or mentor to give an honest assessment of strengths and weaknesses. If you like, ask them to suggest solutions for specific areas of weakness.
Look for people who are more knowledgeable than you and recruit co-workers as allies.
Become more self-aware. Are you showing up in the best way possible? Use self-awareness to help you recognise when you’re not as knowledgeable about a subject as you think.
Pay attention to the moments when you have high confidence and low competence. In these cases, pull back and work on increasing knowledge so that you recognise what you don’t know.
And vice-versa, notice the moments when you have high competence and low confidence. In these times, you mustn’t undervalue yourself. Just because it’s easy for you doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable to someone else.
Put safeguards in place. If you’re working with someone who appears to have extreme self-confidence without the experience to back it up, expect errors and bad decisions.
Help them by putting company-wide practices in place that act as a safeguard, so nothing falls through the cracks. For example, create simple checklists or deploy second-person audits. Doing these types of things allows for error prevention without humiliating the individual.
Handling arrogance. Dealing with someone who lacks competence and yet, is uncoachable or unwilling to listen? In these cases, it’s often best to wait until they fall into the valley of despair and come to the realisation that they don’t know everything after all. This usually happens after a self-inflicted failure.
However, a word of caution; don’t underestimate the stress that occurs during this period. Start correction slowly, so you don’t make the problem worse. Choose one area, topic, or task that will help them the most.
Establish a clear goal, then set up a plan to achieve it.
An old proverb sums this topic up nicely, “When arguing with a fool, first make sure the other person isn’t doing the same thing.”
Start by paying attention to your behaviours and thoughts. Be honest with yourself and others.
As with any skill, it takes practice to do this well. Yet, in the end, the possibilities are endless.
Not knowing everything isn’t a bad thing; it’s a perfect place to start.
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