Yes, it actually can! Confidence is so highly valued that many people would rather pretend to be smart or skilled than risk looking inadequate and losing face. Worse, is when someone genuinely believes that they are competent and skilled when they are not. I wrote about this, related to coaching, in my PhD thesis. I feel compelled to mention it again because there seems to be a surge of people appearing online who claim to be coaches (as well as speakers and facilitators) but they have only completed a short course and have no clinical background. The scary thing is that many really believe that a couple of months (sometimes only weeks) of training qualifies them to work with others in a coaching capacity. Much research shows that quite the opposite is true and coaches who lack in rigorous psychological training do more harm than good. Kortov’s (2015) research confirmed just how dangerous and damaging they are. So, what is this phenomenon, who is at risk and what can we do about it?
1. What is the Dunning-Kruger effect? It’s a is a type of cognitive bias where people believe that they are smarter and more capable than they really are. Essentially, low ability people do not possess the skills needed to recognise their own incompetence. This is why employees who achieve poor performance results often feel that they deserved a much higher result. They overestimate their knowledge and ability and are incapable of seeing how poor their performance actually is. Another factor is that sometimes a little bit of knowledge on a subject can lead people to mistakenly believe that they know all there is to know about it.
2. Who is at risk? The reality is that we are all susceptible. This is because no matter how informed or experienced we are, we all have areas of inexperience and incompetence. We cannot be an expert at everything. People who are genuine experts in one area may mistakenly believe that their intelligence and knowledge carry over into other areas that they are less familiar with. I’ve seen this happening a great deal during the past few months where people believe they are suddenly experts on Covid-19. Dunning and Kruger found that genuine experts were more realistic about their knowledge and capabilities and often tended to underestimate themselves and overestimate others. This poses a whole other set of problems that I wrote about this last week (see my article on Imposter Syndrome).
3. How can we overcome the Dunning-Kruger effect? There are a number of Key Steps you can take. They apply to you and those you have to deal with who are experiencing this form of cognitive bias:
3.1 Be very careful when hiring. The Dunning-Kruger effect is pronounced when interviewing new candidates for a position. A lot of unskilled candidates come across as very confident and blissfully self-assured. Consequently, interviewers can overestimate their abilities. This leads to disastrous consequences once they are hired, as not only will their incompetence become evident but they could be blind to it.
3.2 Be your own devil’s advocate. Question what you know and probe to see if you might be wrong or lacking in knowledge and skills. Look to widely acclaimed experts for a benchmark of expertise. Just be careful – if you are prone to imposter syndrome, it might be better to skip this step and move straight on to the next one.
3.3 Ask for constructive feedback. Increase your self-awareness by seeking feedback from people you can trust and who you know are highly skilled in the area in question. Be open to constructive input and resist the urge to defend yourself. The best response to feedback is, “Thank you” followed by NO BUTS. This is especially important if you’ve heard similar criticism from different people.
3.4 Give constructive feedback. Similarly, you need to be prepared to give constructive feedback. Dunning reported that people in organisations often perform poorly because no-one gave them feedback on where they were going wrong and specified what great performance looked like. This left them in dark; deluded into thinking that they were doing well. We have a 2-day Impactful Communication Skills Programme designed to help you communicate effectively, give and receive tough feedback and constructively manage conflict.
3.5 Engage in continual learning and development. Don’t assume you know everything there is to know about a particular subject or vocation. Be open to learning; whether it be courses, consulting other experts or reading. As Aristotle wisely said, “The more you know, the more you will realise how little you know!” Fortunately, there are always Key Steps that you can take to…
“be the difference that makes the difference”
About Dr Sharon King Gabrielides
Sharon is a dynamic communicator with over 20 years’ experience in organisational development, facilitation and executive coaching. Her PhD thesis contributed a framework for holistic and sustainable leadership development that ensures clients receive a significant ROI and sustainable results from Sharon’s interventions. Her work has been published by Rutgers University in the USA.
Sharon is known for her practical approach, useful tools and genuinely caring manner. She works hand-in-hand with individuals and corporates, positioning them for long-term success.
Sharon is a registered Education, Training and Development Practitioner (ETDP), holds an Honours degree in Psychology and practices as an executive coach and master NLP practitioner. She is one of only three women in South Africa to hold the title of Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) – it’s like the Oscar of the speaking business.