In our daily life it is common to find ourselves surrounded by incompetent people, those who lack the skills to perform specific tasks. The problem arises when these people overestimate their abilities and this is what is known as the Dunning-Kruger effect.
The Dunning-Kruger Effect: When Incompetence Leads to Overestimating Skills
This cognitive bias, which falls within social psychology, refers to the tendency of the incompetent to overvalue their ability, while competent people tend to underestimate themselves in relation to others.
The term was coined by psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger in 1999, who claimed that this effect is due to “an error in the perception that the incompetent have of themselves and of others that the competent suffer”.
The Dunning-Kruger effect highlights how a lack of skill can lead people to have a biased perception of themselves and others, which can have negative consequences in different areas of life.
How to identify the Dunning Kruger effect in a company’s personnel and avoid its negative consequences
At times, it can be difficult to manage the behaviour of a company’s personnel and detect those employees that may be suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect. Both competent and incompetent people can be victims of this cognitive bias, which can negatively affect their self-awareness.
- Are we able to recognize the abilities and strengths of others?
- Do we acknowledge our own limitations and weaknesses?
- Do we tend to overestimate our abilities and justify results even when they are negative?
Answer honestly to these questions can help us identify if we are suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect and take measures to prevent this cognitive bias from negatively affecting our work and personal life.
If our answers to the self-assessment questions are affirmative, it is very likely that we are suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect. However, even if we answer negatively, it is still possible that we may be experiencing it as this cognitive bias is based on self-deception which can be difficult to detect.
To identify this bias, there are more advanced psychological tests which can be used by companies’ Human Resources departments to detect incompetent workers.
How to avoid the Dunning-Kruger Effect and maximize our Potential in Professional and Personal Life
Fortunately, there are ways to avoid falling into this cognitive bias.
The first step is to be aware of its existence and be alert to its possible presence in our behavior. Then, it is essential to increase our knowledge about the subject we are working on and work with humbleness. Continuous training is indispensable to end this cognitive bias and maximize our potential in the labor and personal fields.
Finding examples of people affected by the Dunning-Kruger effect is as simple as sitting at a bar and listening to the conversations of those present. Or better yet, raise some topic related to politics or economics and wait for the famous “brother-in-law” who tries to impose his opinion without having solid knowledge on the subject.
In the workplace, having employees who suffer from this cognitive bias can be especially damaging.
Let’s imagine an individual who is assigned a task for which they are not prepared. Hiding their incompetence, they assure that everything is under control and ultimately, blame a third party when the delivery is not made. This lack of responsibility not only implies a loss of time and money but also negatively affects the morale of the other competent employees.
There is a direct relationship between the Dunning-Kruger effect and other psychological phenomena, in particular with what is called “illusory superiority”.
Illusory superiority is a tendency to over-value one’s skills and qualities when compared to others.
Although the difference is subtle, the Dunning-Kruger effect can affect any person, even those who possess real abilities but undervalue themselves in comparison to the incompetent. On the other hand, it tends to occur in people with lower intellectual capacity. Both effects can be detrimental in the workplace and social settings.
How to Avoid “Cronyism” and the Dunning-Kruger Effect: The Importance of Continuous Training and Humility
The term “know-it-all” and the Dunning-Kruger effect are interchangeably used, as both refer to the tendency of some people to believe they have knowledge or skills they do not possess. Often these people are unaware of their own incompetence and can be perceived by others as arrogant or self-important.
It is important to note, however, that the Dunning-Kruger effect is a well-studied and documented psychological phenomenon, while the term “know-it-all” is more informal and colloquial. Furthermore someone may be unfairly labeled a “know-it-all” even if they do not suffer from this cognitive effect.
In any case, both words refer to an attitude that can be detrimental to informed decision-making and effective communication.
The Dunning-Kruger effect is highly prevalent on social media where the ease of opinionating and constant interaction invite people with little knowledge of a topic to express their opinion vehemently.
This phenomenon is one of the main amplifiers of conspiracy theories that have become popular in certain segments of the population.
British philosopher and Nobel Prize in Literature winner Bertrand Russell noted that “The main problem of humanity is that the stupid are sure of everything while intelligent people are surrounded by doubts.”
The solution to combat the Dunning-Kruger effect is clear: study and train humbly. In this way one can avoid belittling the opinions of others and not fall into the mistake of labeling someone as a “relative” when they are actually providing valid information.