Modern workplaces are full of characters — with unique faces, intriguing stories, and diverse personalities. That’s why it’s not uncommon these days to find the Dunning Kruger effect at work. What’s surprising is just how many people fall prey to this psychological phenomenon without even realizing it!
The Dunning-Kruger effect is everywhere. People in HR regularly face it. Managers and team leaders from all over the world have nightmares about it. And to top it all, thousands of people are harming their own careers and growth because of it!
So the question remains —
What is the Dunning Kruger Effect?
The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias that causes people to overestimate their own abilities and underestimate the abilities of others. This term was coined by two psychologists, David Dunning and Justin Kruger, who first identified it in their paper published in 1999.
💡 The Dunning-Kruger effect is closely related to another cognitive bias called illusory superiority, which basically refers to the overestimation of one’s own abilities, expertise, and qualities.
The Dunning Kruger Effect Explained
In order to understand the Dunning-Kruger effect properly, make a note of these three keywords (perception of abilities, the standard of performance, and ignorance about others) as these are the key factors to consider —
✅ Perception of abilities
According to the experiments conducted by the psychologists mentioned above, the mismatch between a person’s perception of his/her skill and their actual skill/expertise in it causes the Dunning-Kruger effect. People with this particular cognitive bias perceive their skillset for a task/job/responsibility to be on a higher level than it actually is in terms of practical application.
The possible reasons behind this wrong judgment are —
- Lack of experience. Inexperience can often arise misconceptions about people’s abilities and make them biased as there’s no evidence against it (which is a weak argument in itself, to say the least).
- Deviation from reality/practicality. Sometimes, people are so focused on theories or bookish knowledge that they misjudge their practical abilities. They think their knowledge is sufficient while completely forgetting the practical aspect of it in action.
- Being outdated. Keeping up with the latest information and trends is something no one can afford to miss. if someone falls behind and remains unaware of the latest updates on a domain, he/she might have this wrong perception of being the expert on it.
✅ Standard of performance
This one will hit some people hard! Skill and expertise, as I prefer to believe, needs a reality check every now and then. Otherwise, it’s hard to stay afloat.
That reality check is measuring the standard of performance and comparing oneself with it. This is applicable for any particular skill or multiple.
The Dunning-Kruger effect derives from the conflict between genuine skills and one’s own perception of them. But this incompetence of proper judgment is directly associated with the ignorance of what the standard of performance is for that skill/activity/task.
If person A manages to complete task B in 2 hours and thinks he/she is the best in the business, that’s a weird assumption. The standard of performance should be set here first, in terms of time to complete it. Furthermore, the metrics regarding the qualitative assessment of the task also remain to be taken into account.
If someone manages to keep an average ROI of 50% on advertising campaigns and remains happy with it, he/she could be wrong. Never comparing the ROI with a benchmark based on industry/niche, demographic, or location would simply be a Dunning-Kruger effect in action, as the standard of performance hasn’t even been set here.
✅ Ignorance of others
Have you heard the term “Ostrich Policy“? If not, it’s a metaphor for avoiding/ignoring things by denying their existence. People with cognitive bias under the Dunning-Kruger effect sometimes act this way!
They’re so head over heels about their own work that they completely forget about other people in the same line of work. That means the experiments, the new findings, and the achievements get automatically ignored by these people. The same goes for the global trends and ever-evolving standards of that sector/topic.
As a result, a convoluted view of these biased people and their own work increases the risk of being irrelevant and outdated without even realizing it!
👉 Read in detail how hustle can lead to burnout, mental health deterioration, and even serious repercussions!
Common Signs of the Dunning Kruger Effect at Work
Spotting the Dunning Kruger effect is rather easy — if you know what to look for! So, raise your hands (and some red flags too 🚩) if you’ve seen these signs of the Dunning Kruger effect at your workplace and/or among your team members:
1. Denial of poor performance
People under the impression of the Dunning-Kruger effect almost always remain in denial of their quality of work. As they have an illusion of superiority, they have a hard time believing that their task output can be below standard.
What’s more, this denial can even lead to low job satisfaction, stress, and other mental health issues!
2. Failing to deliver on promises
Such a heartbreak, huh?
This is a common scenario in modern workplaces — making promises that go beyond imagination and failing to meet them in the end. While there are people with ill intentions and cunning ways, some people actually mean it when making these unfulfilled promises. But sadly, they are often the victim of the cognitive bias of overestimating their abilities!
They think they have all it needs to make wonders and get the job done. They think they can pull it off on their wrong. But boy, are they wrong in their estimations! The lack of knowledge, experience, or skillset eventually gets to them — they either take too long to complete the task or completely fall flat on the deliverables.
3. Undermining the work of others
In most cases, people with biases regarding the Dunning-Kruger effect undervalue others’ work and inputs as part of the superiority they feel inside their heads. This toxic perception gives way to dirty office politics, unnecessary gossip, jealousy, unhealthy competition, and all other ways co-worker relationship can possibly go south!
Also, devaluing what others do often come with the guilty pleasure of feeling more worthy than them.
4. Taking feedback the wrong way
When you think you’re right and everyone else is wrong, negative and/or constructive feedback seems unnecessary and intrusive. It feels like a big conspiracy against your sheer brilliance and the amazing work you do. That’s why feedback seems like a roadblock to your success!
That’s exactly what some people with a certain illusive superiority feel about assessment, feedback, and critique!
5. Wild guesses and uninformed opinions
People under the impression of the Dunning-Kruger effect, willingly or unwillingly, make wild guesses and futile opinions in an effort to make up for their lacking. They intend to get away with those trivial opinions and information — be it in office discussions, task output, or important meetings!
Moreover, they feel doing these will make them sound more confident and superior than ever in front of the right audience.
then read here 👉 on why & how Influencer Marketing works!
Are you ready for the solutions?
Yes, finally, it’s time to learn how to deal with dunning kruger effect!
Dealing with the Dunning Kruger Effect at Work
Whether you are looking for solutions to overcome your own bias or someone else at work, there’s always a solution for everyone!
And guess what, I’ve compiled the 7 most effective solutions against the Dunning-Kruger effect at work. If you’re searching for how to overcome dunning kruger effect either for yourself or someone at work, this list will work like a charm 👇
1. The power of feedback
Sometimes, to cure people with the Dunning Kruger effect, all it takes is proper guidance and solid feedback in place. The absence of these two factors results in people being confused about their abilities and contributions in the grand scheme of things.
As a result, some of them start feeling that whatever they’re doing is right, whatever they know is all there is to know, and whatever they’ve achieved thus far is sufficient enough!
Moreover, constant feedback and improvement are part of a healthy culture. That means your work culture is either inclusive of this process or missing out a lot on the betterment of its people!
2. More and more training
Anyone can overcome the Dunning-Kruger effect with adequate training & learning opportunities. Because learning new stuff and revising our existing knowledge shows us our true capabilities and the lack thereof!
To elaborate further, what proper training does is that it —
- Specifies the gaps in our knowledge and expertise
- Motivates us to bridge those gaps
- Shows us how much there’s still left to learn
- Puts a strong argument against our cognitive biases around our skillset
And that’s why training opportunities are so fruitful against the Dunning Kruger effect at work!
3. Show them practically
This one is applicable if you are in HR management, or you have someone in your team you suspect/believe to be under the Dunning Kruger effect.
Have you tried and failed to make people understand their illusory superiority with their skillset? Or, are you still unsure about your suspicions about them?
Here’s a quick fix for that — assign them a task/project that you think is out of their scope about which they think otherwise! It’ll be better if the task is an outcome-based one.
What this initiative will do is it will practically show the person in question their misjudgment in assessing his/her ability. If the task is outcome-focused, then this self-realization will act better as he/she will get a clear picture of the inability of getting the job done. As a result, the person in question will be able to reflect upon their true expertise and understand everything on his/her own.
4. Keep challenging thyself
Whether you know someone under the Dunning Kruger effect at work or identified yourself in that category, this one is a MUST!
In my opinion, questioning ourselves constantly, challenging what we already know, and always keeping an open mind are the building blocks of growth and improvement. Rather than falling down the rabbit hole of confirmation bias, we should not take our existing knowledge and skills for granted and reassess them against the current standard.
Regarding work and professional life, it’s important not to confine ourselves to a fixed mindset of abilities and work quality. We should relentlessly question every belief, and this effort should get reflected in our works.
5. Beware, senior members/leaders!
Experienced team members and people in positions of leadership are the most prone to the Dunning Kruger effect!
Sounds crazy, right?
But it’s actually true, and rightfully so! Just think about it — how often do you see senior members getting feedback on their task outputs and overall quality of work? So, isn’t it natural that they’ll start fixating on their capabilities and think their work is too good to be reviewed/criticized?
So, reality checks are important for experienced staff too — even if it seems unusual to you or them.
6. Utilize soft skills & mentoring
This one is for the managers, team leads, and people in the positions of leadership.
Sometimes, the Dunning-Kruger effect is caused by poor managerial and supervisory actions and issues. People, without proper guidance and mentorship, can feel puzzled about their potential and end up drawing wrong conclusions. As a result, the Dunning-Kruger effect might get to them of the lack of proper feedback and direction on their work.
As a leader, it’s your responsibility to make some time for your team members/subordinates and utilize your soft skills to guide them on the right path. Your mentorship and feedback, if applied correctly, can eradicate the cognitive biases of your people.
7. Slow and steady is the way!
Properly giving feedback is in itself an art. And you’ll have to be an artist of that area if you want to fix people with the Dunning Kruger bias! Being slow and steady with feedback and actions is a crucial step in this process.
If someone under your supervision has multiple areas of improvement and is possibly under the impression of the Dunning-Kruger effect, you can’t fix him right away. Instead, try focusing on one area that’s elementary in contrast or the most important one on the list of corrections. Guide and consult him/her so that the skill gap can be minimized easily. This will help ensure the person in question doesn’t feel overwhelmed by a massive influx of feedback.
This way, guiding and helping the person overcome the shortcomings one after one will make your life as well as his/her a whole lot easier.
FAQ – The Dunning Kruger Effect at Work
Is Dunning Kruger effect real?
Yes, it’s 100% real. People from all walks of life face it regularly. Also, the Dunning Kruger effect at work is also as real as it can get! You can easily imagine how modern workplaces suffer from this psychological phenomenon.
Read the full blog post for more details if you still have the question: is dunning-kruger effect real? You’ll learn all about it, especially how to overcome/deal with the Dunning-Kruger effect.
What is the Dunning-Kruger effect in simple terms?
Simply put, the Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias that influences people to overestimate their skills and abilities. People under the impression of this bias think they’re experts in specific fields/topics where they actually lack practically or have a knowledge gap.
Read the full blog post for more details, especially how to overcome/deal with the Dunning-Kruger effect.
How do you manage someone with Dunning-Kruger effect?
Managing someone with the Dunning-Kruger effect varies on context, personnel, and other factors. For workplaces, managing someone with this cognitive bias will involve —
👉 giving feedback
👉 providing them with learning opportunities
👉 mentoring & guiding them
👉 being patient with them
… among others!
Read the full blog post for more details, especially how to overcome/deal with the Dunning Kruger effect at work.
Do hiring managers look for evidence of Dunning Kruger effect in job assessment questions?
In my experience of being a team leader/supervisor of multiple teams and participating in numerous recruitment processes, neither I nor anyone I worked with looked for evidence of the Dunning-Kruger effect via the assessment questions.
However, the interview part or automated tests on specific skills in earlier stages of the recruitment journey can act as a filter of this cognitive bias by assessing the applicant’s claims about himself/herself.
Read the full blog post for more details, especially how to overcome/deal with the Dunning Kruger effect at work.
👉 Click here and see all my previous articles on topics ranging from marketing, branding, psychology, copywriting, contemporary society, WordPress, personal finance, cinema, to everything in between.
That brings us to the end of today’s discussion on how to deal with the Dunning Kruger Effect at Work. Now the floor is all yours!
Comment below whatever you want to discuss — be it questions, concerns, suggestions, or just a debate of some sort.
I’m all ears! 🗣️👂