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Spotting & Understanding the Dunning-Kruger Effect at Work

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You’ve probably been exposed at one time or another to a person who seems to have a LOT of opinions or thinks they are better than others. It could be in the workplace or even just at the family dinner table. The Dunning-Kruger effect just might be the explanation you’ve been looking for when it comes to these types of people.

What is the Dunning-Kruger Effect?

Let’s dive into this topic by first getting a good understanding of what the Dunning-Kruger effect is.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is a kind of cognitive bias. It includes people who maintain the belief they are a lot smarter and more capable than they really are. They are often people with few abilities who are unable to see their own incompetence because they don’t have the skills to do so.

The Framing Effect is also an effect to learn and understand. Here’s how to use it in your next presentation.

Discovering the Dunning-Kruger Effect

The Dunning-Kruger effect was discovered through a series of experiments completed by David Dunning and Justin Kruger. Their work helped to reveal how people see their own competence. These types of people maintain the inability to get a grasp on performance in comparison to the activity they are trying to complete.

The tests given were around grammar, logic, and humor. Results showed people who scored the lowest in these areas greatly overestimated their own performance. Poor performance was seen to be matched to the inability to recognize and assess the superiority of their own work.

Spotting the Dunning-Kruger Effect

You’ve more than likely experienced the Dunning-Kruger effect at some point in your lifetime. An example would be a conversation at a family gathering where someone expresses their opinions on a topic at great lengths. In addition to these opinions, they will state that other opinions are wrong or uninformed.

While everyone in the room will be fully aware this person is uninformed and sharing incorrect opinions, they will continue to share and express themselves without missing a step.

Causes of the Dunning-Kruger Effect

If it’s more common than we might think, where does the Dunning-Kruger effect come from?

It was suggested by Dunning and Kruger themselves that these types of people experience a dual-burden. They are both incompetent and unable to realize it. Here are some of the causes of the Dunning-Kruger effect:

  • Lack of ability to recognize skill and mistakes: Without skill, people don’t perform in certain areas. This also leads to mistakes which they are unable to recognize.
  • Minimal knowledge and overconfidence: When someone has just a little bit of knowledge around a subject, it can lead them to be overconfident and believe they know much more than they really do. Those who have minimal knowledge start to believe they are experts in the area.
  • Metacognition: The last contributing factor to the Dunning-Kruger effect is a lack of metacognition. This deficit means a person is unable to see their own behaviours or true lack of ability. Their perception of themselves is both incorrect and unrealistic.

How Does the Dunning-Kruger Effect Influence Work Environments?

One of the places the Dunning-Kruger effect has a big impact on when present is the workplace. This is because people are required to work together and in team environments.

Coworkers can underestimate the expertise of others, along with thinking their own skills are much greater than they really are. Sharing these non-expert opinions with experts can lead to problems as discussions become frustrating or unproductive.

The crazy part is the Dunning-Kruger effect can pop up in just about anyone. You could have little expertise on a subject and think you are highly skilled without even realizing.

While the Dunning-Kruger effect may come with some challenges when it comes to the workplace, there are ways to overcome it.

How to Overcome the Dunning-Kruger Effect

The key in overcoming the Dunning-Kruger effect is educating ourselves as best as possible. We must realize not everyone is going to be an expert at everything.

Practicing self-awareness is one of the best things to do when it comes to overcoming the Dunning-Kruger effect. You might get employees to take part in exercises that allow them to better understand and increase self-awareness.

Ask them questions that relate to their performance and get them to rate it. Many will feel the need to rate their performance higher than it really should be, which is something to point out and break down for better understanding.

Training in the area can go a long way when it comes to educating employees and getting them to learn from one another. Always be sure each voice is heard and give input that is both constructive and positive.

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