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Ever heard a Sales Manager confidently explain how to do a cold call when they’ve obviously never done one in their life? Or the sales-rep who tells everyone what they would do if it was their business? Or the speaker at the event that hasn't spotted the audience wants to kill them?

Well it might provide comfort for the long suffering amongst us to know that it is indeed a recognised phenomenon. Politely put, studies demonstrated that unskilled or uneducated people are shown to overestimate their ability. We see this effect every day in every walk of life, sometimes quite spectacularly!

In 1999, Psychologists Dunning & Kruger wrote a wonderfully entitled paper called "Unskilled and Unaware of It” (anyone leap to mind?). “Illusory Superiority” or what has become the Dunning-Kruger effect, concludes with the damming, saddest truth of all: “incompetent people can't know they're incompetent because their incompetence is the very thing that robs them of the ability to realise how incompetent they are”.

Staggeringly, far from being inhibited by the fact that they obviously haven’t got the foggiest idea what they are doing, these people will display an inappropriate level of confidence. You would expect confusion or anxiety, however that feeling of confidence shown by the incompetent is misunderstood as knowledge.

That doesn't include me though does it. Does it?

Well ………… you may know what’s coming next? I’m afraid none of us are immune. We all will do it at some time or other, knowingly or not. At some point in time we will all be Confident Incompetents but the problem ignorance provides, is that it feels so much like expertise.

Despite appearances to the contrary, an incompetent person’s mind isn't empty. It’s full of information, just the wrong information. Misinformation if you like. Whatever degree of incompetence we reach, knowingly or not we are full of information. It's the only information we have so we depend on it almost as if its, well dependable.

So, to prevent appearing as a picture in someone’s blog after results confidently predicted not materialising in the way you’d hoped, a steer from Dunning himself may help where he suggests that we become our own Devil’s Advocate:

  • Ask yourself how or if you might be mistaken
  • Ask if our expectations might be wrong
  • Don't assume we know! Be a critic of our information; Is it current?

You might want to innocently leave this article on a desk, or accidentally leave behind in someone’s office…..your secret is safe with me.

Food for thought:

In tests, competent people are more likely to underestimate their abilities than incompetent people. 

Worrying isn't it!

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