One of my greatest frustrations in business is having to deal with people who think they know more than they actually do. It frustrates me because I battle to understand how people can be so narrow-minded and set in their ways. My attitude towards this subject matter started to change when I began reading more about the Dunning-Kruger effect. The Dunning–Kruger effect was brought to fame by psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger in their 1999 study. In it, they state that “people tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities in many social and intellectual domains”. One of the reasons they gave for this assertion, is that people with a low competency in certain subject areas tend to rate themselves highly because they lack the ability to spot the gaps in their knowledge. To put it simply, it’s like trying to get a colour blind person, who can’t distinguish between blue and purple, to recognise the colour purple. They just can’t do it because they have never seen that colour. So in this article, I will discuss the things you can do to ensure that you do not fall victim to the Dunning-Kruger effect.
1. Admit that you don’t know everything
Have you ever met someone who thinks they just know everything? If you do, then you know how annoying it can get, especially when you want to share your own point of view. Although our bias toward our abilities can serve a purpose and help us feel confident, it can also lead us to neglect the areas where we are underperforming. We may think that admitting that we don’t know something, is admitting that we are weak, but it’s quite the opposite. If you are someone who continuously seeks knowledge and is intent on self-improvement, you are more likely to be aware of your weaknesses and how you can go about fixing them, resulting in fewer mistakes and higher emotional intelligence.
2. Find ways to measure your progress
This is quite a difficult one as most of what we do in life is subjective, making it hard to objectively assess ourselves and our abilities. Without an easy, repeatable system, it’s difficult to clearly see and track progress which leaves us susceptible to biased opinions. To counteract this, we need to constantly seek more objective ways to measure our progress, so that we are able to keep ourselves, and our egos in check. This could be done by setting yourself milestones, deadlines, or by testing your knowledge on a regular basis.
3. Surround yourself with intelligent people
Surrounding yourself with intelligent people can help provide you with a gauge of where you are in your life (assuming you acknowledge that there are indeed people who are smarter than you). Overall, smart people make you smarter because they force you to up your game. They can introduce you to new concepts, and ideas which challenge your way of thinking, compelling you to expand your knowledge base. If you are surrounding yourself with people who don’t question you and who accept your every statement, then you could find yourself developing an over-inflated ego. Remember that being in an environment that forces you out of your comfort zone, also forces you to acknowledge your own inherent biases.
4. Embrace people from different backgrounds
Surrounding yourself solely with like-minded people, even if they are intelligent, could also hinder your personal growth and development. The more you expose yourself to people from different backgrounds, cultures, countries, etc., the more likely you are to develop a strong emotional intelligence as you are forced to reexamine and reaffirm your beliefs, values, and perceptions. The more diverse the individuals, the more opportunity there is for you to fill the gaps in your awareness.
5. Ask for Feedback
The fifth and final point in this article is to ask for feedback. Getting feedback from people may not always be the easiest thing to do, and it can be hard to not take negative feedback personally. But, seeking feedback from others may highlight areas of weakness that perhaps we weren’t aware of and helps us to understand and correct these underlying issues. We need to be more receptive to constructive criticism and see it as an opportunity for growth as opposed to just a personal attack.
There is a common phrase; “the more you know, the more you realise you don’t know”. If you don’t challenge yourself, you don’t change. Remember, if you are blinded by your own ability and ego, you will also be blind to good advice and opportunities. Stop worrying so much about looking bad or stupid or incompetent, and start focusing on being the best version of yourself that you can be.