Life, Leadership and Business

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Are you as good as you think?

As part of accredited training, each person on course gets one-on-one feedback. In this feedback, I usually ask people at the start if they think they are competent in the skills learned. Normally, the response falls in one of two categories. Some people are confidant of their ability and say yes. Some people are hesitant, and squeeze a yes or a maybe out.  
Recently, an elderly gent's response, to a public speaking course, got me wondering. He had a tough time handling the assignments and his final practical assessment didn’t meet the standard. Yet, when asked if he thought he was competent, he didn't hesitate at all. He was convinced and insistent that he was proficient.

This event got me thinking back over the decades of training, and I started to focus on how various people gave feedback. I realised that the 'not competent' crowd tend to overestimate their competence confidently. I researched possible psychological reasons to help understand this observation. As it turns out, this is a topic with lots of scientific research attached. 

The Dunning-Kruger Effect, named after the researchers, explains how people rate themselves more   Some even rank themselves comparable to actual 'experts'. In hundreds of experiments, people thought they were healthier than others were, rated themselves as better drivers than others, had a firmer grip on financial issues than most and could perform their job better than the majority of their co-workers.     
competent at tasks than their ability deserves, compared to others in the field.

People suffer a double ill in areas of poor competence. First, they perform poorly, because they lack the knowledge of the skill. The second ill, as a result of this shortage, they lack the knowledge to identify their mistakes and therefore fail to correct their mistakes. They become trapped in a cycle of poor performance lacking the ability to make the necessary changes to improve. They ignorantly bask in their skill-less glory.

This self-delusion is driven, not by ego, but by a lack of knowledge. Because there is no ego attached, people are willing to rate themselves realistically when they have a better grasp of the skill.  In one study, students completed a test of logic. Then, they were given a basic lesson in the principles of logic. Completing the test again, almost all the students rated their first attempt at the test as 'rubbish.' Having awareness of the competence required to perform a skill well, opens our eyes to the truth of our own skilfulness.

People with moderate knowledge of a skill are often hesitate to perform. They know enough to know they don’t know enough, if you know what I mean. They carry enough knowledge on the skill to recognise that they don’t have what it takes, and this affects their confidence to perform. This fosters a willingness to better equip themselves for the tasks.

Experts also fall prey to the Effect, just in a different way. People that excel in a skill know they are  competent, but they believe that everyone is just as good. They see no difference in their ability compared to the ability of others, and brush any compliments aside in a nonchalant manner.

So, it seems that everyone is influenced by the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Incompetent people rate themselves better than they deserve, and the experts don’t recognise their ability as something special. Either way, people have a distorted perception of their own capacity. If this Effect is invisible to those affected, what can we do to avoid falling victim?

Here are a few things that you can do to overcome the effect with your dignity intact: Firstly, Ask others to rate you and listen to the feedback, even if it is hard.

Secondly, keep learning. Gaining more information on a subject will reveal just how little (or how much) you actually know.

Lastly, develop an awareness of how others do the same task. Glean good points from your observation, improving your 'best practice' skills as you go.  

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