Dunning-Kruger syndrome

Published on 14/03/2024

Dunning-Kruger syndrome

Published on 14/03/2024
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Dunning-Kruger syndrome

Do you know about the Dunning-Kruger syndrome? It’s a phenomenon that can arise among professionals in your company and disrupt relationships and team dynamics. To avoid toxic environments, understanding this syndrome is crucial.

The Dunning-Kruger syndrome can have a negative impact on the workplace and on relationships between employees. Individuals prone to this distortion may struggle with teamwork and overall relationships with colleagues and superiors, as they believe themselves to be exceptionally competent in completing required tasks.

These individuals may be resistant to learning or accepting advice or criticism from other professionals.

What is the Dunning-Kruger syndrome?

The “Dunning-Kruger” syndrome is a cognitive distortion that leads individuals to overestimate their abilities or knowledge in a specific subject or field, considering themselves experts or exceptionally gifted in areas where they are only moderately competent.

In the workplace, for example, professionals may overrate their own performance while simultaneously undervaluing the level of the entire workforce.

This syndrome is often accompanied by arrogance and conceit. Individuals suffering from this cognitive disorder fail to perceive their own limits and, conversely, have unconditional confidence in their abilities.

It is evident that the existence of this cognitive distortion has a considerable impact on training processes, communication, coaching, etc. Therefore, this syndrome can also have significant repercussions in workplace environments.

Individuals particularly prone to this “distortion” have difficulties interacting within a team, and, in general, the main difficulties are evident in relationships with colleagues and superiors.

If, on the other hand, Dunning-Kruger syndrome is manifested by a managerial role, it creates a deeper and even more difficult-to-manage problem within the work environment, generating a negative impact on productivity and the company’s atmosphere.

How does the Dunning-Kruger syndrome originate?

The Dunning-Kruger syndrome was named by social psychologists Justin Kruger and David Dunning, who in 1999 were researchers at Cornell University.

Kruger and Dunning published a study investigating the cognitive phenomenon that leads individuals, with no experience in a particular social or intellectual field, to believe they are particularly competent or gifted in such a field.

They also researched how the difficulty in recognizing one’s own incompetence led people to make “elevated” self-assessments, far superior to their actual knowledge or abilities.

Their research was so groundbreaking that neurologist Steven Novella, author of the book ‘The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe’, dedicated an entire chapter to the topic and, in an article published on the blog The Ness, made some important observations about the phenomenon in question. He emphasized that this cognitive distortion can occur not only at the level of “incompetence” but also in cases where an individual with average or slightly above-average competence overestimates their own abilities.

Any individual can, at some point in their life, be affected by this form of cognitive distortion to a greater or lesser extent. The “good news” is that, as evidenced by tests conducted by Kruger and Dunning, when skills improve and metacognitive skills increase, the ability to recognize one’s own limits should also increase.

What are the causes of the Dunning-Kruger syndrome?

The Dunning-Kruger syndrome may be due to a lack of self-awareness or self-assessment. Affected individuals tend to overestimate their knowledge, are not objective in recognizing others’ abilities, and fail to recognize their own mistakes. The combination of low self-awareness and low cognitive ability leads them to overestimate their abilities.

Another cause of the Dunning-Kruger syndrome could be an unconscious attempt to protect self-esteem, maintaining a positive self-image by considering oneself more skilled than one actually is.

Identifying the Dunning-Kruger syndrome in the workplace

It is important to recognize that it is a cognitive distortion that can affect anyone and is in no way connected to an individual’s intelligence quotient, as one might mistakenly think.

The Dunning-Kruger syndrome is quite widespread in companies and constitutes a problem not to be underestimated.

Confidence in one’s own abilities and skills plays a fundamental role in decision-making, so the Dunning-Kruger effect can have a profound impact on the decisions people make and the actions they take.

Competent decision-makers will choose the best decision through objective tools, while those affected by the Dunning-Kruger effect will follow subjective measures and use the skills and experience they believe they have.

Managing the Dunning-Kruger effect in the workplace

This syndrome can have a negative impact in the workplace, especially on team relationships, as affected professionals struggle to relate to colleagues or superiors; they are inclined to reject advice or criticism, are unable to fill their gaps because they do not recognize them, and often feel misunderstood and frustrated.

Dunning-Kruger syndrome in employees

To avoid harmful scenarios among employees and teams, it is important for the manager to detect, understand, and manage such behaviors typical of the Dunning-Kruger syndrome, to moderate the negative consequences that may arise in the team and coordinate people in the best possible way.

The hiring and selection process is also crucial because it is a mistake to hire underqualified candidates, confusing their abilities with the great confidence they demonstrate in themselves.

It will be essential for the manager to take measures to handle such personalities, encouraging employees who underestimate themselves and those who overestimate themselves, and inviting them to recognize and correct their mistakes through regular feedback.

The manager or group leader must be able to link the achievement of a specific objective or competency to an effective and impartial performance measurement and evaluation system, so that each resource is objectively evaluated based on each professional’s performance, thus recognizing the real capabilities of each employee, without subjective judgments.

To generate an objective performance evaluation, it is recommended to rely on automatic measurement software, such as our productivity software, which collects information about each professional’s performance, allowing for an assessment and analysis of their workflows, competencies, and performance level.

Dunning-Kruger syndrome in managers or group leaders

If a manager is a victim of the Dunning-Kruger syndrome, the situation can become even more complex. Overestimating the ability to develop valid strategies and make appropriate decisions, without recognizing one’s own limitations, can compromise the implementation of plans aimed at the company’s development and growth.

Therefore, it is important to pay attention to and guide managers and group leaders, through external collaborators. In fact, executives receive less feedback and, therefore, are even more at risk of overestimating their performance.

To avoid harmful leadership, it is very important to recognize this recurring cognitive bias, become aware of being affected by it, and understand its causes to be able to identify the phenomenon in organizations, work to reverse the trend, and eventually find a way to overcome it.

Indeed, it is necessary to replace the traditional HR approach, paying more and more attention to this type of phenomenon and moving towards a neurological approach that is capable of interpreting the situation surrounding the work environment based on the behaviors that affect the professionals’ brains.

The only way to free oneself from the superstructures of this Dunning-Kruger syndrome is to learn to evaluate more objectively and constantly improve one’s own “metacognition.” Competent people know their knowledge very well, but they also know their limitations.

“True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing.” – ConfuciusPerformance Management Software - free trial

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