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How to deal with an incompetent worker who thinks he’s brilliant | Trends


Contrary to what happens with employees who suffer from imposter syndrome (they never feel good enough for their position), others are convinced that they are brilliant when in fact their performance is insufficient or, at best, just normal. They are unaware of their limitations, find it difficult to recognize their mistakes, and believe that they never need help to do their job well. This cognitive bias is related to a mismatch in the perception that employees have of themselves. It was the psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger, from the Cornell University School of Psychology (New York), who detected this syndrome for the first time in four investigations carried out in the 1990s. Since then it has been known What efecto Dunning-Kruger.

Their results, published in the scientific journal Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, showed that the greater the incompetence of the person, the less aware he was of it. On the contrary, the most competent and skilled workers were the ones who, paradoxically, tended to undervalue their skills the most.

As a conclusion, the most incompetent people are also more incapable of realizing their clumsiness and tend not to be able to recognize the capabilities of others. This idea fits in with the experience of Elisa Sánchez, a labor psychologist who has been teaching courses for years to develop skills such as the ability to speak in public. “It is something that I have been observing for a long time. Those who are worse off have a more self-reliant attitude, arrogance, and excessive self-confidence. They don’t see that they have done it wrong, even when the mistakes are obvious, like a stutter, ”explains Sánchez. “But not only that, they are also very hurtful when it comes to evaluating other colleagues who do much better than them. They are not able to see the good in others ”.


People who suffer from this bias find it difficult to objectively assess their abilities: their main problem is a lack of self-knowledge. They tend to have a distorted image of themselves, at least in the workplace. “What they perceive does not match what those around them see,” explains Sánchez.

Sometimes they don’t see their limitations and sometimes they don’t want to see them. Their insecurities lead them to deny or reject things that they do not want to accept about themselves because it is painful or they do not like it. Like the one who is not able to realize that he stutters when speaking in public. “There is also fear of what others see and judge. If I don’t say it, if I deny it, if I act as if I’m doing it right, maybe others won’t realize what I’m doing wrong, ”Sánchez exemplifies.

To this cocktail are added some personality traits that can also influence, such as narcissism, and self-esteem problems. It is the whiting that bites its tail because in order to have a healthy self-esteem it is important to have an accurate image of one’s own virtues and limitations. This situation directly influences team work and employee performance. Workers who are unaware of their limitations tend to take on much more tasks than they can complete, also out of a need to please or feel valuable to others. They are unaware of how long it will take and are unrealistic with planning. “This means that they do not perform well and that the deadlines are not met. It can overload others with work, generate stress and conflict, ”says Sánchez. “You can’t look the other way. A worker with this lack of self-knowledge is extremely dangerous, much more than a demotivated person ”.


Many leaders have found themselves in the position of leading someone who suffers from this difficulty. In fact, for Liz Kislik, a consultant who has spent the past 30 years helping organizations overcome their hurdles with human resource management, it is “one of the most frequent and exhausting performance problems” she has observed in her career.

You agree that the price of getting around this problem is too high. “If the bosses don’t address the situation, the employee’s work won’t improve and the organization will lose the value of a team member who could prosper if given the right support,” Kislik explains. One of the consequences of the boss doing nothing about it is the risk that the rest of the workers think that “the leader seems to tolerate poor work and may be demotivated.”

Bosses can help by giving directions and clear feedback, although for this they will have to work their assertiveness to learn to communicate mistakes without hurting and give praise with care. For an employee who already has an exaggerated image of his own performance, praise can confirm his idea that everything he does is excellent. “The ideal thing is to connect the positive comments with other things that, from an organization’s point of view, you need to try to change,” Kislik recommends.

Recommendations also include evaluating that person as objectively as possible, so that you don’t feel like the corrections are just someone else’s opinion, but are based on data. “It is necessary to show it in the most neutral and objective way, to facilitate it to learn and develop,” says Sánchez.

To get to know each other better


Why incompetent people think they are amazing. Psychological research suggests that we are not very good at accurately evaluating ourselves. In fact, we often overestimate our own abilities. In this animated video, David Dunning, one of the first psychologists to define Dunning-Kruger syndrome, explores this bias in his own words.


Unique is a social network that allows you to receive feedback from colleagues, friends and family. This external information, well focused, allows the user to have a clearer image and compare what he thinks of himself with what other people perceive. The project is supervised by a team of experts in human resources and development of people and teams. The services are aimed at both companies and academic institutions.


Practical self-knowledge workshop. This online course, taught by Udemy, is focused on any area of ​​life, not just the professional. It proposes as objectives to get to know well the traits of personal identity, learn to recognize strengths and weaknesses and prioritize needs, which could help to have a clearer image of oneself. Its duration is 30 days.

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