Dunning-Kruger Effect in the Workplace

Information Security, IT Auditing, IT Risk Management, and many of these types of functions within an organization lend itself to many traits that can be classed as psychological egoism and can have a negative impact in the work environment. One of the most dangerous users you may encounter suffers from the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Let me explain what I have seen in some organisations and some of the attributes exhibited by the ‘problematic’ users.

Egocentric Superman

There could be many reasons why we find these users in our work environment. But before we try and classify others we need to also look at ourselves critically to make sure we do not fall into that category.

A challenge with a ‘CIO’ made me take a step back and have an independent subject-matter expert review my work as well as legal discovery to make sure that I am not at fault or lacking in my delivery. Let me describe what I have seen in the workplace over the years.

  • To hide laziness or incompetence, you will find the user shouting and complaining with a curse-words thrown in as a matter of expression. He will hide mistakes by moving the blame in public communication to create conflict. This conflict is used to direct attention away from the actual problem. His co-workers would mostly avoid the conflict and he would feel satisfied as he managed the ‘expectation’ but alas only in his eyes.
  • The next user is a parasite leaching of his co-workers to climb the corporate ladder and exhibit knowledge that he actually do not have. In the book 40 Rules of Power by Robert Greene , rule 7 states ‘Get others to do the work for you, but always take the credit’. You know the guy… asking in email, or any other communication, for solutions to a problem and then publish it to management as his own. He will not share information with co-workers and if there is a team-effort he will treat it as a one-way street.. to his benefit.
  • The last one for this topic, there are more, is the user that exhibits the Dunning-Kruger Effect. This is a total lack of empathy and a self-fulfilling attributes a person can have. Decisions are made without consideration of any data but a believe that he is right beyond any doubt. If he is challenged, he would use others that he has convinced to be in his circle to do the ‘dirty-work’ to support his decisions. Examples include writing reports or emails that are filled with half-truths or deflecting from the evidence at hand. The company he works for is not important, just his existence.

Recommended action is that you must always document any interaction with co-workers to ensure that conflict is managed before it escalates where it becomes a Human Resources problem. I suggest reading ’40 Rules of Power’ and try to analyse yourself and your co-workers as a start.

‘Evidence trumps Dunning-Kruger’

Takes these challenges and make sure they feed your growth as a person with your primary focus on delivery for the organisation. One challenge I experienced triggered me to complete a task that has been on the back-burner for a while. Everything is a learning experience.