An average performance rating at work generally elicits two different responses. An incompetent person would translate it to mean a good or even a great performance! A competent person would chide themselves for not getting a superior performance rating. Why this difference in perception?
Research conducted by David Dunning, professor at Cornell and Justin Kruger, explains this fascinating difference. Incompetent people tend to overestimate their capabilities and competent people tend to underestimate their capabilities! For the purposes of the research, incompetent people are those who score low on tests of logic, English grammar and humor. They tend to over estimate how they performed on these tests. Their incompetence causes them to lack “self- monitoring skills,” which manifests itself as an inability to recognize the level that they truly are at.
On the flip side, competent people underestimated their performance on these tests. They believe everyone is performing at the same level as themselves, or better than them. They underestimate their performance levels based on that assumption. Psychologists refer to this phenomenon as the “false consensus effect.”
A common occurrence in workplaces today- some people take longer to complete their projects or longer to finish their work. This seemingly inefficient behavior could actually mask the true competence of the person. They possibly take longer to finish their work due to the higher standards they set for themselves in line with the “false consensus effect.”
Being aware of the quality of work is a display of enhanced self-monitoring skills, as opposed to incompetent people who may churn out a piece of work and not be aware of the lack of quality. Self-awareness is high for competent people, which implies that they are well aware of their shortcomings. This knowledge of their perceived shortcomings may cloud their ratings of their performance and deliverables.
A bigger implication of this at work is in the area of managing employees. Competent employees are conscious about their work performance and about the value they add to the team and the company. Managers should explicitly tell and thank these people for their contribution and recognize them for their efforts. This will boost their morale and help them realize their true potential, and improve their overall performance. Incompetent employees, on the other hand, may not understand subtle hints about improving their performance. Managers should explicitly tell them what needs improvement with as much details as possible.
It is critical for managers to distinguish between seemingly different behaviors at work that may indicate incompetence versus true incompetence. An employee who does not speak up in meetings is not necessarily incompetent. They may be too shy to speak up in a group. Or they may need to solidify their thoughts and validate their ideas before presenting them to a group. They maybe under-estimating themselves and not offer an opinion for fear that it may not add value. These employees are aware of not talking for the sake of talking. Managers need to gently urge these employees to speak up. Call them out and ask for an opinion. Entrust them with important assignments and convey a belief in their abilities. On the flip side, managers need to watch out for incompetent employees who speak more than required in meetings. These employees believe that they are competent and may offer opinions and ideas that do not add value to the conversation.
In essence, if you feel you are not competent enough at work and want to improve, there is a high chance that you already are a competent person and are more competent than you give yourself credit. Rest assured, you are a valued employee!
Featured photo credit: Daniele Zedda via flickr.com