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You’re More Competent Than You Think

You’re More Competent Than You Think

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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!

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Featured photo credit: Daniele Zedda via flickr.com

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Last Updated on March 29, 2021

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

When I left university I took a job immediately, I had been lucky as I had spent a year earning almost nothing as an intern so I was offered a role. On my first day I found that I had not been allocated a desk, there was no one to greet me so I was left for some hours ignored. I happened to snipe about this to another employee at the coffee machine two things happened. The first was that the person I had complained to was my new manager’s wife, and the second was, in his own words, ‘that he would come down on me like a ton of bricks if I crossed him…’

What a great start to a job! I had moved to a new city, and had been at work for less than a morning when I had my first run in with the first style of bad manager. I didn’t stay long enough to find out what Mr Agressive would do next. Bad managers are a major issue. Research from Approved Index shows that more than four in ten employees (42%) state that they have previously quit a job because of a bad manager.

The Dream Type Of Manager

My best manager was a total opposite. A man who had been the head of the UK tax system and was working his retirement running a company I was a very junior and green employee for. I made a stupid mistake, one which cost a lot of time and money and I felt I was going to be sacked without doubt.

I was nervous, beating myself up about what I had done, what would happen. At the end of the day I was called to his office, he had made me wait and I had spent that day talking to other employees, trying to understand where I had gone wrong. It had been a simple mistyped line of code which sent a massive print job out totally wrong. I learn how I should have done it and I fretted.

My boss asked me to step into his office, he asked me to sit down. “Do you know what you did?” I babbled, yes, I had been stupid, I had not double-checked or asked for advice when I was doing something I had not really understood. It was totally my fault. He paused. “Will you do that again?” Of course I told him I would not, I would always double check, ask for help and not try to be so clever when I was not!

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“Okay…”

That was it. I paused and asked, should I clear my desk. He smiled. “You have learnt a valuable lesson, I can be sure that you will never make a mistake like that again. Why would I want to get rid of an employee who knows that?”

I stayed with that company for many years, the way I was treated was a real object lesson in good management. Sadly, far too many poor managers exist out there.

The Complete Catalogue of Bad Managers

The Bully

My first boss fitted into the classic bully class. This is so often the ‘old school’ management by power style. I encountered this style again in the retail sector where one manager felt the only way to get the best from staff was to bawl and yell.

However, like so many bullies you will often find that this can be someone who either knows no better or is under stress and they are themselves running scared of the situation they have found themselves in.

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The Invisible Boss

This can either present itself as management from afar (usually the golf course or ‘important meetings) or just a boss who is too busy being important to deal with their staff.

It can feel refreshing as you will often have almost total freedom with your manager taking little or no interest in your activities, however you will soon find that you also lack the support that a good manager will provide. Without direction you may feel you are doing well just to find that you are not delivering against expectations you were not told about and suddenly it is all your fault.

The Micro Manager

The frustration of having a manager who feels the need to be involved in everything you do. The polar opposite to the Invisible Boss you will feel that there is no trust in your work as they will want to meddle in everything you do.

Dealing with the micro-manager can be difficult. Often their management style comes from their own insecurity. You can try confronting them, tell them that you can do your job however in many cases this will not succeed and can in fact make things worse.

The Over Promoted Boss

The Over promoted boss categorises someone who has no idea. They have found themselves in a management position through service, family or some corporate mystery. They are people who are not only highly unqualified to be managers they will generally be unable to do even your job.

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You can find yourself persistently frustrated by the situation you are in, however it can seem impossible to get out without handing over your resignation.

The Credit Stealer

The credit stealer is the boss who will never publically acknowledge the work you do. You will put in the extra hours working on a project and you know that, in the ‘big meeting’ it will be your credit stealing boss who will take all of the credit!

Again it is demoralising, you see all of the credit for your labour being stolen and this can often lead to good employees looking for new careers.

3 Essential Ways to Work (Cope) with Bad Managers

Whatever type of bad boss you have there are certain things that you can do to ensure that you get the recognition and protection you require to not only remain sane but to also build your career.

1. Keep evidence

Whether it is incidents with the bully or examples of projects you have completed with the credit stealer you will always be well served to keep notes and supporting evidence for projects you are working on.

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Buy your own notebook and ensure that you are always making notes, it becomes a habit and a very useful one as you have a constant reminder as well as somewhere to explore ideas.

Importantly, if you do have to go to HR or stand-up for yourself you will have clear records! Also, don’t always trust that corporate servers or emails will always be available or not tampered with. Keep your own content.

2. Hold regular meetings

Ensure that you make time for regular meetings with your boss. This is especially useful for the over-promoted or the invisible boss to allow you to ‘manage upwards’. Take charge where you can to set your objectives and use these meetings to set clear objectives and document the status of your work.

3. Stand your ground, but be ready to jump…

Remember that you don’t have to put up with poor management. If you have issues you should face them with your boss, maybe they do not know that they are coming across in a bad way.

However, be ready to recognise if the situation is not going to change. If that is the case, keep your head down and get working on polishing your CV! If it isn’t working, there will be something better out there for you!

Good luck!

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