Every coin has two sides. On one side we have the Dunning-Kruger phenomenon, wearing feelings of overconfidence. On the other side, we have Impostor’s Syndrome, wearing feelings of undeservedness and unworthiness. And we can have both of them, or just one. Today I want to talk about these two terms which have been in vogue on social media for a few years now. They seem to resurface every six months or so. But it is almost a never-ending story when they do. I will help you get an accurate definition of both terms, how they can be altering the overall performance you have at work, and the ways you can deal with them. So, let’s talk about Dunning-Kruger and Impostor’s Syndrome.
This psychological phenomenon is not an official phenomenon listed in any DSM edition. However, it is a phenomenon that has been identified and acknowledged by psychologists for decades. Generally, this syndrome is scored by depression and anxiety. This phenomenon usually becomes manifest under competitive environments. Environments in which people’s skills and abilities are being put to the test. It is characterized by a feeling of fraudulence. People who exhibit this syndrome are usually those that -even when having the skills and capabilities- will not define themselves as able and fit to perform certain tasks. And even when performing these tasks successfully, they will not attribute the achievement to their skills. Instead, they will credit luck or any other external factor.
This syndrome goes hand in hand with perfectionism. As people who show signs of it will think every task needs to be done perfectly. These people tend to either procrastinate, out of fear of inability. Or they will overdo, by spending more time than required performing a task or action. When not attributing to luck, they will attribute the success to overpreparation. “I was able to complete this successfully only because I busted my brain trying to do it perfectly. Hence, next time I will need to do bust my brain, or else people will know I am a fraud”.
People who experience Impostor’s Syndrome tend to be:
- Soloists. They feel like tasks need to be completed by them. On their own. There is a constant thought that if they need to ask for help or asisstance then they are in fact impostors.
- Perfectionists. They set expectations for themselves that are usually really high. Achieving a big percentage of their goales will not tell them they are good at what they do. It will only confirm their belief of incompetence by that other percentage they were not able to achieve. If mistakes happen, the belief of incompetence will also be reinforced.
- Overdoers. They push themselves to do more, and work harder than their peers or others around them. This, in order to prove they are not impostors.
- Related to overdoing, they are also overthinkers. They have a feeling they need to know 100% about the thing they are about to embark on. That they need to become experts on the task or subject in order to accomplish it successfully. They are looking to hone their skills on something even before they know how useful those skills are going to be or not.
Overcoming Impostor’s Syndrome
- Be Aware and Acknowledge the Problem. I have said it before. The first step to solving many of our problems is holding ourselves accountable for them. Understand that what we are experiencing or feeling is Impostor’s syndrom is key to start tackling the issue.
- Share your feelings. With people that can reassure you of your feelings. People that may have gone through similar situations. We all have had this feelings. So discussing them with others can help us: First, to see that we are not impostors. and secondly, learn how they got over their own feelings.
- Know yourself. I believe very few people can get to know us and our skills the way we know ourselves. So, acknowledge your expertise and the things you have accomplished up until this point.
- Understand perfection doesn’t exist. And this hits close to home, because I am a perfectionist most of the time. Realizing no one is perfect and it is okay to succeed when iving the best of ourselves, is key to overcoming the feelings of impostor.
The Dunning-Kruger Phenomenon
And now, the opposite of Impostor’s syndrome. The Dunning-Kruger phenomenon. Named after Social Psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger. It is defined as a cognitive bias that leads people to believe they are more capable and skilled than they actually are. This is particularly manifested in people that do not actually have the skills to make themselves aware of their own incompetence. Which leads them to overestimate their own abilities.
People that experience the Dunning-Kruger Phenomenon es incompetent people who are not able to accomplish goals. But are also incapable of recognizing their failure to achieve them. They are not only unskilled but ignorant of their inability. So, they overestimate their skills/knowledge. Fail to recognize their failure and lack of skill and knowledge. But also underestimate other people’s expertise and skills.
We all are prone to experiencing Dunning-Kruger. Mark Twain said: “We are all ignorant; just about different things“. If we are experts in any area, we may mistakenly believe we are or will be good at any other areas. Sometimes, our intelligence and knowledge are not transferable to other areas in which we are not as familiar. And if we don’t know we are not good at something, how can we know we are bad? We can’t
- Hone your skills. We should always practice and learn our trades. Instead of assuming we know everything there is to know about something, we should always go one step further. This way we will know when we have mastered a task or skills, or when we haven’t. We are never 100% experts on something.
- Question yourself. Humans are scientist by nature. One of our first words as infants is “What?” to know what we are up against with. Followed by how and then by why. I believe as professionals we should always keep that infant curiosity. As we learn, we need to question ourself about what we learned in the past and what we are currently assesing.
- Ask for feedback. I don’t think there will ever be a blog were I don’t talk about feedback. Because receiving and providing feedback is the best way we have to communicate when something is good or not. Feedback will help us put things into perspective and evaluate what we should do next.