Have you heard of the Dunning-Kruger effect ?

The Dunning-Kruger effect is akin to ultracrepidarianism. Catch your breath. The Dunning effect, WHAT? ultra... WHAT? More complicated terms to define human behaviour in the workplace... In recent days, the emphasis has been on the need for a manager to boost his team's confidence. Imposter syndrome must therefore be identified to enable employees who lack confidence to reveal their potential and flourish at work. But what about managing employees who suffer from over-confidence? Here's how.

What is the Dunning-Kruger effect?

The concept of the Dunning-Kruger effect originated in the United States in the 1990s. The story goes that a man decides to rob a bank. But he is convinced of one thing during the robbery: he thinks he is invisible. Why should this be? Because he covered himself in lemon juice, which is very useful as invisible ink. David Dunning and Justin Kruger Spar, two psychologists, got to grips with the subject and came to the following scientific conclusion: "Ignorance more frequently engenders self-confidence than does knowledge".

The Dunning-Kruger Effect is simply over-confidence. In short, employees suffering from this syndrome think they master a subject to perfection when in fact they have not, or have no qualifications whatsoever. It becomes difficult for them to realise that they are incompetent, so convinced are they that they are.

How does the
Dunning-Kruger effect work?

The two psychologists then created a curve to assess the the effect. The curve varies according to the person's level of expertise, their degree of confidence, and the expertise they think they have on a subject:

The beginner : a great deal of unfounded confidence that psychologists call "self-assessment".
The confirmed : a slightly more advanced mastery of skills, he assesses himself more consciously.
The expert : a growing confidence in his skills, proportional to the amount he knows.

What form does the Dunning-Kruger effect take in business?

Within your team, you may notice that some employees suffer from Dunning-Kruger syndrome. These will be people who always tend to know better than the others, those who feel they are in a position of strength on a subject, those almost calling into question the know-how and experience of more senior members of staff.

And that's when ultra-repidarianism kicks in, when employees become overconfident in a subject they have absolutely no mastery of, and even take on the arrogance of knowing better than the experts themselves.

How can we limit the Dunning-Kruger effect?

When faced with such a personality, you, as a manager, need to take the initiative so as not to allow conflicts and tensions to fester, and above all not to fuel this ultra-repidarianism. As a leader with unparalleled emotional intelligence, you need to adapt your communication to this person. Managing such a profile requires agility, patience and, above all, subtlety. Inviting them to take a training course is a gentle way of limiting the Kunning-Kruger effect.

As a general rule, you will need to establish the following within your team :

  • Regular feedback: so that you can assert yourself as a leader, set the course to be followed and compare and contrast ideas.
  • Invitations to introspection: what are each employee's weak points?
  • Encouragement: for every effort made, to show that hard work pays off and that everyone learns over time.
  • Mutual assistance: each employee is able to help the other.


The Dunning-Kruger effect can be a real scourge in the workplace if managers do not take the time to limit the consequences of this psychological disorder. Managing a person suffering from overconfidence can damage the balance of an entire team. It is your duty, if you believe that the employee has a great deal of potential, to help him or her realise that life is a constant learning process that is both necessary and inevitable, even in the workplace.

Little by little, you will teach them that nothing can be taken for granted, with kindness and listening, using concrete evidence. There's no question of brutally devaluing them to "bring them down to earth".

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