Dunning-Kruger Effect, Dumb & Dumber Within One Person

A friend jokingly told me, I wish I had the confidence of a privileged white male and I roared with laughter. After one too many ignorant encounters from all walks of life, her humour seemed like the only appropriate saving grace. It was that or lots of alcohol. 

I'm sure we have all wondered how someone can have such unwavering self confidence, despite all evidence from multiple sources against it. Looked at them with equal parts curiosity and disgust, you want that self-confidence minus that demanding demeanour. Or maybe you have observed how the open-minded underestimate their abilities, even suffering from paralysing self-doubt. Humility is good, humility taken too far is disrespect waiting to happen. 

The Dunning-Kruger research hypothesizes that the competent overestimate others’ skill levels. But the error is more complicated for the incompetent—they overestimate their own skill level AND they lack the metacognition to realize their error. In other words, they were too incompetent to recognize their own incompetence.

Awareness becomes increasingly difficult in non-work relationships. At work, systems are often put in place to evaluate performance and professional training offered to combat this effect. Improving their metacognitive skills drove down their self-assessment scores as they became better evaluators of their own limitations.


The best approach with leaders is to put leaders in situations where the level of discomfort is ratcheted right up, where the reality of their current capability stares them in the face and compels them to confront themselves and increase their self-awareness. 

What does this mean for personal relationships, often without the buffer of experienced third party trainers?

I remember how I supported a friend through a nasty relationship full of lies and cheating, I showed up each time and there were many of those times, since unfortunately the relationship lasted for years. Not to mention I was also there during her work woes and her drunken escapades.

Once, long after she has broken up, I sent her an article about relationships. I included what I thought was a cautious and relatively neutral “I thought you might find this interesting”. She flew off the handle in the middle of a street, in front of other friends. She was so angered, she couldn’t even articulate what she was angry about, it took me a while to figure out it was about the article. I was shocked speechless by the sudden attack, I sent the article a while ago and she had no feedback whatsoever. It was zero to 100.

What's worse is that my support of her was behind the scenes, often one on one, so the other people who witnessed this remain mistaken about the full picture. On top of tolerating her outburst, I had to practice damage control with others. 

It's exhausting attempting to maintain a relationship with someone like this, it's impossible to build deeply meaningful relationships. They have no qualms insisting on unbalanced relationships, taking it for granted even after their needs are met. Researchers found that “poor performers do not learn from feedback suggesting a need to improve”. Telling them about their lack of awareness simply isn’t enough. You have to move through the entire process of the Dunning-Kruger Effect, from Peak of Mt. Stupid to Plateau of Sustainability. 

The exponential amount of energy required to keep the peace, unfairly stacked in their favour is draining to say the least. Imagine if you diverged the energy to self-care, your own growth will be exponential. I'm a living testament of this. 

They can't appreciate what they don't know the value of, this includes not being supportive of your journey to increase self-awareness, often diminishing your efforts, even sabotaging it. One common way is intentionally pinpointing my flaws (real or imaginary) in an attempt to dominate me and THEN asking me for advice. 

As a recovering nice girl, I have also been there more times than I would like to admit. When I did help such people, they not just didn't appreciate it, they ended up telling me it was my pleasure to help them, without fail.

Wait a minute while I choke on the bile of their entitlement and play the twilight zone soundtrack on the gramophone in my head. Are they for real? 

OK......no thank you. I retract this "pleasure", strangely enough from myself, the pleasure I didn't acknowledge or express. The pleasure of listening to repetitive complains, facing unfair projections and misdirected anger. Funny how they never did find the "pleasure" in helping me. 

I no longer entertain them because the lack of humility indicates to me that they aren't ready for change. It’s unfortunate that it requires someone sinking to the pits of despair before any concrete change occurs. I'm sure you have heard of people who keep making promises to change, repeating the same mistakes, exhausting the supportive people, as you help, you're are getting torn down at the same time. Before you know it, years have passed and no change occurs, the promises are but empty promises designed to disguise their lack of want to make concrete change. These are people stuck in the Program Termination Zone or what I jokingly call, "You're Dead To Me" zone. 

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The amount of time, money and energy required for someone to move through this process cannot be underestimated. It often requires professional assistance outside of the relationship, also the assistance they refuse to reach for, because recognition of a problem is already an uphill climb. One way Dunning-Kruger Effect was tested was by having university students estimate their rank in class. Those in the bottom quartile hugely over-estimated their rank in class. On average, they sat at the 12th percentile. On average, they ranked themselves at the 62nd percentile. The same was true at the other end of the scale.

The disconnect is real, it's also a huge leap either way. Therefore the popularity of the saying, don't bother trying to change someone often comes out of the mouths of well-intentional people who lived and learned. 

Good thing is that people who underestimate themselves have one up over those on the bottom quartile. With effort, change is imminent, the skills and knowledge are already in place. I'm also a living testament of this as well. I was filled with self-doubt, hair trigger guilt, thinking it's always me and never someone else, surrounded myself with toxic people because I believed in empathy and compassion. It was this toxicity that developed the guilt so leaving this toxicity is of course the right move.

After 23 years, I had it. There must be a better way and for sure there is. I reached for all accessible resources, now my life is far more fulfilling. I experience profound peace, daily revelations and contentment above most. I'm truly thankful.

Now, I only surround myself with like-minded people who’re interested in reciprocity and draw boundaries with those who aren't. It's not a matter of having a superior attitude but choosing a sustainable way to build deeply meaningful relationships, without draining myself. Relationships that we all deserve to have, relationships that grow each other, resulting in more kindness, faith and the like. A partner or friend like this is a rare gem, we fly high together and buffer each other's fall with feathers of kindness while resting in the palm of grace. No unnecessary power struggle, no drama, no toxicity.

Life is good.

Life is real good.

Love, light and peace, 

Min

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For why you feel exhausted - Are You A Recovering Nice Girl?

For how we lose our voices -  Me Too, Stories Of Bodies Lost To Patriarchy

For how anger is a disguise for other emotions - Anger - The Ultimate Disconnection

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