Oh To Be Blissfully Unaware Of Our Own Incompetence

Oh To Be Blissfully Unaware Of Our Own Incompetence

Oh To Be Blissfully Unaware Of Our Own Incompetence

I question my own ability several times a day, every day.

I look at others in my field of professional expertise who seem to have supreme confidence and I worry that I may actually be grossly under-qualified to be putting myself out there in the same company.

I worry because it’s scientifically proven that most incompetent people don’t know they are incompetent.

It’s called the Dunning-Kruger Effect after two psychology researchers from Cornell University who conducted a series of experiments after noting many references in other studies to people’s ignorance of their own performance. David Dunning and Justin Kruger found that for a given skill, the majority of incompetent people will:

  1. Fail to recognise their own lack of skill
  2. Fail to recognise genuine skill in others
  3. Fail to recognise the extent of their own ineptitude

The researchers noted the irony of the situation is that in order to recognise those things, the person would need to possess the very skill they lack!

The other significant finding they made was the reverse applied to people who did have the skill in question…

Actual competence tends to weaken self-confidence and people with true skill generally under-estimate their own ability.

This is not a new concept though. Noted philosophers and scientists have been talking about it for centuries.

Confucius said “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance”.

Charles Darwin said “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge”.

Bertrand Russell eloquently put it like this: “One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision”.

They Probably Won’t Try To Improve Either

Dunning and Kruger found that incompetent people can recognise their own previous lack of skill if they are exposed to training for that skill. The problem is that they are unlikely to seek out such training.

Why would they if they don’t know?

Public speaking is a classic example. People who seek help with public speaking typically do so because they lack confidence. But the bigger problem (in the business world at least) is confident speakers who really could use some help because they are confusing, offending, and boring their audiences.

What Do We Do Then?

A couple of important points to keep in mind:

  1. Not all confident people are incompetent
  2. Not all people who feel self-doubt are highly skilled

I think our best bet is simply to have enough self-awareness to look objectively at our own performance on a regular basis and couple that with the desire to really master whatever is we are trying to do. Even better, get a mentor or coach, or find someone we trust completely to provide us with informed objective feedback and guidance.

Doing those things will always put us a step ahead of those who never ask any questions of themselves and sure enough, the genuine ‘earned’ confidence that only comes from actually being good at what you do, will follow.

(Originally published Nov 2013. Updated April 2016).

David Wise

David Wise

Owner, Wise Words Communications


Five Reasons Introverts Can Be Great Communicators & Leaders

Five Reasons Introverts Can Be Great Communicators & Leaders

Five Reasons Introverts Can Be Great Communicators & Leaders

Introverts aren’t always the shy quiet type or the shrinking violet. In fact introversion and shyness are different things that many people mistakenly think are the same.

Introverts are often quite confident but just need time and space to be at their best. Here are some traits that can put them well ahead of their extroverted counterparts.

1. A wise man speaks because he has something to say; a fool because he has to say something. – Plato

Introverts are more likely to think before they speak. In a world full of meaningless chatter, well thought out and reasoned words can have a huge impact.

2. Hold the small talk thanks

Sometimes mistaken for aloofness or arrogance, many introverts just don’t go in for superficial chit-chat much preferring meaningful conversations. They will often ask great questions and be more likely to genuinely listen to the answers.

3. Playing It Cool

In a heated situation or a crisis, an introvert will often provide a much needed level head and calm confidence.

4. Preparation is the key

Introverts are less likely to wing their way through a meeting or presentation, preparing much more thoroughly beforehand.

5. Down time

When introverts honour their natural need for time alone, this time is often when they produce their best work. A little time-out provides clarity of thought and enhances creativity.


David Wise

David Wise

Owner, Wise Words Communications


The Five Types Of Story & How to Choose One

The Five Types Of Story & How to Choose One

The Five Types Of Story & How to Choose One

According to Dr Nick Morgan of Public Words there are five basic types of stories in western culture.

1. The Quest

The hero must achieve some difficult goal or reach a certain place within a certain time. Along the way they must overcome a series of obstacles.

2. Stranger In A Strange Land

In this story the hero is placed in an unfamiliar situation and has to learn to play by a new set of rules.

3. Rags To Riches

The hero starts from a position of disadvantage and through luck, hard work, and determination is ultimately rewarded with riches, fame, glory etc.

4. Revenge

The hero has been wronged by their enemy and sets out to avenge the wrong that has been done to them.

5. Love Story

The classic boy meets girl. Boy does something stupid. Boy has to win girl back again.

Which story applies to you?

Some examples in business might include: Venturing into a new market – stranger in a strange land.

Meeting a product launch deadline – the quest.

The classic entrepreneurial start-up from someone’s bedroom to multi-million dollar company – rags to riches.

Doing something that doesn’t sit well with customers then making it right – the love story.

Succeeding despite having to deal with tough competitors who do everything they can to stop you – revenge.

Whether you are preparing a campaign, coming up with an entire branding strategy, or making a presentation, figure out which of these basic themes applies to you, your business, or product, and craft a compelling story around it.

David Wise

David Wise

Owner, Wise Words Communications


The Art of Authentic Communication (Be The Glass Goblet)

The Art of Authentic Communication (Be The Glass Goblet)

The Art of Authentic Communication (Be The Glass Goblet)

The Art Of Authentic Communication (Be The Glass Goblet)

“You have two goblets before you. One is of solid gold, wrought in the most exquisite patterns. The other is of crystal-clear glass, thin as a bubble, and as transparent. Pour and drink; and according to your choice of goblet, I shall know whether or not you are a connoisseur of wine. For if you have no feelings about wine one way or the other, you will want the sensation of drinking the stuff out of a vessel that may have cost thousands of pounds; but if you are a member of that vanishing tribe, the amateurs of fine vintages, you will choose the crystal, because everything about it is calculated to reveal rather than to hide the beautiful thing which it was meant to contain.”

Back in 1932 a lady named Beatrice Warde used that metaphor in a speech to the British Typographers Guild. The speech itself debated whether design should embellish or elaborate the printed word. Over 80 years later the same metaphor can still be applied to modern forms of business communication.

These days the ’embellishments’ that business communicators use range from a tidal wave of information to overt creativity. Some modern day embellishments include:

  • Information overload designed to give the impression of knowledge.
  • The website (or other advertising) that tries too hard to be creative and ends up drowning out the message.
  • Social media gimmicks that serve no purpose other than to falsely inflate statistics.
  • Unnecessarily complicated language and buzzwords used in attempt to appear intelligent.

All of these things generally fail. Why? Because people are looking for genuine connection. They want to know what you think, what you know that affects them, and how you feel about the subject at hand – and they want it in a way they can understand.

Be more like the ‘glass goblet’ that reveals what’s inside and less like the bright shiny object that lacks real substance.


David Wise

David Wise

Owner, Wise Words Communications


The ‘93% of Communication is Non-Verbal’ Myth

The ‘93% of Communication is Non-Verbal’ Myth

The ‘93% of Communication is Non-Verbal’ Myth

A common statistic that is quoted by some trainers, consultants, and even the occasional uni professor, is that “93% of communication is non-verbal.”

The breakdown of communication elements they quote normally goes like this:

55% visual – facial expressions, gestures, movements etc.

38% auditory – tone, pitch, volume of voice

7% language – the actual words

Let’s think about this logically for a moment…

Language is an essential foundation of our society. Words are everywhere because they are essential to communication – much more than just 7%. Even primitive societies developed languages because grunts and hand signals were simply not sufficient.

So where does this 93% idea come from?

These figures are actually a misquote of some research performed in the 1960’s. A very smart man called Dr Albert Mehrabian was interested in finding out how communication was affected by conflicting gestures, expressions and tone so he designed a couple of experiments involving pictures of people with different facial expressions and audio using varying tones of voice and pitch.

The Real Conclusion

Dr Mehrabian’s conclusion was that when it came to the communication of emotion 7% was derived from the language, 38% from tone, and 55% from visuals.

So 93% of our understanding of other people’s emotions comes from their body language and voice. Unfortunately, that has become over-generalised over the years with people applying it to all communication.

Albert Mehrabian himself is on record as saying:

“I am obviously uncomfortable about misquotes of my work. From the very beginning I have tried to give people the correct limitations of my findings.”


“Unless a communicator is talking about their feelings or attitudes, these equations are not applicable.”

Words Are Important

The reality is for the actual information and details we need to be told using words.

When we ask someone “What are you so happy about?” or “What’s wrong with you?” what we are really saying is, “I can easily tell your emotions but to get the information I need you will have to tell me using words”.

So the next time someone tells you that 93% of communication is non-verbal, take it with a grain of salt and remember the context of the original experiment.

In the meantime, before you start thinking about how you look and sound, make sure you have a well-structured message that can be followed by your audience. Good delivery helps but it won’t save poor content.

The words do matter.

David Wise

David Wise

Owner, Wise Words Communications