Bridging the Gap

Learn how to handle people having either Dunning-Kruger Effect or Imposter Syndrome.

So, as a manager, how can you help?

In short, you need to exercise your emotional intelligence to spot when people are displaying traits that fall in either camp and then work with that behavior to help your staff overcome it.

Dealing with the Dunning-Kruger effect

For junior members of staff you are acting potentially reckless because they are unaware of the ramifications of their actions, you need to show sensitivity. We’ve all been there. You definitely don’t want to make anyone feel shot down by demonstrating your superior knowledge. Instead, you want to try and make junior staff come to the conclusion that they are overconfident by themselves. Think of coaching. Feel free to revisit How to Win Friends and Influence People. How can you keep the thought bubble over their head while they tackle a problem? Can you collaborate with them and subtly lead them to discover where the problem is much harder than they thought? Once they discover that a great number of technical problems are more complex than they initially seem, they’ll have developed more mature techniques to analyze approaches and find the right balance of confidence and skepticism.

Senior staff who find themselves on Mount Stupid can often be difficult to deal with because a senior person may be highly confident in a group, and others may be worried about arguing with them. Here you need to subject them to a similar process as that of junior staff, where they can arrive at the conclusion that something is harder than it originally seemed to them.

You need to pick your battles here. Some personalities may be totally open for a reasoned debate or working it through together on a whiteboard, but others may benefit from discussion being taken online, where some proper research can be done and the results can be presented in a less confrontational format, such as an email or short document. Mount Stupid combined with big ego can cause awful verbal conversations. Instead, present only the facts, and resist the urge to tell someone that they’re being dumb. Sometimes, you’ll have to surrender and leave a meeting in a haze of anger in order to revisit the facts later. It happens.

Dealing with impostor syndrome

Brilliant junior staff who experience impostor syndrome need to experience repeated success to overcome how they feel. One way of doing this is by pairing them with a senior staff member who is a good mentor and have them work through problems both abstractly and concretely, implementing them together through pair programming. We often forget that in education, we’re receiving specific grades and scores for the quality of our work, and, over time, self-confidence can be fostered by seeing repeated positive results. The workplace doesn’t offer frequent quantitative feedback like this. Therefore, regular interactions with more senior staff who can show the junior that they’re doing a great job will build their confidence.

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