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Do You Suffer from Confident Incompetence?

2 min readJuly 14, 2020

I know. It sounds like there should be a pill for that.

Have you heard of the Dunning-Kruger effect? It’s a well-known phenomenon named after the social psychologists who first documented it. (That would be Prof Dunning and Prof Kruger from Cornell.)

The first part of the Dunning-Kruger effect, to put it in sales terms, states that those sales people who are consistent middle-of-the-pack performers, are less likely to recognize their weaknesses or deficiencies.

As a result, these under-skilled sellers actually over-estimate their capabilities. And they lack the emotional intelligence to recognize and cure their deficiencies. In short, they are over-confident.

The second part of the effect observes that since these over-confident under-performers truly believe they are more capable than they actually are, they are less likely to proactively seek out new knowledge that will help them learn how to improve.

I call this twisted behavior Confident Incompetence.

Having a case of Confident Incompetence doesn’t mean you are completely unable to sell. Or manage.

It just means that your confidence has outstripped your competence. And your performance.

On the basis of a limited sample size of success, you’re telling yourself “I’ve got this” when, in fact, you don’t.

As a consequence, you’ve stopped learning. Which creates a huge barrier to your success.

How do you cure your Confident Incompetence and become Consciously Competent?

It starts with a little intellectual humility.

This means having the guts to pragmatically assess exactly who you are and what you know.

That requires reorienting your approach to new sales situations by combining a big bite of humble pie with a dose of “I don’t think I know this. However, I’m sure I can learn how to figure it out” confidence.

It requires that you create a personal learning plan and keep a detailed record of what you’re learning. Track what you read, listen to, and watch every day.

Take one new thing you’ve learned and consciously apply it to your selling. Test it out. See how it helps. Fine-tune it. Record the results. Then, once you’ve become proficient at it, add another new thing.

Even after four decades at the pinnacle of the sales profession, I don’t pretend that I know everything about sales. I try to stay open-minded and actively learn something new about selling every single day.

For instance, I’ve had to good fortune to record 800 interviews for my podcast (Sales Enablement with Andy Paul) with the best and brightest minds in the entire world about sales, marketing, mindset and leadership.

And, after each interview, I’m reminded that no matter how smart I think I am, there’s still a ton I have to learn.