There are many incompetent people in the world and I worry that I might be one of them. I worry about this because, according to research conducted at Cornell University, most incompetent people do not know that they are incompetent.
On the contrary, people who do things badly are usually supremely confident of their abilities. They are actually more confident, in fact, than people who do things well. But then they would be wouldn't they? After all the skills required for competence are often the same skills necessary to recognize incompetence. It's little wonder that so many bad speakers are so blissfully self-assured.
Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it!
This deficiency in 'self-monitoring skills' helps explain the tendency of the humor-impaired to persist in telling jokes that are not funny, the amateur chefs who are convinced that their latest cullinary disaster is actually delicious and the awful business presenters who insist that they have this whole speaking thing down pat.
I guess the research findings support Thomas Jefferson's assertion that 'he who knows best knows how little he knows.'
And the research meshes neatly with other work indicating that overconfidence is common; studies have found, for example, that the vast majority of people rate themselves as 'above average' on a wide array of abilities -- though such an abundance of talent would be impossible in statistical terms. What's more the studies indicate that this overestimation is more likely for tasks that are difficult than for those that are easy. Maybe that is why it seems to be such a common problem in public speaking.
Of course the inherent power relationships in business probably don't help. In various business presentation situations, feedback is absent, or at least ambiguous; even a humorless joke, for example, is likely to be met with polite laughter. And faced with incompetence, social norms and career preservation prevent most people from blurting out ``You suck!'' -- truthful though this assessment may be. Maybe the incompetent don't know how bad they are because no one is willing to tell them. Unfortunately, in my experience it is far more likely that they are simply not listening.
So if you are one of the many confident, articulate speakers out there currently boring their audience to tears maybe, just maybe, it's time to start worrying if you are the one who is incompetent.