The Boss Show

Workplace wisdom with heart and humor

November 6, 2016

Why the Workplace Know-It-All Never Does

A paradox:  if you’re a know-it-all, you must be pretty stupid. Wisdom requires acknowledging how much you DON’T know. Yet it’s often the most incompetent who overestimate their abilities.  Jim & Steve welcome back superstar business blogger Jeff Haden to explore, among other things, why 90% of managers think they’re in the top 10% of performers in the workplace.

View Transcript

Voiceover: It’s a Northwest lifestyle weekend on KOMO News. Now a show for anyone who is or has a boss. This is The Boss Show with Jim Hessler and Steve Motenko.


Steve: Hey there. Thanks for joining us. Welcome to The Boss Show. I’m Steve Motenko. I’m the psychology guy. I’m a Harvard educated leadership coach right here in the Seattle area where I love to be, and I am a facilitator of leadership development workshops with my friend across the table.


Jim: That’s me, Jim Hessler. I’m the founder of Path Forward Leadership Development, graduate of California High School, Whittier, California class of 1974 and the author along with Steve of the book Land On Your Feet, Not On Your Face.


Steve: Today on The Boss Show we welcome our friend Jeff Haden who’s a ghostwriter par excellence and one of the most popular bloggers on both and LinkedIn. Jeff and Jim and I will be talking about Jeff’s blog post “Why That Guy Down The Hall Is A Know It All (And How To Avoid Being That Guy)” and since most of us know a know it all, probably know him or her all too well, it might be an interesting conversation. First, a couple of months ago we did our first Boss Show live event and part of that event was answering questions from the assembled multitudes. We didn’t get to all the questions.


Jim: No we didn’t, okay.


Steve: Jim-


Jim: All right. You’re going to throw one at me here?


Steve: I’ve got five questions here in front of me and I want you to pick a number between one and five.


Jim: Four.


Steve: Number four: As a manager how do you balance work and life?


Jim: As a manager, so assuming that a management job is maybe more demanding from a time perspective than other jobs? Well that’s a huge question. First of all we like to talk in terms of integrating rather than balancing right, so your work is part of your life. Don’t try to separate it from the rest of your life.


Steve: And your life is part of your work.


Jim: Your life is part of your work, right. It really, really, kind of consistently use this language of integration rather than balance. Balance indicates that if you tip it too far in one direction you’re going to go south. The fact is that times as a manager you have to work really hard, put in long hours. I’ve been there.


Sometimes it can be the greatest experience of your life, but if you’re doing it just because you feel like you have to show up, you feel obligated, if there is some cultural stress on you to work more hours than you should, you should question that. You should negotiate if there’s other significant people in your life, if you’re married and you have children you may need to negotiate. You need to talk about norms and expectations at home as well as at work.


By the way I’ll just add that if you work sixty hours a week and then you work seventy hours a week, you won’t get any more done in the next ten hours than you got in sixty hours. In fact if you’re working sixty I can almost guarantee that you can get everything that you need to get done in fifty hours if you organize yourself better. Don’t make it an expectation that you have to work long hours. Some people buy into that far too easily and it’s not necessarily true.


Steve: Yeah, and it depends on the culture of your workplace and if the culture of your workplace demands that managers are available 24/7 and you know and responding to emails Sunday night at 11:00, you need to assess for yourself and whether that’s part of your value system.


Jim: You need to assess whether it’s actually helping you do your job better which a lot of evidence indicates that our cognition drops precipitously after an eight hour shift. A lot of our research indicates that if we’re not healthy and living a good well-rounded life, that we can’t show up at work the way we need to. Maybe your forty-five hour work week is a lot better than your sixty hour work week if you’re taking care of yourself.


Steve: Ultimately it boils down, as the psychology guy, it boils down to your psychology. It boils down to being aware of what you can, what you’re willing to do for work, how much of your life energy you’re willing to put into work and whether you’re putting in more of it in order to honor somebody else’s values.


Jim: Yeah, I want to be very careful here because I’m not necessarily one of those people that says you should only work forty hours a week or you should only work thirty-two hours a week or whatever the number is. You just listen to yourself. Listen to the people who love you and care about you in your life. Make sure that you’re staying healthy.


Steve: Right and if you are healthy as Jim said, then your workplace will be healthier, and if you’re fostering the health in others too, some people can work well for fifty-five, sixty hours a week and really enjoy it and not suffer. Other people they need to stay at thirty-five or forty. Know your own body. Know your own needs.


Jim: Good reasons and bad reasons to work those kind of hours.


Steve: If you have an idea for a Boss Show workplace topic, we would love to hear from you. Send us an email at On the other side of the break, we are looking forward to welcoming our friend Jeff Haden, popular blogger for You’re listening to The Boss Show.


Voiceover: It’s a Northwest lifestyle weekend on KOMO News. The Boss Show continues.


Jim: Welcome back to The Boss Show. I’m Jim Hessler. I’m the business guy.


Steve: And I’m Steve Motenko. I’m the psychology guy and you’re about to hear a third voice. We have on the line with us our good friend Jeff Haden who has been on The Boss Show more than anybody else in the history of The Boss Show-


Jim: That’s right.


Steve: -just because we really enjoy talking to him. Jeff as a hugely popular blogger on work and life for LinkedIn and for and author of more than fifty books including the recent TransForm: Dramatically Improve Your Career, Business, Relationships and Life One Simple Step at a Time. Jeff, welcome back.


Jeff: Gentlemen how’s it going?


Steve: We are doing great. I wanted to talk to you-


Jeff: I have a bone to pick with you guys.


Steve: Oh, oh here we go.


Jim: He starts us right off with that.


Steve: I know he would do this.


Jeff: It just seemed to me that in the last few months I’ve talked to well let’s see, Venus Williams and Kirk Hammett of Metallica. I’ve got two billionaires Roger Penske and Rick Hendrick, so I’m talking to all these people and the best you could do is me?


Steve: Yeah, we don’t have many friends, Jeff. Not a lot of people like us so you know when we have somebody who tolerates us.


Jim: If you can get Venus Williams on the show we’ll gladly drop you. Can you give her-


Jeff: Yeah, I knew that I was setting myself up for something.


Steve: Give her a call real quick. We’ve got three and one-half minutes left in this segment. All right, so I emailed you and said let’s get you back on the show and you said I want to talk about X and I said no, I want to talk about Y and here’s the Y. Of course you know I’m using executive privilege here so you have to talk about it with us otherwise there’s going to be dead air.


You wrote a blog post a couple months ago called, Why That Guy Down The Hall Is A Know It All And How To Avoid Being That Guy. I love this concept of know it all’s. They’re a pain in our sides or other parts of our anatomy for so many of us. Will you please start by telling us the story about standing in line at the deli counter?


Jeff: Well I was getting a sandwich and I ordered, I don’t know, like a turkey and something and I asked for double meat I think and the guy behind me said out of nowhere, “You shouldn’t eat meat.” I’m relatively shy and not particularly assertive and so I just said, “Oh okay,” or something like that.


He went into this explanation of why meat is bad for me and I’m ruining my health and he went through all this stuff. I just kind of stumbled and stammered as I am wont to do. At the end I said, “That’s really cool that you’re a vegan and awesome and how long have you been doing this?” He said, “This is my second day.” I thought okay.


Jim: Something out of a Seinfeld episode.


Steve: Yeah, it really is.


Jeff: It’s the perfect example though of this. It’s a cool principle. I’m not sure what you’d call it actually, but it’s the Dunning-Kruger effect which basically says that there’s two sides to it. One of them is that the people that tend to have the least information or the least knowledge about something, tend to be the loudest and the most certain of their knowledge and he definitely fell into that category.


Steve: Yeah, we all have a know it all in our lives and doing a little bit of enough of research to be dangerous on this Dunning-Kruger effect which I have run across a number of times before, I found out that the phenomenon was first observed experimentally. Well actually where it first came from was the case of this guy named McArthur Wheeler, a guy who robbed two banks after covering his face with lemon juice-


Jim: Lemon juice.


Steve: -because he believed that since lemon juice is usable as invisible ink, that if he put it on his face nobody would be able to see him. Here’s a person of very little competence-


Jim: Yes.


Steve: -thinking that he actually had the competence to rob a bank based on what he didn’t know that he didn’t know reminds me of that, the lemon juice incident reminds me of my two year old granddaughter who puts her hands over her eyes-


Jim: Thinks she’s disappearing.


Steve: -thinks we can’t see her.


Jim: Yeah, right.


Steve: You know we all have know it all’s in our lives and the fascinating paradox, the obvious paradox about know it all’s as exhibited by your story Jeff is that you kind of have to be stupid to be a know it all.


Jeff: Wow, that is true.


Steve: You have to be totally out of touch with what you know, or don’t know.


Jeff: Yeah, and the funny thing about the Dunning-Kruger effect is that the flip side is the people who tend to be the most skilled or knowledgeable or experienced, tend to downplay what they know and how skilled they are which is a cool corollary for how this whole thing works because the more you know about something, the less you realize or the more you realize, that there is even more to know. I think actually the more humble that you get.


Steve: Yeah that’s exactly right.


Jeff: I like that side of it too.


Steve: Right, right, both are important. I want to get into a little more depth about this Dunning-Kruger effect and how it impacts this notion of know it all’s who really don’t when we come back. You’re listening to The Boss Show.


Voiceover: Now back to Jim Hessler and Steve Motenko. This is The Boss Show on KOMO News.


Jim: This is the show for anyone, anyone at all who is or has a boss.


Steve: Or is just interested in a show for anyone who ever has a boss whether you have one or not, or is one or not.


Jim: All of the above. I’m Jim Hessler. I’m the business guy.


Steve: I’m Steve Motenko. I’m the psychology guy and we’ve got on the phone with us a popular LinkedIn and blogger Jeff Haden. We’re talking about the Dunning-Kruger effect which is a cognitive bias in psychological terms meaning something that goes through your mind that tweaks your understanding of reality. In this particular cognitive bias, low ability individuals think they know a lot and high ability individuals tend to not realize how competent they really are.


Here’s a statistic I want you both, Jim and Jeff, to riff on. Ninety percent of managers think they’re in the top 10% of performers in the workplace. I mean, Dunning-Kruger effect.


Jim: The other thing is what is it, 85% of people think they have a better than average sense of humor.


Steve: If you do the math.


Jim: If you’re a know it all, you can make the math work in your favor any way you want to do it.


Jeff: You know that’s also true where self evaluations are concerned and I think we talked about this before. I’m not a big fan of self evals because most of the people tend to rate themselves as above average or better regardless which fits into the same thing that you’re talking about.


Steve: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.


Jim: Why would someone think they’re smarter than they are? What’s the psychology behind that?


Steve: Well the obvious thing is that it serves their ego, but Jeff what’s your thought on that?


Jeff: I think at least if we’re talking about the office setting, I think it’s part insecurity because you know we all want to feel like we’re knowledgeable and skilled and important. I think it’s also a search for belonging or to matter. If I really know something or if I feel that I’m really good at it and you believe that that’s true, then I get to feel like I’m part of the group and that I’m more important and that I fit in and all that other kind of stuff.


The last part I think is sometimes it’s just a natural enthusiasm. If I learn something new and I think it’s really fascinating, there’s a side of me that wants to tell other people how cool that is and bask in the reflected glow of the wisdom that I clearly have. I think there’s all kinds of factors in it. I guess the message of all this is that regardless of the motivation to do so, it’s not the thing to do.


Jim: Yeah, I resonate a lot with that last comment because one of the great loves of my life is classical music, something that I share with about 1% of the population. I just have to be-


Jeff: Exactly.


Jim: Yeah, I have to be really careful to … You know because I know a lot about it. I was a music major in college and I read a lot of books and have a huge CD collection and all that kind of stuff. I just want to talk about it. I’m so interested in it myself that I want to talk about it and I just have to bite my tongue.


Jeff: Yeah, where I live it’s the craft beer phenomenon.


Jim: Okay.


Jeff: Everybody is a brew master.


Jim: Okay.


Steve: I like the phrase in some Dunning-Kruger research that talks about people who are too stupid to know how stupid they are. It seems to me that there’s a different kind of intelligence here and we’ve only got about thirty-five seconds so maybe we’ll take this up after the break, but it’s you know there’s a difference between accumulation of factual knowledge and understanding and having the wisdom to understand the quality of your thinking or the lack of quality of your thinking. I guess we don’t actually have time for you to respond to that Jeff, but we will when we come back-


Jim: Shut up for just a second. We’ll get back to you.


Steve: -from the break. I will do that yes and I’ll shut up too. When we come back, talk about this kind of meta cognition which is a ridiculous psychological term, understanding the quality of your thinking and how that makes people into know it all’s when they don’t. You’re listening to The Boss Show.


Voiceover: KOMO News, The Boss Show is back on a Northwest lifestyle weekend. Here’s Jim Hessler and Steve Motenko.


Jim: We’re back. I’m Jim Hessler. I’m the business guy.


Steve: I’m Steve Motenko. I’m the psychology guy. I used, before the break, I used the psychological term meta cognition which quite simply means, this will make it easier, thinking about thinking.


Jim: Thinking about thinking.


Steve: There’s another layer to thought and it ties into something Jeff that you said in your blog post that we’re talking about today the title of which was “Why That Guy Down The Hall Is A Know It All And How To Avoid Being That Guy.” You said in your post, “Wisdom isn’t found in certainty. Wisdom is found in knowing that while you might know a lot, there’s also a lot that you don’t know.”


Jeff: Wow, I sound pretty smart.


Steve: Yeah.


Jeff: You know that’s-


Jim: But you’re not as smart as you think you are.


Steve: That’s right. Dunning-Kruger effect in practice.


Jeff: Wait a minute, wait a minute. Let me think about thinking about that. That does lead to another point about leadership. One of the things that happens if you’re in a leadership position is that you are, you know it’s your job to make decisions. It’s your job to know, or at least that’s how we’re kind of trained to feel, or a lot of people think. Then that puts you in that spot of okay, I’ve got a little information. He just asked me for a decision so here it is. Then I’ve got to sell it because leaders are certain and it takes you to this really awkward place where you may think or decide you know more than you do strictly by the fact that you’re in that position.


Steve: If the wiser you are the more you realize you don’t know and yet still you have to plot a course of action. Still you have to make decisions.


Jim: Let me bring, something just comes to mind here because I’ve been studying a lot recently about the Toyota Production system and all the things that they do to ensure this very high level of quality that they have as an organization. One of the bedrock principles there is to constantly be diving into what you don’t know, to constantly observing things with a new set of eyes and to not make any assumptions about anything that you see or do on a daily basis. That’s what comes to mind as I’m hearing what you guys are talking about.


Steve: If you have that-


Jeff: On the flip side of that is, I’m sorry.


Steve: No no, go ahead.


Jeff: The flip side of that is you’re pushing decisions down to the very, not the lowest, the actual level where the people that know the most about that process or-


Jim: Right so the whole idea of the-


Jeff: -they know the most about it.


Jim: Right.


Jeff: Right.


Jim: So the whole idea of the boss being the expert is not a good thing to shoot for. If you’re the boss, don’t strive to be the expert.


Jeff: Yeah, the boss is a facilitator of a number of other experts.


Jim: Amen.


Steve: Right, and it’s increasingly difficult in this increasingly complex world for anybody to be the expert. I often say that the job of a leader is to have the courage to move forward based on what he or she knows, the information he or she has been able to accumulate, knowing that there’s way more information out there that he or she will never be able to have before making this decision.


Jeff: Right and we talked about I guess a lack of humility earlier when we were talking about being a know it all and that actually is another struggle for a boss though because you have to actually be strong enough in yourself to say I don’t have to be the one who has all the answers. I’m going to have other people help me find them. You can only do that if you are secure in yourself.


Steve: Right, and I’m going to make this decision anyway and consider it an experiment and we’ll learn what we learn from it and if we fail, we fail, but we have to move forward. We can’t allow the Dunning-Kruger effect to paralyze us. In other words, we can’t allow the understanding that we can’t, that we aren’t as smart as we would like to be.


Jim: Yeah, this is a really difficult balancing act I think for a lot of leaders and that is this idea of having to move without full certainty, but still needing to be decisive in creating action and moving forward without that. It’s tough.


Jeff: Yep, absolutely.


Steve: Yeah, and I think a key to it is being okay with failure. It’s tolerating risk as a leader and I think it’s the place where so many leaders fall down.


Jim: Maybe that’s something this know it all is trying to avoid.


Steve: Yeah.


Jim: Uncertainty feels like failure to them.


Steve: By pretending certainty.


Jim: Yeah.


Jeff: Of course one way to accomplish that if you’re going to be willing to fail is to be willing also to keep your mouth shut and not seem quite so certain and not seem like you have all the answers and to admit the fact that okay I might not be right. I might not get this right and that’s okay so I will listen.


Steve: Well said. More with Jeff Haden popular blogger for and LinkedIn when we come back. If you’re a know it all there’s more for you to know so stay with us. You’re listening The Boss Show.


Voiceover: It’s a Northwest lifestyle weekend on KOMO News. The Boss Show continues.


Jim: I’m Jim Hessler. I’m the business guy.


Steve: I’m Steve Motenko. I’m the psychology guy. Welcome back. We’re talking on the phone with Jeff Haden who is a blogger for and LinkedIn. We’ve been talking about the Dunning-Kruger effect, people who believe that they know more than they actually do but Jeff you-


Jim: More specifically people the less somebody knows, the more certain they are about their point of view right?


Steve: Right, for people who have that cognitive bias. Some don’t.


Jim: Right, right.


Steve: Jeff, you also wanted to tell … We wanted to reserve this last segment for something you wanted to talk about. Your question was whether an employee has to already be interested in a task or function in order for them to do well performing it. What are your thoughts on that?


Jeff: That came from a discussion I had at a speaking event where somebody asked me the question, “I’ve got a bunch of employees who are hired at a relatively entry level and we always talk about finding people who have a passion for the job and they have an interest, but what if the people that you hire only want the job either as a stepping stone or short term, or something else. How do you motivate those folks?” It isn’t even possible.


I kind of flipped it around and while I do think that it certainly helps obviously to be interested in something, that those folks have an intrinsic motivation to either learn or do or succeed, but you can give that same motivation to people if you become the driver of it. I know that sounded awkward so I guess my example would be if I hire you to do X and you’re into X and you’re not super engaged, if I can catch you doing a couple things well and I compliment you, then I can actually become the feedback loop that helps you say, “Hey wow. I achieved something. I think I’ll keep trying.” “Hey wow. I achieved something. I think I’ll keep trying.” You can find satisfaction in what you’re doing eventually on your own, but it can start by someone else finding the good in you if that made any sense at all.


Jim: It makes a lot of sense.


Steve: Yeah, it made a lot sense and I agree with it, but I think it only goes so far.


Jeff: Oh sure. I think at some point the switch has to flip over, but I’m convinced that … I don’t know. Do you know what your passion is? Well you guys may. I think I know what mine is, but I struggle with it sometimes. I think that you can find an interest and a joy in something that you never thought you would if you try and you get better.


Jim: I agree 100%.


Jeff: I think the best is a driver. It’s an awesome little feedback loop and so to me if you get that new employee and if they can feel successful because you’re telling them they’re successful, that may get them far enough that they start to find that inner stuff that then they can drive themselves.


Jim: I think you can absolutely help make it interesting by tying it to positive emotions and positive feelings that the person gets, has about doing that work. I think you’re absolutely right on it. I think we’ve oversold this idea that somebody who is not passionate about their work doesn’t have any responsibility for engaging in it and doing it well. I’m right on board with it.


Steve: You agree with him 100%. I’m going to agree with you 50% because I’m going to bring you up as an example Jim. You have said often that you’re really good at math, but you would make a terrible accountant because you don’t have the personality, style, or the natural interest in it. You have the talent, but you don’t have the interest. I think interest can only be fostered by another person so far. Even if you had a boss who made you an accountant and you did really well at it and you know you maybe enjoyed it partway, it still wouldn’t be [crosstalk 00:23:20].


Jim: They could have made a game out of it. They could have made it a lot. They could have made it interesting enough to keep my attention for quite awhile even on something like that.


Steve: All right we’re going to agree to disagree on this. Unfortunately we’re running out of time so Jeff Haden thank you so much for coming back. We’ll have you back in a little while. Again really a pleasure again to talk with you today.


Jeff: Unless I get Venus for you first.


Jim: Yeah.


Steve: Yeah, we’ll talk to her instead. You’re listening to-


Jeff: Thank you guys.


Steve: -The Boss Show.


Voiceover: Now back to Jim Hessler and Steve Motenko. This is The Boss Show on KOMO News.


Jim: I am Jim Hessler. I am the business guy.


Steve: Excuse me, I am Steve Motenko. I am the psychology guy and Jim, I guess I’m not done with the conversation from the last segment. It seems to me that what’s left out of the equation of the ability of someone to foster a pride an accomplishment of somebody else and the ability to do something else really well, what’s left out is personality style issues and also natural ability. You know I could have a boss who says I’m going to teach you to be a great piano player and I don’t have the natural ability to be a great piano player and so I can only go so far, and thus I can only accomplish so much and feel so much pride in what I accomplish.


Jim: I’d simplify it a little bit. Think about the whitewashing the fence in the Adventures of Tom Sawyer.


Steve: All right look that up in case you haven’t read Tom Sawyer recently and come back to us next week. The Boss Show is produced by Boss Media Productions. Our sound engineer is Kevin Dodrill.


Jim: If you missed any of the show, you can get it in its entirety online at That’s also where you can go to subscribe for the podcast or to contact us for any reason at all at


Steve: Next week we’ll be talking with Arden Clise about etiquette at your holiday party. Thank for listening.


Jim: Don’t forget, rule number six.



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