The Thoughtless Often Speak the Most
A friend of mine sent me an article the other day that included a link to another article, and one thing led to another. The second article was entitled “ Empty Vessels Make the Most Noise “. Of course, this is an idiom, or phrase which has a meaning that is commonly understood by speakers of the language, but whose meaning is often different from the normal meaning of the words, according to Using English.com. It means that “the thoughtless often speak the most”, out of cluelessness, ignorance, self-deception or denial.
In the article, the author speaks of the Dunning-Kruger Effect which intrigued me. This is a cognitive bias in which a significant percent of the incompetent and ignorant suffer from illusory superiority, rating their own ability as above average – much higher than it actually is. By contract, the highly skilled underrate their abilities, suffering from illusory inferiority – the exact opposite.
Dunning created a Venn diagram of this effect, subsequently added to by PBurns on his blog, showing cluelessness, ignorance, self-deception, knowledge and denial. Dunning suggests that cluelessness is the biggest circle because there is so much outside each individual’s sphere of knowledge. Even though people are really trying to get things right in an honest way, what they know, or what others are telling them, often leads them to false beliefs and holes in their real knowledge. Cluelessness can be considered the unknown, things we don’t know enough about to even ask questions. We just have no idea.
Ignorance, according to P. Burns, is the things we know we don’t know. We know enough to ask questions, research and we know these things can be learned.
Self-deception can not be pushed to the side. According to Dunning, this practice can also go by the name of rationalization, wishful thinking, or self-delusion, which diminishes the truth of what we know and highlights what we don’t want to confront. This area of the diagram encompasses our structure of knowing, even those things we know that are false and we refuse to re-examine because it is not convenient to do so – because it might lead us to recognize we have made mistakes, or perhaps we didn’t know as much as we thought we did.
The next circle is knowledge. This is actual knowledge. Things we have read about, been told about, experienced or have seen with our own eyes. This can be a surprisingly small circle for many people.
The smallest circle is denial. In psychological terms, this is a defense mechanism, used often to describe situations in which people seem unable to face reality or admit an obvious truth. These are things that are too painful for us to confront – EVER! Denial functions to protect the ego from things that the individual cannot cope with, saving them from anxiety or pain.
Is there any way to move through this with any hope of success? From a leadership perspective, this is where feedback, an open mind, and a willingness to acknowledge and empower those who have skills that lay outside the boundaries of our own knowledge comes in to play. It isn’t enough to solicit feedback, you have to know that the feedback is good feedback, and that it has been given because the people that are giving it care about the person receiving it, or the organization to which they belong . And, you, as a leader, must embrace the feedback, choosing to listen carefully and, when necessary, take action.
Feedback is not always easy to hear. It may involve hearing you’ve done something others don’t like, or consider to be lacking in integrity. It’s easy to equate this feedback with your skill level, interpersonal skills, even your proficiency. Some will take this as a negative situation – that people are entering into a sparring match with them, and it begins to reinforce any negative beliefs they might have about themselves.
Many people avoid feedback at all cost. This helps them continue their self-deception or outright denial.
I’m happy to know that there are leaders who are interested in receiving feedback, because they recognize it is not an insult and is meant to help them grow. It’s an outside reflection of what you are doing that is meant to help you get better and to be successful.
Feedback is a gift, especially when it’s given in love. If you can eliminate the ego’s response of anxiety and fear, and make a concerted effort to not feeling insulted, you will recognize it for what it is – someone cares enough about you to want to help you get where you want to go.
Unless, of course, you don’t really want to go anywhere and you choose to ignore the gift that it is. And, then, the circles remain the same don’t they – except now we face the possibility that the cluelessness and ignorance circles are smaller, and self-deception, knowledge, and denial may be a tad bit bigger. Those who behave in this fashion, often sit in the “victim” seat proclaiming that those who have given generous amounts of time and talent to provide feedback in order to help them be all they could be are persecuting them, debasing them, and doing whatever they can to make them fail. And, so it is – because failure is often a victim’s choice, based in anger and thoughtless reaction. Unfortunately, when this person is in a leadership position, they often take the organization down with them because they speak the most, making the most noise.
Leaders make a commitment to be authentic, to change, to grow, to listen, to empower, to inspire trust, to be accountable, and to be in integrity. Feedback is only one tool in your leadership toolkit, but it is a vital tool, one that no leader should be without.
Georgia Feiste, President of Collaborative Transitions Coaching, Inc., located in Lincoln, NE, and Phoenix, AZ, is a personal growth and leadership coach, writer, and workshop facilitator. She is also a Usui Reiki Master and EFT practitioner. Her passion is success grounded in purpose and passion, standards of integrity and priorities in life. You can also find Georgia on her website, Collaborative Transitions, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. Georgia may also be reached at (402) 304-1902 if you wish to schedule a 30 minute complementary consultation.