Updated: Mar 3
No, it’s not a disease your doctor should screen for, nor is it last year’s National Spelling Bee stump word. But ultracrepidarianism is something that we all suffer from now and again: giving opinions, advice, and prognostications on issues outside of one’s competence or knowledge domain.
Wherever there is more than one side to an argument, there will be those who practice ultracrepidarianism. Researchers wrote about it in The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance, and Steven Levitt and Stephen Dunbar wrote about it in Think Like a Freak, where they quoted two psychologists who stated that:
Despite spending more time with themselves than with any other person, people often have surprisingly poor insight into their skills and abilities.
Religion, politics – especially politics – , and business are full of ultracrepidarianists. The whole idea seems to be linked to our worldview presuppositions which can cloud our ability to understand the real truth behind divisive and emotionally charged issues, but that’s too deep for this post. Let me bring it back to career strategies.
In the workplace we often encounter “Yes, but…” people who have the insatiable impulse to always interject their opinion or advice no matter how relevant or germane to the question or matter at hand. I once worked with a fellow geologist from Mississippi who always began his contribution to any conversation – regardless of the subject matter – with “Well…taint only that…” Around the office he earned the nickname, “Taint.”
Such out-of-his-league bloviating damaged how receptive any valuable ideas or suggestions he had could have been to others. People began tuning him out as soon as he started talking. Any real or perceived expertise he possessed was discounted because of his urge to always be the “answer guy.” Saying “I don’t know” or even just being quiet was too high a price to pay, so he opted for offering a misguided or totally incorrect opinion.
Knowing what ultracrepidarianism is will score you points at the next cocktail party, but avoiding it will help you preserve your professional brand that you have worked hard to establish. It's another Weapon of Mass Persuasion® you should have in your arsenal.
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