Never Underestimate Other People

By | August 9, 2018

[August 9, 2018]  The biggest mistake I’ve ever made was failing to listen to my maternal grandmother (we called her “bigmama”).  She told the gaggle of her grandkids sitting in a circle one day to never underestimate other people.

“Golden rule of life: never underestimate your rivals.” – Sid Waddell, English sports commentator and television personality

We were getting ready to play a game of marbles; one of my favorites.  Since we had very little money in those days, we bet a penny on each game and possession of the loser’s marbles.  I lost terribly to my cousin Vicki.  Vicki was our least favorite cousin and generally poor at any physical activity.  Unexpectedly, she was great at marbles.  Not only did I lose about 25 cents (which was a lot), I also lost all my playing marbles.

People do it all the time.  We are always underestimating other people and do so, so frequently, that you would think the human population would learn better.  We also overestimate people too but less frequently and that is for another post.

Underestimating others can have unfortunate results.  If you underestimate an enemy during wartime, you can lose your life and a nation could be destroyed.  One of the Twentieth Century’s greatest strategy blunders was Japan’s Imperial Navy attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in 1941which brought the United States into World War II.  In 1945, Japan surrendered unconditionally.

I thought that I’d learned a tough lesson with marbles as a kid but as an adult, I again made a number of mistakes by underestimating people.  In my engineer design section was a young Lieutenant who had poor people skills and was a bit awkward physically.

I generally dismissed his suggestions on how to bring much needed electrical power to our grid that supplied the base camp.  One of his sergeants took me aside to tell me the plan devised by the Lieutenant.  I was impressed and quickly implemented his ideas but lost precious time.  No one died but we suffered longer in the heat than we should have.

Psychologist will tell you how we do this but their reasoning is unimportant to me.  There is an interesting article on this topic in Psychology about the destructive power of underestimating.1  What matters is we do it and do it every day.  Leaders must be vigilant about this human weakness and how it can sneak up on your without notice.


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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

25 thoughts on “Never Underestimate Other People

  1. Douglas R. Satterfield Post author

    Hi everyone. I struggled whether to make this an “underestimation” or an “overestimation.” Both are tendencies in all of us. Perhaps some day I will write about the latter. Special thanks also to Nick Lighthouse for getting suggestions for future topics. Well done.

  2. Gil Johnson

    Another article to bookmark for my son to read.

  3. Jonathan B.

    It’s always a pleasure to have my morning cup of coffee and read this blog. Thanks everyone in the comment section for also adding to my day.

  4. Ed Berkmeister

    Good comment Mike. I too gave out this website and wished people in my office good luck in their journey to developing their leadership skills.

  5. Mike Baker

    I gave your website link to a number of people in my office and told them it would be beneficial if they read you blog daily. A couple of them came back to say they are new fans at Keep up the great work.

  6. Wesley Brown

    Great topic. Thanks Gen. Satterfield for another article on the basics of leadership in a modern world. I would think that in ancient times this wasn’t much of a problem, unless the person you were underestimating was the king or some leader of the enemy. Thanks again.

  7. Willie Shrumburger

    In my experience over these past few years working in sales and customer service, I’ve found that the best answer to the problem is to assume everyone is a good person and trying to do the right thing. That way you treat them with respect and trust.

  8. Drew Dill

    Well done. Great topic, especially for young team leaders in manufacturing.

  9. Bill Sanders, Jr.

    Another good, relevant article. Thanks Gen. Satterfield.

  10. Nick Lighthouse

    Hey guys, I’m a big fan of this leadership website. Does anyone want to make suggestions for future topics? I’m sure General Satterfield will entertain our ideas.

    1. Wilson Cox

      Sure, I recommend that he write about the influence of culture on leadership skills.

    2. Lynn Pitts

      I would like to see more on the military ways of training leaders and some of their schools and their successes and failures.

    3. Darryl Sitterly

      I recommend he write about “bad bosses.” This topic has the chance of being humorous and valuable. I’ve had enough bad bosses in my lifetime to fill a book with the experiences.

  11. Mark Evans

    Great article today on another overlooked and underrated leader topic. Thanks for the insight.

  12. Greg Heyman

    Thanks to General Satterfield, we have a who list of do’s and don’ts for leaders. If you are a junior leader and just now started reading this blog … I highly recommend you keep it up. You will learn more here than in any textbook or classroom on leaders and leadership.

  13. Shawn C. Stolarz

    I always wonder why I was consistently underestimating people. Although Gen. Satterfield’s blog post today doesn’t get to the “why” of the issue, it does point to the fact that we all have this problem.

  14. Max Foster

    Over the past few decades, I have come to the realization that the only way to overcome this problem is to be exceptionally vigilant. Also, having a wingman (a mentor, peer, spouse) who is watching us in order to give us a little extra protection, is a big big help. Those who try to do it alone are putting themselves at greater risk (although it is doable).

    1. Dale Paul Fox

      Good comment Max. I must agree that this is a difficult one for humans to overcome. However, there are weak people who cannot ever remove the obstacle of underestimated people. This personal obstacle for them can only be removed if they have someone help them. I saw it in my brother-in-law Jake who was also a drinker and womanizer. Nothing ever seemed to help.

    2. Eddie Ray Anderson,

      Spot on comment. Max, you’ve done it again by pointing out solutions to ordinary problems that we tend to overlook. Thank you.

  15. Joey Holmes

    I liked the idea that we have this built into our personality. I don’t think my dad would let me use it as an excuse. Cheers!

  16. Army Captain

    Nice! About time folks learned that this human trait is difficult to overcome and is one sneaky trait we all have.

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