Becoming Unconsciously Competent
“I did then, what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” One of the famous Maya Angelou quotes that resonates loudly with many especially me. To grow and develop as we engage in new experiences and adventures, it’s a natural part of life. Learn, think, act, do….simple enough. However, how often do we actively learn and how often do we actively think, to truly be effective and make an impact in the way we act and do? This type of behaviour requires an awareness that with a little effort, can become a habit to help us consciously grow every day.
A model that speaks to how we grow is called ‘The 4 stages of Competence’. Created by Noel Burch of the Gordon Training Institute, The 4 stages of Competence, also known as the 4 stages of Learning Any New Skill, is a powerful tool in how to actively learn. Dr. Thomas Gordon, a three time Nobel Peace Prize nominee, and the founder of the Gordon Training Institute, was an American Clinical Psychologist who taught conflict resolution and communication skills to parents, teachers, leaders and youth around the world. Dr. Gordon’s training and life work has been directed towards helping facilitate active learning within many organizations and for many individuals.
A close to home example of The 4 stages of Competence, would be in the developmental peer-to-peer organization, Toastmasters. Allow me to demonstrate.
As a speaker, we come up to the stage to do our first speech, we have practiced and we have truly done our best. You have the audience laughing and you know they enjoyed your speech. The feedback comes in and within all those ‘glow’ points*, you see a ‘grow’** suggestion that tells you something small about your behaviour which you had never even thought about in your entire life. Prior to this, you were ‘Unconsciously Incompetent’. You don’t know what you don’t know…and that’s okay. The feedback: you tend to fidget with your fingers when speaking which may distract your audience from the speech. At this stage of Unconscious Incompetence, you were not aware of the finger fidgeting and you simply did your best with what you knew. By getting the feedback that you were fidgeting, you became aware and entered into the next stage.
You go home, digest this and start to rehearse in front of the mirror on how you can keep your finger fidgeting to a minimum.
The time comes for your second speech and you are that much more prepared and excited. As you are 2 minutes into your speech, you feel the sensation of your fingers touching each other and you slightly panic, but you immediately put your hands to your side. During the rest of this speech, they want to come together but you consciously keep them apart. You are congratulated during the evaluations on keeping your finger fidgeting to a minimum. You caught yourself making this mistake, you were ‘Consciously Incompetent’.
In your third speech, you know your content so well and you have conditioned your body especially those fidgety fingers to keep still. With full awareness and mental strength, you were able to keep those fingers down. You were ‘Consciously Competent’.
That fourth speech, you didn’t think once about those fingers fidgeting at all, they were well behaved throughout that presentation and you were ready for the next piece of feedback. You, my friend, have become ‘Unconsciously Competent’.
This is how the 4 stages of Competence flows.
This model can be applied to the way we address others, the way we treat ourselves, the way we tackle our goals. The 4 stages of Competence has allowed me to realise that the opportunities to improve are ubiquitous in nature, they are ongoing and can span over many areas of life, -family, career, finance, health and personal . It also makes realise that it is important to be patient with ourselves (and others) and prioritise where we can actively grow.
To accelerate this growth of self in any of these areas, a tool that can been used and which I can strongly testify to, is a journal.
Journaling is the act of writing down one's thoughts and feelings to gain clarity, problem solve and work through the issues at hand. Among the many self-help and wellness advocates out there for journaling, psychology experts like Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung have all used writing as a means to develop their own theories and gain personal insights.
Leveraging a journal helps nurture mental strength and allows one to process feedback actively thus moving them from the stage of ‘Conscious Incompetence’ to ‘Conscious Competence’.
And with the intention of growth for greater impact in our lives, being conscious of the 4 stages of Competence may just help us fail forward, accept that change is inevitable, and embrace humility as we see ourselves and others progressing through the journey towards becoming Unconsciously Competent. If we know better….we can do better.
*Glow Point—Positive feedback point used in Toastmasters
**Grow Point –Constructive feedback point used in Toastmasters
My second speech given at First Class Toastmasters, April 24th-2018