There are Four Stages of Competency Development
This is interesting and important. In developing most competencies, we go through four stages. We usually spend time in each phase and rarely skip one. Knowing the nature of these stages takes some of the unknown out of the process and can make sense out of what is often a challenging journey.
- Unconscious Incompetence – We don’t know what we don’t know.
We might have a sense that something is missing that we need to pursue, but it is not a clear gap. On the other hand, sometimes we don’t even know what we are missing or what’s possible. That may be because we never had to use the competency or never even gave much thought to it. Boys (in general), for example, seem to naturally tend to overlook effective listening as a key competency. “What, effective listening is a thing – and I should be good at it? There are specific skills and practices?”
- Conscious Incompetence – We know what we need to develop, but don’t have the knowledge or skills yet.
This can be exciting as the possibilities become clear or it can be disheartening as we realize how far from competency we might be and what it might take to gain that competency. Feeling incompetent is not a good feeling, but you can often accept it and change the feeling to one of excitement or anticipation of new skills and knowledge.
Once we get to conscious incompetence, it’s a good idea to find some ways to start building the competence. Just starting can take the edge off feeling incompetent and that’s important because feeling incompetent is not a good feeling. What matters is being on the journey and moving.
- Conscious Competence – We have developed the knowledge and skills to be competent in a particular area, but it still requires conscious effort.
We have not established habits or “muscle memory” that allows us to perform without consciously paying attention. This can take a lot of attention and energy. Practice is usually the path out of this stage and into the next and perseverance is the key.
- Unconscious Competence – We are in the flowWe have developed the skills and knowledge and have practiced long enough that the competence flows naturally and without a lot of conscious effort.
From “Just OK” to “Mastery”
These competencies can be of varying levels – from “OK “to “good” to “mastery.” The cycle of development is the same. It is a matter of how far you want to take the competency and the effort/time dedicated, particularly in the conscious competence stage.
Remember – you do not need to master all of the competencies of being a young adult. In fact, you need to actually master relatively few, which is lucky because true mastery takes a long time in the conscious competence stage.