Four Stages of Competence

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Contributed by: Munadil Shafat

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Summary
Four Stages of Competence

The Stages or Levels of Competence Model.

The 4 stages of levels of competence is a learning model that describes 4 main levels of personal learning and mastering any skill and the corresponding psychological states involved in the process of progressing from incompetence to competence.

In the first stage, individuals are initially unaware / unconscious of how little they know / their incompetence. After they recognize their incompetence, they then consciously acquire the skill, and then consciously use it. After time and/or practice, the skill can eventually be utilized automatically, without having to consciously think it through: the individual has then reached the level of unconscious competence.


The 4 Stages or Levels

The four stages are:

  1. Unconscious Incompetence (Unconsciously Incompetent)
    The individual is unaware of the area and the skill and does not recognize the deficit. Perhaps they might know about the skill, but deny its usefulness. Because the individual does not recognize their own incompetence and the value of the skill, they will not proceed to the next stage. Some form of stimulus to learn is needed.
    Tips: If you are the person, then you have to be humble at this stage and also be relatively more careful in performing your job. For others, they should be proactive in explaining a job before assigning and be patient in answering the person. It is a good practice, to give the person a simple assignment first and progress gradually in complexity.

  2. Conscious Incompetence (Consciously Incompetent)
    The individual still does not understand or knows how to do something, but they now (starts to) recognize the deficit, and see the value of the new skill in addressing the deficit. Initial attempts are made to acquire the skill, but mistakes are still frequent in this stage of the learning process.
    Tips: This is an uncomfortable stage and requires a great effort from the person to graduate from the stage. Fortunately, awareness of shortcomings also motivates one to move forward. Thus the person in this stage shows active participation in learning, and is asking questions and taking help from others. Teammates need to show empathy and be cooperative in helping the individual to acquire the skill as soon as possible.

  3. Conscious Competence (Consciously Competent)
    The individual now understands or knows how to do something. But performing the skill or applying the knowledge still requires conscious involvement, effort and concentration. The person has learned all the necessary things and ways to perform the skill well. They figured out the checklist, equation, methods and outline to successfully perform the task or skill. They are making less mistakes, but yet still need conscious effort in doing so. It is quite normal that applying the skills still takes considerable time although they are no longer incompetent.
    Tips: To keep the motivation high, this 3rd stage can be broken down into steps. It's important to stay focused in this stage, otherwise more time than necessary will be required to get to the next stage. Teammates can expect flawless execution of the task from the person at this time, but should not pressurize them with a tight deadline.

  4. Unconscious Competence (Unconsciously Competent)
    The individual has now practiced the skill and has become experienced in applying it. It has become "second nature" and they can can performed it easily, automatically, and perhaps even while executing another task.
    Tips: After a long time, individuals may become overconfident or sloppy in applying the skill and could then fall back to stage #1. On the other hand, it is now possible for them to teach the skill to other people. They might also try new ways to do the things  more effectively and efficiently. Teammates can now rely on the person in this stage and can give challenging assignments to them without any second thought.

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