Quietly competent

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

An article by Carol Stewart highlighted the difference between mistaking a lack of confidence for a lack of competence.  She was specifically fielding it as a message for introverted women, but it’s equally applicable to anyone who lacks confidence to show their competence.

There are those, and I’m sure we can all name at least one person, who is supremely confident. They can walk into any room and blag their way through whatever they’re confronted with, despite the fact they may not actually be competent.  However, there are those of us who have competence but our confidence holds us back and we write ourselves off, doing ourselves an injustice by denying ourselves to become all of what we are capable of.

Stewart demonstrates the subtle differences between where we are in the four stages of competence:

  1. Unconscious incompetence – unaware that there is a skills or knowledge gap
  2. Conscious incompetence – awareness of a skills of knowledge gap
  3. Conscious competence – having the skills and knowledge and knowing how to use them but requiring a lot of thought and practice to do so
  4. Unconscious competence – having the skills and knowledge and knowing how to use them without having to give it much thought

Of course we can be in different places in different aspects of our lives and at different times.  If you feel you are currently in the conscious incompetence stage how can you get the necessary training or who can help you with what you want to achieve?

Stewart asked us to consider what exactly is it that you lack confidence in? Clearly defining it helps make it easier to address.  If it’s because something takes you out of your comfort zone, work on stretching yourself out of it without it becoming too stressful.  It should feel slightly uncomfortable.  Reflect on how you felt, celebrate that you went that little bit further.

We can often lack confidence when we feel overwhelmed for which Stewart suggested breaking things down to clear steps of what needs to be done.

When we compare ourselves to colleagues we should take into account whether they are naturally extroverted, a woman in a male dominated environment, someone from a different socio-economic status or a place of privilege. In those situations Stewart recommends standing strong in who you are and valuing the different you bring.  You may have taken a different route to get to the table but you are there all the same and deserve it.  You many have had many obstacles and taken a few detours along the way, and this can make your contributions even more valuable.

Addressing self-doubt, limiting beliefs and imposter syndrome by identifying where you lack confidence or competence can be conquered.

I am embarking on a new role at work where I very much lack competence and thankfully I am aware of this, consciously incompetent.  I am also grateful that there are people around me willing to help me.  I spent an hour or so with a colleague the other day going through a wealth of information around reporting processes and learning opportunities. She got me access to a team and a shared drive where there is a wealth of information for me to rummage around to help familiarise myself with the processes that I’ll need to adopt to help make a success of the work I’ll be doing.  It was mind boggling at first, but the quiet competent in me told me “you got this”.  I have the ability to become consciously competent before evolving into the unconsciously competent.


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