How people learn

How people learn

Creating Conscious Incompetence to help people learn

On last week’s Fresh Start programme one of the topics we discussed was how people learn, re-establishing our expectations and how we identify if someone is already up to standard. Something I’m sure a lot of managers will be doing as their teams return from furlough.

As anyone knows who has had to deal with someone who thinks they know it all already, it can be particularly difficult to get their attention and buy-in.

I’m sure you’re already familiar with how people learn and the Conscious Competence Learning Model.

These are the four stages people go through when they are learning something new.

The learner always begins at stage 1 – ‘unconscious incompetence’, and ends at stage 4 – ‘unconscious competence’, having passed through stage 2 – ‘conscious incompetence’ and – 3 ‘conscious competence’.

It’s not possible to jump stages, so when you’re teaching someone new we need to help them to get to the next stage.

The challenge comes when we dive straight in, but if someone is still at the unconscious incompetence stage – and not yet aware of any need to develop a new skill or behaviour.

Trying to teach somebody something new from this point is the fundamental reason why so much training and coaching fails.

I see this time and again when I’m working with clients. There is an assumption that team members are already at stage 2. In other words it’s assumed that they already recognise any shortfalls or gaps in their knowledge or skills, and the need for change or development.

For someone to learn something new or change their behaviour they need to be motivated to do so, particularly when it requires some effort on their part. Without that recognition they will not be receptive to learning and the barriers will go up thinking “this doesn’t apply to me”.

In some instances people may previously have been at other levels but have regressed to an unconscious incompetence over a period of time.

From conscious incompetence they may simply have forgotten what is involved; from conscious competence they may just have got rusty through lack of practice.

Or from a position of unconscious competence they’ve been doing it so long they’ve picked up bad habits. Or the short cuts they’ve taken on the odd occasion in the past have now become custom and practice.

Or as may be the case right now, you’ve introduced new standards which need to be met.

This can present a challenge for us at times, as to undo a bad habit and replace it with a new habit can be more difficult than creating new habits from scratch.

But a little time invested now, ensuring people are conscious of their ‘incompetence’ and the need to change can save a lot of time and frustration later.

Take action

If you only do one thing: Nip bad habits in the bud to avoid people regressing from unconsciously competent back to unconscious incompetence

Related blog post: Old habits die hard

Related video: Creating Conscious incompetence



 

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