How I Got Rid of Unconscious Incompetence at Work

Remember those great posters that you used to see around your high school (or parents’ garage)?

Grow up, get a job, and move out while you still know everything

The idea being, of course, that when you’re young and naïve you THINK you know everything when in actual reality you know almost nothing. Well, it’s like that for many people at the beginning of their professional careers as well; and I was no exception.

You may have heard about “The Four Stages of Competence”. At the beginning of my professional career, I did, in fact, have “unconscious incompetence” at work. But, thankfully, I listened to some great leaders along the way and got rid of it.

You can read more online about the four stages, but here they are in a nutshell:

  • Unconscious incompetenceYou don’t even realize how much that you really don’t know, so you can’t learn from your mistakes.
  • Conscious incompetence: You at least realize that you don’t know as much as you thought, so you can learn from your mistakes and see the value in learning more.
  • Conscious competence: You’re getting better at your skill (whatever that is), but it still takes a great deal of effort and concentration to get it done.
  • Unconscious competence: Your skills are second nature and you’re so good that you can teach others.

The top 10 things some great bosses taught me

With this advice, I was able to cure my unconscious incompetence and rise to unconscious competence. If you don’t have everything you want in life, personally and professionally, perhaps you should give some (or all) of these a try:

  1. We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen twice as much as we speak.
  2. Be selfless: help others get what they want first, and then you can get what you want later.
  3. Don’t gossip: instead, spend your time creating something positive (personally or professionally).
  4. Always exercise emotional intelligence.
  5. Act, don’t react. In other words, be proactive and not reactive (an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure).
  6. Focus on what you can control (and don’t waste time on things you can’t).
  7. Be the most positive person at work (and stay away from the pessimists and naysayers).
  8. Always be humble and never think you can’t get fired because you’re “too valuable”.
  9. Stay hungry and always want to learn more about your profession.
  10. If you lie down with dogs, you will always get fleas (stay away from troublemakers).