The 4 stages of Competence

The best techniques are always invisible.  If you can remember the first time you ever drove a car - it was terrifying.  You are in control of a dangerous and potentially deadly activity.  The simple act of turning right at a set of lights was overly complex.  You had to remember how to watch the clutch, change gears, look for oncoming traffic all at the same time.  Of course after few weeks, you can do the same thing while letting your mind drift. 

In psychology, this evolution is described as the four stages of competence, or the "conscious competence" learning model.  It  relates to the psychological states involved in the process of progressing from incompetence to competence in a skill.


The Four Stages of Learning provides a model for learning. It suggests that individuals are initially unaware of how little they know, or unconscious of their incompetence. As they recognize their incompetence, they consciously acquire a skill, then consciously use it. Eventually, the skill can be utilized without it being consciously thought through: the individual is said to have then acquired unconscious competence.

The four stages:


You have never given much thought to how you sound or look when you give a presentation.  You haven't even thought about improving your skills.  The bad news is that you probably aren't that good at presentations, but the good news is that you are ignorant to the fact!


You are completely aware of how bad you are at presentations.  You might have tried a few new techniques, but they are new and they feel a bit strange.


You have now mastered a whole range of new skills, but you need to concentrate to keep it all together.


You have now reached mastery,  The techniques are now a part of you and you can use them without consciously thinking about it.


Think about where you are in the hierarchy by asking yourself a few questions:

  • Are you often asked to give presentations?
  • Do you always receive compliments after you give a presentation?
  • Do you actively persuade people through your presentations?
  • Are you ever asked to repeat points you have already made in your presentation?
  • People seem to remember things you have said during your presentation?

Next record yourself given a short presentation.  Take a moment to describe the impression you get from seeing yourself speak. 

List the things your were proud of.  Then list the things your need to improve. 

By now you should have a good idea of where you are and what you need to do.