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No, I don’t mean me, specifically. It’s a question I often asked myself in times of doubt, and I’m sure it’s a question you may have asked yourself. It is something I know I’ve asked myself when a colleague has pulled some masterful piece of work out of his or her bag, a piece of work I either should have considered or could have considered – but didn’t.

What IS Competence? In my book I define it as “the ability to get things done in accordance with the technology, methodology and ethics of the role being undertaken”. That general definition covers a multitude of professions, trades and pastimes. The ‘things to be done’ are the results expected from the individual that relate to the objectives of the organisation – it may be sales, it may be production, it may be distribution, it could be the provision of any services you can think of. But if you disagree with the definition just apply your own – it’s your understanding of competence that is important, and even more so when you apply it to your own work.

The chances are that having obtained a ‘job’ you either got training, or were expected to already know what it was you were supposed to be doing. Even in that latter situation I’d imagine there was some tempering of what you knew in the sense that it had to be applied to the specific situation in which you found yourself. I know, for example, that after 14 weeks Police training my naïve colleagues and I underwent a Force-level ‘local procedure course’ where we were enlightened as to “how we do it ‘round ‘ere”, followed by another “how we do it ‘round ‘ere” inflicted on us when we got to our first station. Then there were to be many other “how we do it ‘round ‘ere” courses as we were to transfer between stations and departments. I probably inflicted a few rounds of “how we do it ‘round ‘ere” myself. (What do you mean I still do?)

And on each of my subsequent HWDIRH courses I probably discovered that either I was not competent in the eyes of new ‘trainer’ because of the way I HAD been doing it, or the ‘trainer’ was evidently incompetent because I could see (having got older and wiser) that s/he was incompetent. Such incompetence, by the way, was often the reliance on HWDIRH being set in stone – it was ‘the ONLY way’.

It is clear to me that no matter where you go and whatever you do, there is a ‘window’ that exists, through which you will be viewed as competent or otherwise, and this is called the ‘AYNOBETA WINDOW’.

Someone, somewhere, will always know better than you. It is plain if you are wholly new to a field and are completely uninformed that people will see you through this window, and they will be right. On such occasions, suck it up, accept the impatience as a sense of urgency that you learn the new things being taught. (Particularly if you’ve just joined the Marines.)

But in progressing along a ‘training continuum’ where you’ve already gained some competence in your field, the situation may be a bit different with the other party’s AYNOBETA WINDOW. If they DO know better it will be evident the moment that they take the time to explain their thinking and you discover a new perspective. If they DON’T know better, that will become evident the minute they shout you down, refuse to listen to you, or call you an idiot for your failure to succumb to their greatness. Avoid these people like the plague. And don’t become one.

A friend of mine from the Covey ‘stable’ suggests that when we disagree with somebody, a great sentence is this: “Ah, you see things differently – tell me more.” It’s seldom easy to remember to use it, but there it is. Another Coveyism in any difference of opinion is, “What is your underlying concern?” They both send the same message – ‘your opinion is important to me and may be correct – tell me more’, and it actually invites the respondent to review their own understanding of the situation. This practice may well develop BOTH parties to the conversation.

Competence can be learned and incompetence can be unlearned. And in the great continuum of life, skills applicable today may no longer work tomorrow and our competence needs to take new possibilities, and the subsequent need for new learning, into account.

We’re only competent until something changes, but after that change we are only incompetent as long as we are unable or unwilling to learn the new skill required. Once we take the time to be retrained, or to train ourselves, we resume our journey through competence to expertise. And that is a place many of us would like to be.

Weekly Challenge

Is there something you do in your trade, profession, community work or relationships that needs work? How up to date are you with the codes of practice governing your activities? How proactive are you about discovering what your training department still hasn’t told you? What ‘soft skills’ aren’t you applying that you know you should, but haven’t yet applied because you fear your lack of skill will be seen as duplicitous or insincere?

Take the time to either learn what you don’t know, or properly apply what you DO know. For me, that’ll mean exercising much more patience (MUCH more) with family members!

Blog Part

Disappointing weight loss this week, but I suspect there were some environmental factors which warped the weighing scale experience and I hope that the balance will be redressed next week. I’m still on track with the running programme (eh?) and even ran a bit further than I should have one day, just to see if I could. It built a bit of self-confidence in me, so it did.

My book is expanding exponentially – every day something comes up that makes me think “that’ll be great in that chapter”, which means I develop my thinking as much as I hope to help you develop your own.

I also attended a professional seminar yesterday, and some interesting legal and ethical questions arose which are also going to lead to me gaining new competencies, and to taking further opportunities to provide a service in accordance with my Mission Statement. There was also a moral/ethical dilemma – do I challenge a speaker on his ethics in front of a crowd of people? My answer has always been the same – when invited to someone else’s party, don’t criticise the host. And there’s also another perspective to consider – ‘did I hear that right?’

Occasionally you need to keep your mouth shut out of respect – because doing so may also protect your own reputation!

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