Industry Influencers Monday Mindset: NLP 4 Stages of Competence

What Are the 4 Stages of Competence?


The 4 States of Competence is a model that describes the processes one as he learns a new skill. It shows that humans are originally oblivious of their incompetence. Once they are aware of their ineptitude, they try to develop a skill that they can utilize along the way. As time progresses, this acquired skill is effectively used without conscious contemplation. It is in this stage when a human develops mastery – also known as unconscious incompetence.

The 4 States of Competence is said to be patterned after the works of Abraham Maslow, although it has not been mentioned in any of his publications. It is sometimes likened to Johari’s window. However, it deals with self-awareness, while the 4 states of competence cover the learning process.

Mastering NLP is just like any other new talent or behavior in one very important regard. You will have a pre-existing level of competence, whether you know it or not. Did you know that all levels of ability boil down to 4 different stages? You may look at professional athletes and argue that there are many levels where someone can be very good or very poor at what they do. And you would be correct.

However, all of the physical achievements those athletes are able to produce still fall into the scientifically accepted 4 Stages of Competence. Think about something that you like doing in your business or any activity or a favorite hobby, something physical or mental in nature. Now, think about how good you are at performing the behavior. Then see if you can spot yourself among the 4 stages of competence listed below.

4 Stages of Competence NLP Training with Callahan

 Stage 1: Competency Stage I Unconsciously Incompetent  The idea here is that “You don’t know what you don’t know.” This is stage 1 in the competency process, and there is no guarantee that someone will ever move on from this stage. That person has to be made knowledgeable of the fact that they are not very good at a particular thing, and they may not know this because they have never attempted to acquire a knowledge set or particular talent.

Stage 2: Competency Stage II Consciously Incompetent  This can only occur if you try something for the first time. Think back on your life to an experience where you attempted something new, only to find out that you were woefully pitiful. You moved from stage I to stage II on the competency meter.

You never realized you were not very good at performing a particular activity until you actually tried it. Now you are very aware, or conscious, that you stink at riding a bike, cooking, public speaking or whatever new activity it was that you attempted. You now “Know what you do not know.”

Stage 3: Competency Stage III Consciously Competent  When you “Know what you know” you have moved to the 3rd level of competency in some area. You identified your stage I level at something, and have sought out information or resources that will help you perform better. You are intentionally concentrating your activities and time on learning how to be better at a particular task or skill.

You may eventually become consciously competent through repetition, knowing that you are good in a particular area. There is no guarantee you can move from stage II to stage III, but you never know until you make conscious and repetitive efforts at improvement.

Stage 4: Competency Stage IV Unconsciously Competent  Have you ever seen someone who seems to focus little attention on a particular skill, yet they are still very effective in that area? These people are unconsciously competent, usually due to repeated practice as a result of reaching stage III. In some cases, people discover that they have some innate ability, which had never been tapped until they took up a hobby or tried something new.

For instance, Anna Mary Robertson Moses was much better known by her nickname of “Grandma Moses”. She was globally regarded as one of the best Na‹ve Art painters of all time. However, she did not begin painting until she was 78, never realizing that she was very competent at that art.

Remember that becoming better at something requires you try it first. You cannot simply say, “I would be good at that thing.” You have to physically make the effort to discover which level of competency you possess. Then you can take steps to repetitively practice the processes needed to improve until you think little about what you are doing, as a result of entering stage IV on the competency meter.

Stage 5: Conscious Competence of Unconscious Incompetence

While this is not included in Burch’s original model, many experts are campaigning for the inclusion of this fifth stage. In this phase, a ‘master’ can influence other persons to develop unconscious incompetence. This ability paves the way for the learning of new skills in people who are otherwise deemed ‘incompetent’ of the said skill.

Learning a new skill might be a hard task – but you can eventually do it! By acknowledging the states of competence – especially the ones you are in – you can perfect a certain activity after a few trainings.

So, what do you think about this first level of our exploration into NLP? I would love to hear your thoughts. Leave your comments below and head over to the forum for a continued discussion.

In awareness, passion, joy, purpose & extraordinary business,

Andrea Callahan leading Industry Influencers



Monday Mindset NLP

About The Author


Andrea Callahan is a brand designer. She helps passion & purpose-driven entrepreneurs maximize their strengths to craft and implement an image that represents their WHY and to use that why to position themselves as an Industry Influencer. She a speaker, seminar leader and the author of, "It's Your Brand ~ Make Your Identity Clear" available on Callahan launched the Industry Influencer Academy at

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