Jacky Sherman

The Consultant's Consultant

07970 638857


Unconscious Competence Can Be Bad For Your Business

Do you apply your business methods without thinking?



This week has been exciting on two fronts. It was the first session for my new students on our Referrals for Life programme and Leah Mejias joined me as a consultant coach with Asentiv ...

Driving is an example of unconscious competence, but what happens when complacency sneaks in?

Driving is an example of unconscious competence, but what happens when complacency sneaks in?

As I was taking Leah through the basics on how I run the first workshop, I remarked on how I have been using and teaching this material for so long now it was easy to think "they'll already know that" when they don't.

"Guess what?"

The point was made in that first session - when participants had their first "aha" moment - that the purpose of networking was to meet people who can refer you, not to pitch for sales in the room.

Now, I have reached the point in referral marketing where it is just the way I do business. In other words, I have achieved 'unconscious competence', I apply our methods without thinking about it as part of my daily interactions with people. It is the ultimate aim of the work I do with my clients. When you reach this point, business comes to you rather than you chasing the business.

If the concept of unconscious competence is new to you, remember when you learned to drive? The point when you no longer had to think how to engage gears and mirror/signal/manoeuvre came automatically; that was when you achieved unconscious competence. For a fuller explanation read my blog post about referral marketing being really simple.

However, as any car driver will tell you, it can be dangerous too. As the techniques slip into the back of your brain, along comes the two devils of complacency and assumption. To elaborate on this, I’ll use referral marketing as the example but it equally applies to any skill

"Complacency comes when you think
you know it all!"

You think you’re pretty good at it too. After all, you’re giving and receiving referrals on a regular basis without too much effort. You can focus on other things now and just let your networking tick over as it is. You start taking shortcuts and cutting corners without even noticing it.

Oh, I've got a lot on this month, I’ll skip the network meeting”. You don’t even notice that you haven’t spoken to key people for a couple of months now.

Or maybe you think that quick e-mail to Sally who referred you, just saying thanks will do? If you thought about it, you’d remember that she likes to be kept fully informed about the detail of how you’re going to contact her friend and reassure her that she will be kept in the loop.

Complacency impacts when new techniques become available and as your focus is elsewhere you don’t see the potential. Networking on social media come to mind. Are you building personal relationships online or just using it as an advertising board churning out sales messages and trying to outwit LinkedIn, Facebook and Google?

"The other devil is making assumptions
about other people!"

You assume they’re as experienced and competent in referral marketing as you are. It’s now so natural to you that you’ve forgotten you weren’t born knowing it and that others may be at an earlier stage in their learning. If you find yourself thinking "It’s common sense, isn’t it? How can they be so daft?", you’re falling into that trap.

The other assumption is that others understand your business, know who you want to meet and how they can introduce you. After all, you spent ages honing your message, and you know it inside out. The assumption is that others will pick this up quickly when actually, it took you years. Then, of course, your familiarity with your professional jargon creeps in too.

At random from the internet: Do the people who could refer you know what you mean when you say you "eliminate the friction of integration"? It's jargon. The writer understands what it means, but will the reader?

So how do you stop your hard-won competence slipping back to being incompetent? Here are some tips:

  1. Challenge your complacency by immersing yourself in the body of knowledge

    • Keep your skills fresh. Go back into a training or coaching environment where someone challenges you to revisit the basics as well as new ideas.

    • Model best practice consciously. Act as if it was the first time you had done this. For instance, when was the last time you wrote down your goals for attending that event?

  2. Assume ignorance until proven otherwise

    • Focus and repeat your message. No matter how many times and how many ways you’ve put over your message, check if the person in front of you knows it.

    • Be forgiving when others transgress. It’s never common sense, you had to learn this stuff, and the other person just hasn’t had that opportunity yet.

If you'd like to know more check out your competence in Referral marketing with the Asentiv ® self-assessment checklist. Call me on 07970 638857 or click here to drop me an email request and I'll send you the link.

Until next time ...


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07970 638857