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Skill or competency? The chicken and egg workplace debate.

Dr. Melodie de Jager

The words skills and competencies are often used interchangeably, but are they synonyms?

Research at the Mind Dynamix Institute, Johannesburg, says NO! Skills are a subset of a competency. Skills are what you do while a competency is so much more. It takes a skill set to a whole new level. Competence is the fabric of super performance.

Neuroscientists continue to point out that the brain is economical in its use of attention, energy consumption and real estate. Effort consumes vast amounts of energy, while skillful competence runs on economy mode. Repetitive use of a specific skill set becomes hard-wired (myelinated) and run so fast that you are not even aware of it.

Myelinated behaviours = competency.

Competency moves the brain into energy efficiency mode with a status of unconscious competence.



When you’re good at something, you take it for granted. You don’t think about it. It simply happens. You’re on automatic pilot. You don’t know that you know. The programme runs too fast to be aware of it. This is what you want - unconscious competence.


180˚ from unconscious competence lies ignorance is bliss. You don’t know that you don’t know. You may come across as loud, arrogant and insensitive, while you see yourself as assertive and confident. You may consider yourself quiet and accommodating, while others view you as weak and lacking in ambition. Feedback robs you of ignorance is bliss alerts you to your incompetence.

Ignorance is bliss = unconscious incompetence and screams for coaching.


Ouch. It is not nice, but it is necessary. It helps you grow. Being aware of an incompetency doesn’t change a thing, but takes you a step closer to change. You can only change what you are aware of, and you can only change if you take ownership.

Awareness and ownership. Your coach is your ally in the process of discovering your unconscious in-competencies.

As long as you do something about it, you are on your way to success.


Conscious competence follows on effective coaching. Your newly acquired behaviour is up and running, but you are aware of every step of the way. You mentally tick off the steps as you go. Every time you run the programme, you are one step closer to success. You’re growing. It calls for focus. It takes effort. Conscious competence = slow but sure.

Enter the power of habit. Repetitive use of a specific skill set becomes hard-wired (myelinated) and run so fast that you are not even aware of it.

INTERESTED in joining our growing, global community of Mind Dynamix Accredited Practitioners or to get in touch with a Mind Dynamix Profile instrument Accredited Practitioner, drop a mail, referencing this article, to

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