A month ago I organised and hosted an NVC online event. 25 participants from many different countries and time zones were gathered and eagerly waiting for the NVC trainer to start the course. We all saw his frozen picture on the screen while he tried in vain to get in. After a few minutes of trying different technical solutions, I chose to start interacting with the participants.

We started with a presentation round. After that, I gave the participants a question to answer in the breakout rooms. In the meantime, I tried to establish contact with the trainer, but we could only send written messages to each other. When the participants returned to the main room, we decided to cancel the Zoom meeting and I promised that they would receive information about the course’s continuation the next day. (We managed to find a solution and the course could go on to everyone’s satisfaction.)

The strength of competence

If I had imagined this scenario previously, I would have thought I would be very nervous and stressed. However, I was surprisingly calm and could even joke about the situation while I multitasked trying to be a good host, technical support and stand-in trainer at the same time. Of course, my calm state of mind was also facilitated by the participants’ supportive, calm and humorous attitude.

I think a large part of the way I handled the situation to such a satisfactory degree was due to my skills in a variety of areas: language – both English and NVC, leading and facilitating groups, being a host, managing Zoom, using humour in a contact-making way etc. I have much practical experience in all these areas. When an unpredictable element of uncertainty comes in – in this case the absence of a trainer – competence in other areas helps and makes the situation manageable.

Areas of competence

A possible definition of competence could be the ability to use a skill I have acquired through training and practice. I take my body as an example. My breathing and my digestion happens automatically. There’s nothing I need to do or think about. These functions are performed automatically through the autonomic nervous system. These areas can hardly be considered as competences.

On the other hand, I control my conscious actions through the motor nervous system. Language and movement do not happen automatically. It’s something I need to practice to master. After several years of persistent practice, I begin to more or less automatically master my body movements and my mother tongue. I only become aware of my limitations when I encounter unfamiliar movements or words, or other languages.

The competence ladder

A popular pedagogical tool for measuring our level of skills is the competence ladder. According to this model, we potentially develop our skills in different areas of our lives through four steps:

  1. Unconsciously incompetent
  2. Consciously incompetent
  3. Consciously competent
  4. Unconsciously competent

We all have different levels of competence in all areas of our life.

As an example, let’s take the ability to take responsibility for our feelings. In the first step, I am not even aware that this competence exists. Other people make me happy or angry. I can be satisfied only if they change. Then I slowly begin to discover that it may not be someone else’s fault if I feel angry or sad. I become aware that it may not be the actions of others that cause my feelings. But I do not know what to do when I habitually react to what others do and say. This is often a painful place to be and I may start looking for solutions to this problem.

Developing competence

One of the potential solutions to my dilemma is NVC. I start learning the basics and practising with others. I learn to connect my feelings to my needs and thus take responsibility for my feelings. When I practice NVC, I often have no problem with this. However, when I’m on my way home from the course, I may be triggered and need to consciously use the NVC model to take responsibility instead of reacting habitually.

In the fourth and final step, I have practised so much that in many cases I automatically take responsibility for my feelings. Judgments about others certainly appear from time to time, but I know that they are just judgments and not part of an objective reality. I do not act on them. My body signals sensations, I feel something and without much thought I identify met and unmet needs behind my feelings. I have become unconsciously competent.

Stress, recovery and meaningfulness

In all areas where I am unconsciously competent, I can temporarily fall back to previous levels. Depending on how stressed I am and how much energy I have access to, my abilities can be knocked out for a shorter or longer period of time. As soon as I have recovered and in balance again, I return to my unconscious competence level again.

To live a meaningful and fulfilling life, I believe that being competent is very important. Just as in my introductory example, competence in different areas can support us when we want to go out into unknown terrain. When we have sufficient competence in certain areas, we can move outside the comfort zone in other areas and thus constantly expand our knowledge and experience.

In which areas do you want to expand your competences?

Leave a comment below or, if you are a Premium subscriber of “The Needs’ Year”, at the online platform: https://empathiceurope.com/online/courses/the-needs-year/modules/week-26/ 


Joachim Berggren (CNVC Certified Trainer)

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On 30 June at 17:00-17:45 CEST, you can participate in a Zoom Talk with me and Ricardo Guillén. We will talk about the need for competence.

Sign up for the Needs’ Year and you will receive a link to Zoom.

If you read this afterwards, you can watch the recording when you become a premium subscriber. Check the details HERE.

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