“We sit here stranded though we’re all doing our best to deny it.” – Bob Dylan (Visions of Johanna).
Our blog series with Aboodi Shabi, one of the U.K.’s leading coaches and leadership developers, continues today with the topic of incompetence. It’s hard for us to admit our mistakes and break out of our comfort zone, but Aboodi will do just that with the following post.
Declaring your Incompetence
I learned to drive more than thirty years ago, but one thing I never quite mastered was parking. Of course, I could sort of park, but I always struggled with parallel parking and would often give up on a parking space because it was too tight for me to get into.
I just put up with this and the frustration it caused. I didn’t think to ask for help, partly because I didn’t know that help would be available, but mostly out of embarrassment – parking is just one of those things one “should” be able to do.
Parking Your Pride
And then, a few weeks ago, I was visiting a friend for a walk. As I pulled into the car-park, she greeted me with “Gosh, your parking’s really awful, isn’t it?” Fortunately, I was in a good mood and was able to simply respond by agreeing with her, saying that I’d always struggled with parallel parking.
Having acknowledged my incompetence, I was able to receive her offer of help and she set about teaching me the basics. Half an hour later, I understood something I’d never known before, and have been practising ever since.
It sounds like no big deal, but I think it touches on a fundamental aspect of human learning.
Help Me! (Or Not)
In my years of working with people, I have consistently come across one huge obstacle to learning that shows up for people however sophisticated, competent, or clever they are – the inability to admit the need for help, or more bluntly, the inability to admit their incompetence.
Even when people come for coaching or to one of my learning programmes, their starting point is often that “everything is fine” – to which my response, whether it’s spoken or not, is to reflect on why they have called me if nothing is wrong or if there is nothing they are struggling with.
It’s very hard for people to say “I’m lost, can you help me?” Just like the cliché of the guy who refuses to stop and ask for directions when driving, we live in a time when individuals are supposed to be able to help themselves and overcome any challenges alone. Any admission that we don’t know how to do something is a sign of weakness.
Where is Your Incompetence?
So, if we substitute other things for parking, where might you be just putting up with something you’re unable to figure out? Where are you sitting with frustration, embarrassed to ask for help, or not believing that help could be available?
Maybe you’re frustrated by the expectations of others at work and feel unable to do anything other than trying alone to stay on top of things. Maybe you feel unable to change some aspect of your personal life – you might drink too much, or feel unable to stop fighting with your spouse. Maybe you can’t find a way out of your financial difficulties.
In almost all of these kinds of situation, there is a way out of our difficulties. Support is often available to us, but, until that admission is there, until we declare that we can’t manage something or that we need help, real change is not possible.
“The hardest part of the learning journey or of making changes is the admission of the inability to do something or of the struggle.”
People are often willing to help us, offer us new perspectives and ways out of our difficulties or provide comfort in our struggles. However, if we are unwilling to acknowledge the difficulties we face, then we are not going to be open to such support.
What I find time and time again in my work with people is that the hardest part of the learning journey or of making changes is the admission of the inability to do something or of the struggle. Once that step has been taken the process is usually simple, if not easy.
Surrendering to the learning journey by declaring one’s incompetence is the doorway to beginning to change.
Questions for Reflection
- Where are you frustrated or struggling with a lack of progress in your professional or personal life?
- What might be your learning challenges or areas of incompetence?
- What stops you from admitting those challenges and asking for help?
- What help might be available to you, once you begin to ask for it?
© Aboodi Shabi – 2015
firstname.lastname@example.org - www.aboodishabi.com