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The KEY Questions: What is competence?

24 January 18

I sometimes tell an anecdote against myself concerning an incident many years ago when I worked in sales for a well-known computer company. Called into the boss’s office to give a weekly report I regaled him with a long list of grievances, mostly to do with the incompetence and inefficiency of my co-workers. The man listened attentively, deep in thought, stroking his chin. In my arrogance I assumed he was grateful to be given a heads-up in this way. Even as I spoke (I told myself) he would be making a mental note to shake up the whole department based on my forensic analysis of the present unhealthy situation.

It didn’t quite work out that way.

Instead when I finally came to the end of my rant he fixed me with a stern look, told me to get out of his office and not come back until I’d fixed one or more of the problems I’d so enthusiastically identified. Chastised, and more than a little humiliated, I left with my tail between my legs and soon after resigned from the firm, telling myself I wasn’t going to be spoken to like that. But of course he’d been right. Instead of recognising my responsibility and living up to it I had allowed myself to become caught up in a ‘thought storm’ of judgement and blame.

Calling out others for their lack of competence put my own in question. I had felt pretty confident in my abilities up until then but as it turns out real confidence springs from competence, not the other way around.

Cut to a few years later when I had mercifully switched from IT to personal development. Trying to be better at sales had led me to have a ‘light bulb’ moment when I finally saw a way to be not just a better salesman but a better human being – and maybe get more fun out of life into the bargain. As I began to coach clients in the techniques and methodology of NLP I would very often be asked the following question: ‘When I get my certificate will I be fully qualified to practise?’ The answer was yes they were. I was always at pains to give my students a thorough grounding in the subject to the extent that they weren’t just equipped to practise but on a deeper level would be able to change their own lives for the better.

But here’s the point: behind the question was a lot of insecurity about my clients’ need to believe in their ability to do the job, and a piece of paper could never give them that. I could sympathise of course. A certificate is evidence that you’ve been somewhere and heard some useful things, perhaps even passed some kind of test. However it does not mean you are competent in your chosen field. Competence in any activity comes from repeated exposure to the demands of that activity, whether it’s life coaching, juggling or sumo wrestling. (And it’s worth adding that in all my years of coaching literally thousands of clients I have never once been asked to prove my credentials).

If you’ve never thought of it before, here is how competence works:

Step One. You are unconsciously incompetent. You don’t know anything, but you don’t know that you don’t know. (Ignorance is bliss!)

Step Two. You are consciously incompetent. You don’t know anything, but at least you are aware of your ignorance. (Caution: steep learning curve ahead!)

Step Three. You are consciously competent. You know it all and you’re well aware that you know it all. (Danger! Ego!)

Step Four: You are unconsciously competent. You know it all but you embody it, so you have nothing to prove. (And everything to give).

This is the goal of all learning. This last state, unconscious competence, is one in which the mind is quiet, so that wisdom flows without effort. The understanding that I now coach my clients in – The ‘Three Principles’ – has no models to follow and no techniques to learn, hence no certificates need ever be handed out. The truth of our human experience, the way in which we create our internal reality through the principles of Mind, Consciousness and Thought, once fully grasped, is all any practitioner needs. He or she must simply speak from their grounding and trust that the client will hear the truth.

And the rest is exactly what’s implied by that word: ‘practitioner’.

As with anything else – practice!



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  • Having attended David's course and then had some one to one sessions with him my approach to my life has changed dramatically and improved. David has a very gentle and empathic way about him, yet managed to challenge my habitual way of being and thinking. As a result of our time together I now practice his "way of being" and I truly find that I am getting far better results in all of the relationships that I encounter. My inner chatter is under control, most of the time, and I am learning to pause and push away harmful thinking . It's surprising how habitual thinking can do so much damage and how, once you really focus on what comes into your mind you start to realise that you can be bigger than your random thoughts. So David thank you for putting me on a better pathway. Looking forward to sharing another journey with the Auspicium family!
    Rowena Wild

  • The course I attended with David Key was marvellous, every moment being filled with joy and laughter. David has a unique talent to teach, unlocking the full potential of every person he encounters. His course opened up an infinite number of ways for me to get the life I want, right now, today, and in the future. It made me realise that thought is fluid and that I can mould it the way I want to suit my day. I would highly recommend this course to anyone in search of a new professional career or for those who simply want a happier life. Thank You!
    Lucia Pohrebnyak

  • It took me about 5 years of 'dithering' before committing, and in that time I attended several introductory days from various training providers. David's accessible style and the unforced flow of the day is what persuaded me to choose his company. David provides a training model that helps you become your best self - as a student, as a practitioner, as a person. By 'best', I mean more open, less fearful, more confident, less judgemental - whether you attend the course to make a change personally or professionally, to build on existing success, or with no idea where it might go, simply because you are interested (that was me!) you will be impressed at what you are able to achieve with David's expert guidance showing you how to use your curiosity as a pathway to growth. In the first week following the course, I dealt with several potentially difficult situations both at work and home, coming from a changed perspective - resulting in no conflict, calmer colleagues, less stressed family. And this without actively using any techniques; the biggest change has been inside my own headspace. I can't wait to do the next course. Now that I know, unequivocally, the benefits to be had, I wish I had come down off the fence years ago! Added bonus, a bunch of fabulous new friends. And a final thought about cost; some of you reading this will be struggling to justify spending a chunk of hard earned money "just" for yourself. Well, I will be using these tools every day for the rest of my life - pennies a day investment! I am SO worth it. And so are you!
    Sue Bee

  • I first met David at an evening business club a couple of years ago. During his presentation something “clicked” with me and I felt compelled to further my understanding of NLP. I attended the Auspicium free trial day. My earlier feelings were confirmed. This guy knows what he’s talking about and has a passion for helping people. I duly signed up for the NLP and Hypnotherapy practitioner course. What a week. All in the class left in such high spirits with a very different outlook on life. Following on I have attended the NLP and Hypnotherapy Master Practitioner course. Again excellent. There was something about the Hypnotherapy element of the course that I loved so on to the Hypnotherapy Trainers Training (another absolutely brilliant week). All the courses that I have attended have been very well organised, have a great team of trainers and support volunteers. The documentation is well put together and the exercises are all structured to push yourself to show you have a grasp of the given subject. I now have a fantastic group of new friends who I have a deep link with. We still meet up when we can to catch up on what we are all doing. As of March this year I have been participating in the Auspicium Freedom Project. This is a yearlong “conversation” about the 3 Principles – Mind, Thought and Consciousness. It took me a while to “get” it but now just by “doing nothing” I find myself doing more with better results and no stress. There are no models or techniques to learn. We all have the Principles inside us. We just need to be woken up to how to use them. It’s a great journey that will take the rest of my life. David is a superb trainer and fully deserves all the praise he receives.
    Phillip Warris

  • Before going on David’s Practitioner course, I thought I knew what I wanted, where I was headed and how I was going to get it. All I wanted an additional skill to add to my portfolio. I thought my life was in reasonably good order, nothing that needed fixing. I can sum up my experience of working with David in two words: life-changing. Instead of just learning a new skill, David encouraged us to apply his teaching, our learning, to ourselves. In a very safe environment, I gradually dropped the barriers I had painstakingly built up over a long time. This change happened very quickly and I continued growing as a person, studying 2 more courses with David and joining him on the Freedom project. Why David? He is disarmingly honest, genuine and engaging. He has a very broad knowledge of human behaviour and passes his knowledge on with grace. As a result of working with David, I have changed, and my life has changed. In myself I am very happy and contented person. My marriage is better and stronger. My business plans have taken a different route - one that is exciting and feels very right for me.