The Four Stages of Learning

The four stages of learning

I recently discussed the value of training in order to change our instinctive response to certain situations. If you’ve read my other sales tips, you know that I strongly believe in the value of coaching and repetition in order to learn new skills.

Let’s take a quick look at the four stages of learning new skills, as popularized by Noel Burch.

Stage #1: Unconscious Incompetence

Unconscious incompetence is where almost all people start: They don’t know what they don’t know. It falls under the heading: ignorance is bliss.

Stage #2: Conscious Incompetence

The second stage, conscious incompetence, is less pleasant. When a person becomes aware they are lacking a skill in something they want (or need) to be good at, they become displeased.

Stage #3: Conscious Competence

After having practiced and practiced and practiced, with professional feedback to correct imperfections, the newly skilled learner is aware of their capability and relishes it. At the level of conscious competence, a person understands the correct behavior, and can consciously choose to act that way.

Stage #4: Unconscious Competence

When someone reaches the final stage of learning, they have achieved mastery. And more to the point, the right response is now a conditioned response. The ideal execution is a habit. In other words, the best possible action is now the natural first response. It’s a nice place to be.

Education vs. Training

I’d like to take a moment to make a distinction between education and training. For our purposes, I’ll define them as follows:

Education: the acquisition of what we might call “book knowledge.”

Training: the acquisition of applicable skills through practical experience.

Most sales “training” amounts to education and helps salespeople reach the stage of conscious incompetence. They understand what they are doing wrong, but don’t gain the tools or ability to move on to the next level.

Reaching a level of mastery cannot be achieved through a single sales workshop. Achieving unconscious competence requires an ongoing effort of coaching, call reviews, and motivation.

If you want to help your sales team truly learn new skills, I’d love to discuss bringing the sales mastery program to your organization.