Management tools: How do you explain when you feel certain?

Good day to everyone!

Instead of a preface

Has there been a time when you thought for a long time about some job (or private situation), and then suddenly bam! it’s like everything has been laid out on shelves? It has happened to us time and again.

Furthermore, it is in a way our profession—to organize difficult situations. Because for the last 11 years our colleagues and we have trained IT specialists, instructors of personnel management techniques, and things known as soft skills.

Through the course of our work we accumulated a great number of tools, with which we solved different administrative issues. And we have decided to share these tools with you.

Firstly, because these tools are useful. Secondly, we want to gather them all in one place, so that they can be to available to all who want them. Thirdly, we understand clearly that we are limited by our own context, and we would be very grateful if you could add your own. Fourthly, we don’t particularly believe in advertisements. We believe in simple things, that if we do something useful for people, those people will recommend us. So, why not write a few useful articles?

All the tools we will write about are very simple. Either a 2 by 2 matrix, or 4 questions, or something of the kind. As much as we’ve worked with managers, we realize that a 3 by 3 matrix is already too difficult to adopt for some managers (hey, we’ve been managers, too, we know what we’re talking about :)), and 2 by 2 is a perfect fit, it works very well.

Some of these tools are ones we came up with, some we borrowed from other intelligent people, and some of them, we have no clue how they came to be in our heads. But they are all useful, of that we’re certain.

Are these tools magic bullets? Of course not. But they will absolutely help to clarify a situation, create distinctions, and illustrate how to think about the problem. But you still have to come up with solutions for yourself. At least until a Boy Scouts’ guide to management come along.

So now, without further ado, let’s move on to the first tool:

The Matrix of Awareness and Competence

This 2×2 matrix shows:

  • How the training of an adult in a particular skill takes place
  • The roots of certain workplace conflicts
  • How to get across your point of view, when you feel absolutely certain that the opponent is in the wrong
  • What to do if you explain something to a person, and he still doesn’t agree and/or understand


Imagine you hired a student without any work experience, but who is seemingly sensible. And now you give him the task of designing the architecture of one of your system modules. “Sure thing, nothing to it.” the students says and leaves. In which square of the matrix does he belong?

Possibly, square A. He doesn’t have any work experience, he only has a superficial knowledge of your system, and has he done work of a similar type? Probably not. Besides which, the phrase, “nothing to it” leads to the thought that this person doesn’t understand the depth of the task standing before him. This state is called:

A-Unaware incompetence

The person tries to do something, and is unable to. The architecture is poorly made, doesn’t support the load, is completely unable to expand, doesn’t correspond to SOLID principles and whatever else might happen to architecture.

What does the student think at this moment? If he is more persistent than prone to self-reflection, then he thinks: “I’ll try again”. The fifth time, when he still fails, the student begins to suspect something. That, probably, mankind has already accumulated some knowledge about architecture, because Vasya from the neighboring department, a concrete representative of humanity, succeeds quickly and on the first try.

In this moment, the person magically moves to the state:

B-Aware incompetence

In this state the person has in his mind the most necessary question “But how?” And he goes to Google, to a seminar or conference, buys books, goes for drinks with a more experienced colleague. And sooner or later (if the person is trainable, of course) he manages to create his first successful architecture. And this means that he has arrived at the state:

C-Aware Competence

Do you drive a car? Remember how it started up at first. Not when it sputtered and died out, but specifically when it started. More likely than not, you controlled each of your actions:

  • Turn on the left turn signal
  • Look in the mirror
  • Buckle up!
  • Crap, brake!
  • Listen to the instructor’s droning
  • Smoothly release one pedal, pressing another
  • O miracle of miracles, a ton of metal moved from its spot! A moment before it was still, and then it moved — magic!

When you can do something correctly, but do it slowly while controlling each step, that is the state of aware competence.

If you continue to practice the skill, then with time you move to the state:

D-Unaware competence

If you were to tap an experienced driver on the shoulder while on the road and confirm: “Tell me, please, why you’re now in the third gear and in the second lane,” he will sometimes freak out and ask, “Who’s there?” and won’t always be able to explain.

He drives the car automatically (internally automatic, not an automatic transmission). The skill is fully automated, to the point that he can do something else while driving the car.

Where do workplace conflicts come from? Some of them can be easily explained by this matrix.

At one of our lectures an experienced middle-aged man (45) came up and shared his situation:

I’m the chief architect in the company. A student brings me his architecture. I look at it and see that it’s bad. But I’ve already forgotten why. How do I explain to the student that he’s wrong?

If there aren’t facts, and you want to convince a person by way of “authority,” “best practices” and other corporate platitudes, what comes of it is:

I have SEVEN YEARS OF EXPERIENCE as an architect, and I’m telling you that IT’S WRONG. What isn’t clear?

What is the young student thinking at this moment? Here’s an example:

Oh, man, this old guy…he’s obviously already completely broken away from reality…

The chief architect is also upset with the student: why isn’t he listening to me, even though I’m so experienced?

A natural question arises:

What to do? The answer to this is not as easy to show. Obviously, the experienced architect either needs to himself return to square C, or he needs to find a person who can explain architecture with facts.

And above all, the student needs to raise his level of awareness. Either by giving him his lumps, sending him for good training, or using various techniques such as checking the final product for stability. But for the latter, you will still need to remember the facts.

A question to think about. Which squares do the people who come to a particular training belong in?

In the next article, we’ll talk about one more 2×2 matrix “Interest—Competence”, which briefly and succinctly shows what happens to a person at work.

With respect,
Alexander Orlov,

P.S. Friends, if you find the ideas about similar tools in these articles worthwhile and useful, then say something to that effect in the comments. For us it will be a clear sign that we need to continue.

P.P.S. If you have your own example of conflicts that have taken place and explain this matrix—share and discuss how the situation was resolved. Your experience will be uniquely interesting to us.

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