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CAREERS CAFÉ

Developing competence seldom feels natural

The perception that behavioural change requires changing your personality is a significant barrier to learning.

By LIZ KOBLYK | JAN 19 2018

Just be yourself.

It’s hard to argue with that advice, but I’ll do it, anyway – and only because I’ve learned from and am imitating those wiser than me.

According to a friend who manages a training unit, the perception that behavioural change requires changing your personality is a significant barrier to learning. Career exploration and the job search both typically require us to learn and use new skills, thanks to the varied strengths they demand: comfort with ambiguity, avoiding premature decision making, research, willingness to talk with new people, ability to envision different futures, planning, persistence in the face of rejection, articulating strengths, synthesizing a diverse work and educational history, drawing connections between oneself and an employer’s needs, and more.

Some of these may come easily. Some – like avoiding premature decision making, and the willingness to talk with new people – can make you feel uncomfortable, or even phony.

But developing competence seldom feels natural. Our skills are and should be malleable, without that necessarily changing some core part of our being. When stressed, I tend to be abrupt. Chances are no one around me feels that they’ve missed out on experiencing “the real me” if I’m not abrupt. (Just checked in with my spouse. He confirms that talking with me feels just as authentic when I deliberately control my abruptness.)

It’s crucial to distinguish between adopting a new set of behaviours, despite any initial sense of artificiality, and “telling them what they want to hear.” The latter is a short-term tactic to get someone to give you something: a contact name, a good word, a job. The former is an approach to development – one that accepts that development takes time and, often, discomfort.

ABOUT LIZ KOBLYK
Liz Koblyk
Liz Koblyk is the associate director of the Wilson Leadership Scholar Award at McMaster University.
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  1. David Seljak / January 24, 2018 at 1:57 pm

    This is a good article, but I would make a different point. I would say that four years at a university SHOULD change your personality. I tell my students: “If you leave university the same person you were when you entered, you should demand your money back! We won’t give it to you, but university should change you!”

    The author lists a number of attributes or “skills” that we can learn, including comfort with ambiguity, avoiding premature decision making, research, willingness to talk with new people, ability to envision different futures, planning, persistence in the face of rejection, articulating strengths, synthesizing a diverse work and educational history, drawing connections between oneself and an employer’s needs, and more.

    I would argue that learning these are not “skills” but attributes of a mature and educated mind, and I think that learning them requires a personality change rather than adopting or “faking” a new behaviour. Imagine the personality change Donald Trump would have to go in order to practice any of these “strengths.”

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