Being competent vs. appearing competent

I was speaking to a colleague, recently, who mentioned how frustrating it was to train a new research assistant (RA) at the lab I work in. We were both training this new RA in different tasks that occur in the lab and we found an interesting attribute that truly detriments training.  The new RA seemed to be afraid of appearing incompetent.  This makes sense. This new person probably wants to ensure us that she was the correct hire.  However, this makes it really hard on us as trainers.  Because of this fear, she never asks questions to clarify anything that might be confusing.

My colleague and I get the feeling that she doesn’t quite understand all of it, but she insists that she does (which is possible, but its best to ask the questions now, just in case).  Another problem with this fear is that the new RA does not seem to contribute much individual thought (most likely in fear of saying something that is incorrect).  Without these contributions, its hard to judge whether she will perform ok on her own, unsupervised.  What if something comes up that needs to be solved?  We have no way of knowing if she will be up to the challenge because it seems as though she only responds well to directions.

From the trainer’s perspective (which is probably close to the employer’s perspective) its better to admit incompetence and actively try to achieve competence than act competent.  We really just can’t tell if she is learning anything. Whatever competency level she is at, it doesn’t look as though it will improve anytime soon.