Presume Competence or Presume Potential?

Jul 25, 2023

Throughout the AAC field, professionals and communicators advocate for communicators to be viewed and treated with dignity and respect, as every person deserves to be treated with. Two distinct mindsets are floating around. Both promote dignity and respect to be given to communicators.

However, one mindset is often used and advocated for and not the other, which results in underdeveloped skills in communicators. First, it is important to identify which mindset you currently hold and apply to communicators: presume competence or presume potential?

Presuming competence and presuming potential both acknowledge that communicators have skills as they relate to communication. However, each mindset has a different impact on communicators. Let's look at each mindset:

  • presume competence: this mindset assumes that the communicator already possesses the skills and knowledge necessary to communicate effectively and effectively. The issue with this mindset is that not all communicators already possess the skills and knowledge necessary to communicate effectively and effectively. If we falsely assume that they already possess such skills and knowledge, we fall short of further developing their skills and knowledge. Thus, the highest potential of the communicator is limited and never reached.
  • presume potential: this mindset is the least dangerous assumption regarding communicators. Presuming potential removes the assumption that all communicators already possess the skills and knowledge necessary to communicate effectively and effectively. However, it does assume that they can further develop their skills. When we assume that the communicator has a higher potential than where they are currently, we continually push forward to further develop their skills and knowledge. Thus, uncovering the highest potential of the communicator.

It is evident that presuming potential and presuming competence are similar yet quite different mindsets. Presuming competence is better than presuming incompetence of communicators, but it does not allow for further growth and skill development of the communicator as it assumes that they already possess all the skills and knowledge possible for them.

On the contrary, presuming potential does not impose preconceived expectations on the communicator regarding their skills and abilities, but it allows for the demonstration and further development of current and new skills and abilities.

Rather than presuming competence and having misconceptions about the communicator's skills and knowledge, presume potential and provide them with opportunities to show you what they know and what they can do. Support them in ways that foster further development of their skills and knowledge.

Give communicators a blank slate to author their own story by presuming potential. Each communicator’s highest potential is unknown until it is uncovered, and they are given adequate time and opportunities to learn and grow into their highest potential.

Hannah Foley

Empowering Teams of Those With Complex Communication Needs Through Support and Implementation