weaponized incompetence
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Overcoming Weaponized Incompetence

Have you heard the buzzy term “weaponized incompetence”? Its popularity took off last year when frustrated wives began turning to TikTok to vent about their husband’s lack of support around the house. In its truest form, weaponized incompetence involves someone shirking a task because they “can’t do it as well” as another. Or an individual feigning lack of knowledge to “really do” a task in order to circumvent responsibility. Umm-hmm. Perhaps, {sigh} some of you can relate to this.

To be certain, flavors of weaponized incompetence pop up beyond the confines of the family home. You’ll find it in work and other group settings. Challenging this phenomenon and taking action to overcome it, will boost not only your productivity but also the collective productivity of the group. We’re talking about the “teach a man to fish” concept, and, believe me, it is worth the challenge.

Illustrations of Weaponized Incompetence

I’ll start with a few examples to fully illustrate weaponized incompetence, beginning with the traditional home setting. Maybe you’ve heard your husband say something to the effect of:

  • “I don’t make up the bed because you do it so much better.” {Eyes shift to the pile of decorative bed pillows on the floor.}
  • “I’d do the laundry, but I always do the sorting wrong.” {A shared vision of the once-white, now pink, underwear comes to mind.}
  • “You always tell me I put the dishes in the dishwasher wrong, so I’ll leave those for you…” {Not spoken: “and I’ll go watch the game.”}

Now, let’s move on to a work setting. Perhaps you’ve heard something like the following:

  • “I’d close and lock up for the night but I’m not sure I’d do everything as carefully as you do.”
  • “I could draw up the proposal but you are so much more concise with your writing.”
  • “I’ll save the budget form submission for you because you know that software better.”

Training, Communication and Accountability

Let me come right out with this: Defaulting to “I’ll just do it myself” is a copout more often than not. Giving in to simply get the job done reinforces bad behavior and, in its worst form, makes you a victim. Sure, it may take an investment of your time to successfully offload a task or responsibility, but, once you’ve made the investment, you can begin to capitalize on it.

Training, communication, and accountability are the keys to decommissioning weaponized incompetence. Cover these three buckets and you’ve set yourself up – and those in your orbit – for greater productivity.

Training

The sharpest tool in your arsenal here is training. The objective is to overcome the excuse of “don’t know how.” Don’t know how to sort laundry? Let me walk you through it, beginning with this pile of dirty laundry. Don’t know how to draft an effective proposal? Let’s do this one together. See, we’re teaching the teammate to fish.

Is there a task you are doing that could be completed just as efficiently by another individual? Is the investment of time to train someone the only roadblock? Consider the concept of weaponized incompetence as it pertains to your new employee training. Is there something you could add to your new hire process to head off this problem down the road? Review your client engagement processes. Can you set a client up for better self-management? Look at other documented processes or workflows. Can you capitalize on functional overlap with targeted cross-training?

Communication

Next, ensure you are providing effective communication to deflect the weaponized incompetence. This is a two-prong prescription. First prong, any communication regarding the “how-to” should be clear and readily accessible. Maybe it’s creating a written reference sheet for doing laundry that you laminate and hang by the washer, i.e. sort colors in this manner, wash specific colors in this temperature, use fabric softener for these loads, etc. Take the time to document clear directions. Allow for questions and answers. Perhaps some hand-holding is needed for the first run or two to ensure compliance, but again, the investment in time is going to pay off.

Second prong, you’ll want to communicate your expectations for the new responsibility. Once the enlightened party member is fully trained, incorporate their role into the organization’s system. Let them know where they fit in. Clearly communicate what you are expecting them to do going forward.

Accountability

Lastly, you must inspect what you expect. It’s important to review performance to ensure output is in line with your expectations. This may call for, ahem, more tact in the home, but the concept is the same no matter the setting. How did it go? What could be done better? Is additional training needed?

Keep in mind, there could be times where someone performs poorly hoping to avoid future responsibility, but this is where accountability must kick in. Review the process and reiterate the expectation. In the professional setting, if the behavior continues, it could be time to look for a replacement. (I’ll leave the domestic setting to you.)

Competence is a Gift

Enabling someone to support you; gifts you greater productivity. What’s more, boosting an individual’s competence is a gift to them (even in the case of laundry, whether they view it as such or not). Self-service can save time. Competence keeps individuals from reliance on another and/or circumstances beyond their control. An added skillset can be empowering, paving the way for someone to do more with the added knowledge. Regardless, none of us needs to battle weaponized incompetence. Take the time to properly train those you seek support from. Clearly communicate directions and your expectations. Then, hold those you assign responsibility to accountable for the results you expect. Because, after all, when it should be a team effort, it should, in fact, be a team effort.

Sara Genrich | Productivity Consultant

Sara Genrich, CPO® is a Productivity Consultant, an Evernote Certified Consultant, and the creator of the Organizing@Work for Success Workshop.  She’s committed to providing real-life solutions so her clients have time to focus on the things that really matter.

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