Weaponized Incompetence

What is it, How is it dangerous?

Photo courtesy of Public Domain Vectors

Photo courtesy of Public Domain Vectors

Weaponized incompetence, as the name suggests, is the use of “incompetence” to get an individual/group to do a task for a person in an attempt to not do one’s own work. This can be seen in many forms such as: Poorly sweeping the house before guests come over, not cleaning the toilet because someone “doesn’t know how” and incorrectly organizing finances. While some of these tasks may be done out of general naivety or ignorance, it becomes an issue once one party is completing more tasks than the other. 

For example, the Smith family. The Smiths are a family of five; a husband, wife and their three happy children. Mrs. Smith asks her husband to make sure to cook dinner and do the dishes, as she normally does because she had to pick up a later shift than normal so that one of her coworkers could see their child’s dance recital. The husband says yes to the task and, that night, proceeds to buy Taco Bell for himself and their three children. After the meal, he throws away his own food but does not remind the children to clean up theirs. When the wife comes home, she sees a mess of Taco Bell and not a single one left for her. She makes a note to herself to make it “easier” for her husband next time. 

Situations, such as this, can be done by people regardless of gender or relationship. It can be done between siblings, co-workers, friends and more. An important sign to look out for is “repeated feelings of frustration” and noticing that one person has more responsibilities within the relationship than they initially “signed up for”. This results in an individual becoming unequally responsible for various tasks than the other person/s in the relationship. 

While weaponized incompetence is not always done intentionally, or out of malice, it can still be dangerous. It essentially allows all people in the relationship to have some sort of power over the other. It allows one party the ability to not do any work and essentially “forces” the other to do it as none of the work will be done otherwise. It also creates imbalances in the capability of taking care of various situations if somebody doesn’t know how to take care of themself or their environment. 

Weaponized incompetence also can create tensions within relationships. Not only does the “incompetent” person feel bad about not being able to correctly do necessary tasks around the house, but they could also later intentionally do such to get out of tasks. Meanwhile, the individual taking on all these new tasks experiences potential feelings of stress, anxiety, sadness, frustration and/or responsibility over the other party; sprouting feelings of “How can I expect them to do this for me when they can’t even ___?”.

These not only create a divide within the relationship but can worsen a person’s mental health by removing a healthy balance, such as within their relationship, work/school, home life and entertainment/self-care. It is not difficult to fall into this dynamic within relationships, which is why it is so important to ensure to keep it out of relationships as possible. 

However, it is also extremely important to make sure that the issue is properly addressed. For example, if somebody struggles to do the dishes because they hate the feeling of food particles in the water and they ask if you can do the task for them, that is not necessarily weaponized incompetence. The same goes if an individual genuinely forgot to do a task for you or doesn’t quite know how to do a task but genuinely wants to learn. If somebody wants to learn how to do a task or get better at one, it is equally important to be patient and understanding to help one another. 

If weaponized incompetence is prevalent within a relationship in your life, there are many things you can do about it. The online company, Choosing Therapy, has some great suggestions for how to confront this issue if it appears in any personal relationships. They describe this as best done in steps: “Talk to them about it, hear them out, set clear boundaries, hold each other accountable [&] create action plans,”. Essentially, it suggests communicating with one another because if it really is a supportive and loving relationship, both sides can work together to find a more permanent solution.