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Posts Tagged ‘learned helplessness’

Weaponized Incompetence

Posted by Admin on November 27, 2021

Weaponized incompetence — also known as strategic incompetence or skilled incompetence — happens when someone does a task so poorly that one or more people take over and do the task for that person even when the person either knows how to do the task or could learn to do the task for himself/herself/themselves. It usually happens in relationships where one partner purposely does a task so poorly or claims to be unable to do the task as a way to force the other partner to take sole responsibility for the task. It’s a skilled way of avoiding what the individual believes is an undesirable task for them to do by demonstrating an unarguable inability to do said task.

Some claim it is a sexist behavior however males and females have shown both genders are quite adept at weaponized incompetence when they choose to default to the behavior in order to escape shouldering the responsibility of doing the task in the first place.

It happens when a male does the dishes so poorly that the female has to re-wash the dishes before serving food on those dishes.

It happens when a female claims she can’t follow a map or GPS directions to ensure the vehicle in which they are traveling will arrive at its intended destination forcing the driver (or another passenger) to take over the task of reading the directions on the map or the GPS.

It happens when a co-worker half-heartedly does their assigned task on a group project and leaves everyone else to take up the slack so the project is completed in a timely fashion and is done according to set standards.

How do you know if weaponized incompetence may be at play? When one or more people, exasperated with the poor performance of the person slacking off says, “I’ll do it for you” and the person slacking off is not only excused from all duties and responsibilities, but also absolved from any negative fall-out over how the project was completed, that person has successfully pulled off weaponized incompetence.

Like learned helplessness, weaponized incompetence is a learned behavior which can be unlearned.

Many claim that the expression first came to light in 2006 however weaponized incompetence is part of the cycle of gaslighting according to psychotherapists and psychiatrists.

In August 2008, university professor Carl Dyke wrote about strategic incompetence on the Dead Voles blog. At the time, he was teaching three courses of introductory world history as well as an upper-division seminar in World History since 1945. Carl Dyke had the following to say about this behavior:

Strategic incompetence is the art of making yourself more trouble than you’re worth in some area of unwelcome effort. This can involve being a painfully slow learner, a bumbler, or an impediment. In each case the objective is to make it easier for someone else to step in and do the work than to leave it to you. Arguably a species of passive aggression, although shading off into mere passivity or genuine incompetence.

Far from lacking in ability, those who successfully practice weaponized or strategic incompetence are also masters of expectations management and oftentimes project toxic niceness while feigning incompetence.

But long before it was called weaponized incompetence, and long before it was called strategic incompetence, back in 1986, business schools referred to this behavior as skilled incompetence. In the article “Skilled Incompetence” written by Chris Agyris (16 July 1923 – 16 November 2013) for The Magazine published by the Harvard Business Review in September 1986, he described in detail how this happened in large businesses. He described premeditated incompetence that was set up by the individual to avoid being responsible for completing a task they did not want to be responsible for completing.

It appears that while weaponized incompetence may have first appeared in 2006 as reported by a few websites, strategic incompetence was around a decade before that, and skilled incompetence was around a decade before that.

Idiomation understands that faked incompetence has been around for centuries — especially where passing the buck is possible — but the specific terms go back to 2006, 1996, and 1986 respectively.

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