In a world where competence and expertise are highly valued, it’s unfortunate that some people resort to a manipulation tactic known as “weaponized incompetence.” Therapist Dr. Ann Woo-Ming Park defines weaponized incompetence as the deliberate use of apparent incompetence or ignorance as a means of achieving personal or ulterior motives. Recognizing the signs of weaponized incompetence is crucial for safeguarding oneself from manipulation, deceit, and being taken advantage of.
With that said, here are 5 psychology-backed warning signs of weaponized incompetence:
Lack of Progress
Manipulators who weaponize incompetence will show a consistent lack of progress. Even when they already have everything they need — support, resources, and encouragement — they fail to make any meaningful progress. Why? Because people who weaponize incompetence want to shirk their responsibilities out of a misplaced sense of privilege or entitlement.
Unwillingness to Learn
Even when you offer to teach them how to do the task themselves, someone who wants to weaponize their incompetence will remain stubborn and unwilling to learn. They will insist that it’s “just easier” and “for the best” that you do it for them instead of making any effort to even try to learn or improve on their own. This deliberate choice allows them to maintain the illusion of incompetence, evade accountability, and maintain their control over others.
Manipulators employing weaponized incompetence often have a dismissive attitude towards those who know how to do the things they want to accomplish. Instead of addressing their own lack of skill or knowledge, they downplay or disregard the expertise and insights of others as a way to deflect attention from their own shortcomings or lack of knowledge. This allows them to reinforce their own narrative of incompetence while maintaining control over the situation. For example, imagine a team leader who dismisses and belittles their colleagues’ knowledge. Doing so create an environment where their own incompetence appears more acceptable, allowing them to maintain control and avoid addressing their own limitations.
Setting A Low Bar
Another common tactic employed by manipulators is going out of their way to set extremely low expectations when doing something they don’t want to. They may intentionally make frequent mistakes and feign ignorance just to get out of doing it or maintain their dependency on others. Setting a low bar also helps the manipulators to discourage others from aiming for higher standards or challenging their actions. Others may hesitate to question or hold them accountable, assuming that the low expectations are justified.
Over Reliance on Help
Ever wondered why some people always seem to rely heavily on others for help and guidance? Manipulators often exhibit this excessive dependency to weaponize their incompetence. They present themselves as helpless or incapable to take advantage of other people’s support and assistance. Say for example you’re working on a group project with someone who keeps saying they don’t know how to do the task assigned to them. As their groupmate, you feel you have no choice but to help them or else you won’t meet the deadline. Little do you know, they’ve actually manipulated you and have now benefitted from your contributions without putting in much effort themselves.
Recognizing the signs of weaponized incompetence is crucial in safeguarding ourselves from these manipulation tactics. So, Psych2goers, have you ever encountered weaponized incompetence? How did you handle it? Let us know in the comments down below! Thanks for reading!
- Park, A. W. (2023 Jan 30). How Some Partners Try to Weaponize Incompetence. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/equipped/202301/a-case-of-weaponized-incompetence
- Wong, B. (2022 Jan 26). ‘Weaponized Incompetence’ Screws Women Over At Work And In Relationships. HuffPost. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/weaponized-incompetence-women_l_61e71983e4b0d8b665717814
- Gupta, S. & Romanoff, S. (2023 June 30). Why Weaponized Incompetence Hurts Your Relationship. VeryWell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/weaponized-incompetence-7553422
- Baker, L. (2023 June 22). Weaponized Incompetence: How to Recognize the Signs Before It Hurts You. Leaders. https://leaders.com/articles/personal-growth/weaponized-incompetence/