Back to all blog posts


How to Survive Weaponized Incompetence: A Complete Guide

Buckle up, it’s boundary-setting time.

How to Survive Weaponized Incompetence: A Complete Guide

A long time ago, a coworker of mine pretended he didn’t know how to save a photo. Yes, you read that correctly. 

It was the end of the day, and I explained the task he’d been asked to do once more: convert an image file into a different format. It’s something we both did often. He looked me dead in my eye and shook his head: “Yeah, I just have no idea how to do that.” 

Wanting the work day to be over with, I flung open my laptop and did it for him. It took me five seconds (duh!) and the interaction was over. 

It wasn’t until a half-hour later that I realized I’d been played. Of course he didn’t suddenly forget how to save a photo. He just didn’t want to do it, and he knew that I’d get it done. Weaponized incompetence had struck again. 

Weaponized incompetence is “a behavior pattern where an individual deliberately pretends to be incapable of completing certain tasks, or performs them poorly.” While the term is relatively new (coined in ‘07, blew up on social feeds starting in 2021), the behavior is age-old. Those who employ it live by a golden rule: do something badly, and you won’t be asked to do it again. Their goal? Someone else picking up their slack. 

Where You’ve Seen It

You’ve heard it before: I’m no good at this, you’re so much better than me—you should do it.  I could never get that done as quickly as you, this should be your thing. You’d probably finish this up so much better than I would. These may sound like compliments, but THEY ARE TRAPS. 

Where people might weaponize incompetence: 

  • At work. Know a coworker who pretends not to know how to do basic work tasks? Or completes assignments incorrectly so you’ll follow behind them and fix it? 
  • At school. Got a group project member who just can’t seem to get it together? Or who tells you that you’re “the best” at research/writing/presenting, so you should do the whole thing? 
  • In relationships. Ever had a partner repeatedly tell you they “aren’t good at communicating” as a way of ending every discussion? Convince you they were “no good” at planning dates? Find a way out of every household chore because “you’re better at it?”

The list goes on and on. Roommates, parents, friends—all kinds of people use this tactic to get out of all kinds of things. And more often than not, it works.  

Why You Might’ve Fallen For It

In short? It’s manipulation. It’s okay to not know how to do something, but this behavior is more than just unhelpfulness or ignorance; it’s deliberate deception. It’s not at all surprising if you’ve been a target before—especially if you’re a woman. 

Though it’s a genderless term, researchers recognize weaponized incompetence as disproportionately creating a burden on women, particularly in personal relationships and the workplace. Anyone can weaponize their incompetence against anyone—so, why are women so often affected?

Our educated guess: patriarchy often expects women to correct others’ mistakes, give all the grace, and deprioritize our needs. It’s all in line with the girls-mature-faster, your-sister-will-handle-it B.S. 

And if you’re hyper-independent, you’re even more susceptible. When your inner monologue already screams, if I don’t do it myself, it won’t get done, it’s almost second nature to jump in and complete a task someone else pretends is impossible. Because you got this! You’ve got everything. 

Well, if you’re not interested in compulsively DIYing yourself into a stress rash, you should put your foot down. Like, now. 

How to Fight Back

Buckle up! It’s boundary-setting time. Here are some tactics we’re using in the battle against bullsh*tters: 

Lean into it. 

Weaponized incompetence relies on its target being…well, competent. So to combat it, you need to “yes, and” the heck out of their act. 

Oh, they don’t know how to wash the dishes? Okay, well, now you don’t, either. Let the dishes pile up in the sink for weeks. 

Coworker suddenly doesn’t know how to complete a task that’s a regular part of their job? Offer to grab a supervisor to retrain them on it. 

Pull up an hour-long YouTube tutorial for whoever insists you’re so much better at folding their clothes than they are, and get a recipe book for the roommate who still has “no idea” how to boil an egg. Stop filling in any blanks for someone weaponizing incompetence, and you might notice that things turn around pretty quickly. 

Call it out. 

People who employ this passive-aggressive strategy aren’t expecting their bluff to be called. So, be direct about believing they’re more than capable of completing whatever task they’re trying to wriggle out of. 

If you’ve seen them do the task before, let them know. If you haven’t, simply tell them you have complete faith in their ability to do it themselves. And if it’s a regular occurrence, tell this person, very politely, that you know what they’re doing and you’re not going to pick up the slack for them this time. 

Be firm. And if you’re in a workplace, keep it brief and cordial. Like this: 

“Hey [Name], I actually think you’ve got this one. I’ve seen you do it a couple times before and I know you know how or can figure it out. I’m pretty busy today, but if you need some help, I can definitely loop in [supervisor] and see if they’ve got time!” 

You’re not trying to start an argument, but you’re standing your ground. 

Teach them howwithout doing it. 

If you suspect someone’s pretending not to know how to do something to get you to step in, show them how to do it — Montessori style. 

Be totally hands off for the lesson and guide them from afar. This way, they’re doing the task themselves AND can’t say they don’t know how next time. Offer to record the tutorial, as well, so they have it forever

If this person’s a repeat offender and has clearly abused your good faith before, bonus points if you figure out the most painstaking way to give this tutorial. Make sure they understand everything about this task. Start at step zero: “So, you’re going to want to turn your computer on first. Do you know where the power button is?” 

Use it yourself. 

When someone flings a can’t-do-don’t-know-how your way, feign ignorance. “You’re no good at laundry? What do you mean by that? Can you explain? What part of it are you having trouble with? Could you show me what happens when you try?” 

Keep a straight face and pretend to be genuinely curious. The whole point of weaponized incompetence is for the manipulator to avoid exerting energy. If they’ve got to spend fifteen minutes explaining to you what they’re so “confused” about, they may just give up. 


At its best, weaponized incompetence is passive-aggressive. At its worst? It’s toxic. If you often find yourself on the receiving end of this childish behavior, you should arm yourself against it — but maybe? Consider you might not want to be around someone who does this on the regular.  

Shop Now

Shop The Story