Incompetence Might Be to Blame

Do you feel like you are the only person in your life who knows how to do anything correctly? 

Have you ever asked your partner or your teenager to do something, and they come back with “But you do it so much better…” or “I don’t know how…” OR wait so long to start that you just end up doing it? 

What if the people in your life are pretending to be less competent than they are to get you to do more than your share? Let that sink in. 

If you are overworking, overdoing, and, if you’re honest, resentful and burnt out, you might want to learn about strategic (or weaponized) incompetence.

Watch the video where I break down this manipulation tactic and share how you can begin to step back from overfunctioning and move towards a more equitable distribution of labor in your life.

Simply put, strategic incompetence is when one person exaggerates their inability to perform a task, no matter how simple or complex, in order to shift the responsibility of that task from them to you. 

It can happen at work, with kids, partners, friends, or family members. If you find you are shouldering most of the labor and responsibility in your relationships, it might be time to take a closer look at this dynamic. 

Strategic incompetence is really a passive-aggressive manipulation tactic. It is duplicitous. Instead of being direct and honest about an undesirable task, someone pretends to be unskilled or clueless so they can get out of it. It can also look like someone agreeing to do a task but doing it badly…so badly that the next time you do it because it’s just “easier” to do it yourself. 

If this dynamic is oh too familiar, you are not alone. Unfortunately, it’s a common phenomenon (just search the #weaponizedincompetence on social media), particularly within a patriarchal system that reinforces and supports stereotypical gender-specific roles. 

This can leave one partner frustrated if the other is making an assumption that the care of the home and the children, for example, is not a shared responsibility. 

Have you ever heard a father casually say he’s “babysitting” his own kids? Um, no. That’s just parenting, bro. This mindset supports strategic incompetence and can contribute to inequality (and, yup, resentment) in the home.

Strategic incompetence can absolutely ruin relationships. If you identify with being a perfectionist, you might be even more vulnerable to this kind of manipulation, especially if someone in your life is doing the thing where they do what you asked them to do, but poorly. 

Take an honest review of how much of the time you think to yourself, “It’s just easier for me to do it.” Because the truth is, it’s easier until it isn’t. Over time, there’s only one stop on this train – Bitterland ?. If you are doing 90% of the work, whether it’s in a family system, a friendship or on a work team, feeling used and abused is inevitable. 

In my relationship, we have agreements around how we each contribute to running our household and our life. It’s not always as simple as a 50/50 split of every duty. We take into consideration our strengths, for example, I take care of our travel arrangements and doctor’s appointments and Vic takes care of the chickens and geese, the garden, etc. We share other domestic tasks like laundry, cooking and cleaning, taking our individual commitments, schedules, goals, and wellbeing into account. 

Things are allowed to shift, like when I was writing the book and Vic took on almost 90% of the domestic chores and cooked for me almost every day, but the important thing is we have open, honest conversations and make agreements together.

So what can you do if you are facing strategic incompetence?  

1. Recognize it’s a boundary issue – both internal and external. 

Internal boundaries refer to how well you regulate your relationship with yourself. External boundaries are about how others treat you. If you are overfunctioning on a regular basis due to strategic incompetence and/or codependent tendencies, you are definitely not staying on your side of the street when it comes to boundaries. 

2. Raise your awareness of how you are colluding with the other person by picking up their slack. 

Every relationship dance is 50/50. How often you enable strategic incompetence by doing everything yourself is your 50% of the equation. Silent agreements are the unspoken rules of engagement in relationships. Are you acting out a silent agreement that if they don’t do it, you will? Or if they don’t do it well, you will correct it because you want it done a particular way? Time to take an honest look at yourself and take responsibility for your side of the street. 

3. Decide how you will respond the next time it comes up. 

If someone is feigning incompetence, the first step is to recognize it and stop the auto-response in the moment. Be patient with yourself, because this can take practice if you’ve been in the “I’ll just do it” groove for a while. 

Your response will be different based on the context (coworker, partner, or friend), but inside this week’s guide, I’m giving you some sentence starters that are situation-specific to help you set a healthy boundary and step back from compulsory overfunctioning. You can download your guide here now. 

4. Empower your kids! 

If you are experiencing strategic incompetence from your children, again, take an honest inventory of how your overfunctioning might be affecting them. How often are you doing things for them they can and should do for themselves? 

With age-appropriate tasks, you can shift into the role of patient teacher and communicate how much you believe they can do it. Teaching our children competence and confidence is one of the greatest gifts we can give them as a parent. 

5. In relationships, make a plan to course correct.

If you believe strategic incompetence is negatively impacting your relationship, take some time and make a list of all of the things you’re doing to keep the ship of your lives together afloat. List what your partner does as well. Be thorough. 

Then, make a date to have a conversation with your partner about the reality of what it takes to run your life! You can ask them to take on more responsibility. Let’s be clear: a responsibility is being fully responsible for something from beginning to end. It is not one person’s job to remind the other person of what they said they would do (that’s emotional labor by the way).

When you have a partner who isn’t pulling their weight and is faking incompetence, it is hard to relate to them as an adult. And let’s face it…that’s not sexy or interesting. It’s exhausting.  

This isn’t about blaming the other person. I want to stress that when it comes to the incompetence/overfunctioning dynamic, the onus is on both people to make a change. There needs to be a real conversation about what is happening, why it’s happening, and what you each can do to stop the cycle. It might take more than one conversation, but putting in the work to make positive changes is worth it.  

Inside this week’s guide, I’m giving you some sentence-starters you can make your own to help you script this conversation. You can grab that right here. 

You deserve mutuality and equity in your relationships, but you’ve got to be willing to get honest, take responsibility for your side of the street, and communicate. You can do this. 

I hope that this added value to your life. I am so curious to know what you think about this, so please drop me a comment here or connect with me over on Instagram @terricole. Have you experienced strategic incompetence? What did you do about it or what is your plan to make a shift? I would love to know!

Thank you for being a part of my crew, have an amazing week and as always, take care of you.

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  1. Terri you Rock!!
    I lived through 2 different marriages with men playing me like this~
    I am on my own now (@66) whew!! how I wish I had found you in my 20’s or 30’s.
    I am sharing your video links with my niece, (33) & newly married. Who has complained to me about some of these behaviors inn her relationship.
    So affirming to really know, I wasn’t imagining or exaggerating this in my mind.
    Thank, thank you, thank you for who you are & what you do, for those of us that have been blessed enough to find you.

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