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America’s Future: Stop Weaponizing Incompetence and Ask for Help

Technology like Teams and Zoom has, thankfully, made remote and hybrid work possible, but to a degree, they have made our work and the politics that come with it more complex. Most of us adapted, but some use weaponized incompetence. defines weaponized incompetence as “…a poorly executed action or behavior that someone does on purpose, while appearing to do so out of incompetence. The goal of this tactic is to make oneself look like they are incapable of performing an action, therefore removing ownership and accountability for the action being completed.”

It is especially harmful in the workplace when someone refuses to learn a new skill or technology. Their willful ignorance forces someone else to do their job for them. 

A late-30s middle manager once humblebragged to me, “I’m no good with Zoom and stuff. Thank goodness for my intern. He does all that for me.” Millennials have spent their lives with everything from Tamagochi to Tesla, and this person can’t use Zoom? Perhaps they wanted to demonstrate that taking responsibility for certain aspects of their work was beneath them. 

I’ve encountered colleagues who “can’t” use instant messenger or adjust their computer screens. One such person said, “Come to my office and set this up or I won’t join the meeting.” This person was not an executive leader; they were a person who was choosing not to adjust their computer screen to prove they could hold colleagues hostage. This person could have said, “My computer speakers aren’t working, and I want to join his meeting. Can someone please help?” 

On the other hand, a woman who needed help with technology would politely ask for help, show up to meetings prepared, and thank colleagues who helped her. Her kindness, humility, and willingness to learn were the hallmarks of a professional-someone who takes responsibility. 

Individuals who choose not to learn new workplace tools and systems weaponize their ignorance to wield power over others because work must get done- whether or not they take responsibility for their tasks. 

The late business consultant and researcher Peter Drucker said, “ It [knowledge] makes itself constantly obsolete, so that today’s advanced knowledge is tomorrow’s ignorance. And the knowledge that matters is subject to rapid and abrupt shifts.” In other words, what you know can quickly become obsolete, so you must continue learning. In the 21st-century workplace, this includes learning the technologies that help us collaborate and work more efficiently. 

Those who weaponize their incompetence find short-term satisfaction by forcing someone else (or, let’s face it, a woman) to plug their computer in for them. But, dependence is not a long-term recipe for success, productivity, or the influence that come with earning true respect.

So, be a leader and take responsibility for learning new skills. You will earn respect, and with respect comes influence and power. Plus, employees are a company’s most precious resource, and they should focus on more value-creating activities than showing you how to press a mute button. 

Do you feel nervous about asking for help? Here are 3 tips.

1. Ask for resources. There is likely a wiki or training video to help.

2. Try on your own. Using the recommended resources, make a good-faith effort to get the job done.

3. Thank people for helping. IT professionals, communications and marketing, and everyone else works tirelessly, so thank them.

Want to really be self-sufficient? Try these.

1. Do the training meeting by video and record it so that you can refer to the instructions later! Bonus: if you are stuck you can just replay the confusing part until you get it

2. Take screenshots. Screenshot exactly what someone is sharing so you can refer to it in the future.

3. Try Reddit threads or Facebook groups. They are sometimes better than a company’s how-to website.

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