Income Artist

How to Deal with Incompetent Co-workers

Author: Adam
Published:December 4, 2021
3 mins 57 secs
How to Deal with Incompetent Co-workers

There’s nothing more annoying than associating with an incompetent colleague when you are an efficient employee. Incompetency is undesirable and counterproductive in an organization.

If you are a person who is good at your job and need to deal with an incompetent colleague, you have to approach the issue in a particular way.

Studies reveal that incompetent people are often blissfully unaware of their inadequacies and even convince themselves that they are, in fact, reasonably competent in what they do.

A hilarious example is a bank robber in Pittsburgh who was convinced that the CCTV cameras would not detect him if he smeared his face with lemon juice!

He was astonished when he was arrested and shown the video footage of his robbery.

The Hierarchy of Incompetence


An interesting concept is what researchers call “The Hierarchy of Incompetence.”

The theory claims that a person can be unconsciously incompetent with the wrong intuition, consciously incompetent (like our bank robber) using the wrong analysis, consciously competent using the proper analysis, or unconsciously competent using the right intuition.

An incompetent person can move up the ladder from being unaware of incompetence to becoming consciously competent with the proper guidance and training.

Eventually, they can become unconsciously competent, which means they will be competent without making any conscious effort.

Tips for Dealing with Incompetent Colleagues

When you deal with an incompetent employee, you need to be subtle and diplomatic.

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Here are a few tips that should put you on the right track:

Do Not Make a Public Issue of It


Openly complaining to others about an incompetent colleague seems undignified. It also serves no purpose. No one is perfect, and badmouthing your colleagues to others creates a toxic atmosphere at the office.

Complaining about an incompetent colleague, creates a topic for gossip, which can spread like wildfire. Before you know it, the entire office will be aware of this issue.

Don’t be surprised if your boss or even the HR department contacts you.

Document Your Concerns

If you can’t vent your emotions, then what is the next best thing to do? If the matter concerns safety issues, report it to your immediate manager. But in any case, you need to document the problem and maintain a record.

When you report it to your manager, you will have to answer several questions. If you keep all the evidence in writing, it helps to clarify the issue.

You need to carefully record dates, times, and facts of all relevant communications between you and the incompetent staff member.

Offer Support but Avoid Doing Their Work


Treat your colleague with kindness and support. They might be having trouble understanding a procedure using software or equipment. The person may be inadequately trained for their role, or they may be just plain lazy.

As a responsible co-worker, you should help your colleagues when they are in trouble.

If you can identify the source of incompetency, you can probably guide them and bring them to the stage of “conscious” or “unconscious” competency.

Further, avoid doing the work of an incompetent colleague. You may set a precedent and end up doing their work regularly in addition to yours.

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Helping someone with a minor task is OK, but it shouldn’t become the norm.

Reassign if Required

If you have the authority, perhaps you could reassign the staff to more manageable tasks which they can perform better, until they are trained, if training is an issue.

The person may be incompetent due to a difficult shift. Some people cannot perform well during the night. The solution might be as simple as moving them into a day shift.

Look for the Root Cause

Interact with the incompetent co-worker and try to find out the reason for their incompetency. Perhaps, they lack adequate tools like access to particular authority levels while using the company systems.

It could be that the person only needs better resources or explanations to put them on the right track.

Check Your Emotions


Whatever you do, avoid getting emotional with an incompetent colleague. Anger is a destructive emotion and can cause more damage than good. Even if someone is making a scene, you have no reason to add to the disruption.

If emotions overtake you, take a break. Think of how you can deal with the issue calmly and sensibly and with dignity.


Dealing with incompetent co-workers can be challenging. However, if you want to come off as being professional and committed to the company’s betterment, you need to act professional.

Everyone deserves a second chance. Help your colleague overcome their incompetency. If all else fails, you can be satisfied that you tried your best.

But you may be pleasantly surprised to see your efforts succeeding due to these simple but effective tips.