How to Identify Incompetent People

Reading time: 6 pages, 2,454 words, 6 to 10 minutes.

Updated July 24, 2017 with ‘Excuses’ and ‘Fast-talkers’

Incompetent people develop coping strategies and have characteristics that enable you identify them. Incompetent people can be detrimental to you, your health and your wealth so it’s in your best interest to identify them. If the garbage collector is incompetent, it may be annoying, but it’s probably not life threatening. However, if your doctor, dentist, home builder or your accountant is incompetent it can harm you or land you in jail so it pays to be able to identify incompetent people.

I was surprised how little information is available on incompetent people. I searched the internet and found many posts and sites about organizational and political incompetence as well as incompetent people within organizations with the greatest number involving business, leadership, management, medical, teaching and the military.

However, I found nothing about the incompetent people you’re likely to encounter in everyday life. So, this will rely on my own admittedly limited experience. If you know other coping strategies or characteristics of incompetent people, feel free to leave a comment below.

Question: Do incompetent people know they’re incompetent?

Answer: No, of course not; otherwise they wouldn’t be incompetent.

Incompetence – incompetent people do not understand how incompetent they are because the factors that make them incompetent make them unable to understand their shortcomings. Psychologists call this the Arrogance of Ignorance.

“The problem with incompetence is its inability to recognize itself.”
Orrin Woodward, LIFE

Let’s look at this from another perspective. Self-deception is a uniquely human characteristic. Incompetent people don’t realize they’re incompetent and even if they did they’re unlikely to admit it to themselves or others. However, they DO know that throughout life, they are often scolded for what they say or do. Consequently, to avoid being reprimanded, they develop one or more coping strategies to avoid getting shit for their words and actions.

Question: is incompetence the same as stupid?

Answer: No, not necessarily although it can be. A doctor, dentist or engineer is unlikely to get a degree if they’re stupid. Incompetent people can register high on an intelligence scale and can successfully pass exams.

Question: so what is incompetence?

Answer: it is an inability or lack of skill to perform adequately. So, incompetence is measured by results or performance not intelligence. Incompetent people can be quite charming and intelligent, but their perceptions can be out of kilter and how they perform can be disastrous. Incompetence can result from lack of organizational abilities, mental laziness, lack of self-awareness; they may have book learning but no practical experience, they may be in the wrong line of work, numerous other reasons or any combination of these.

Below are some of the coping strategies used by incompetent people. If you see people doing these things, it’s not guaranteed that they’re incompetent, but you should be wary and very careful with these people until you know for sure because their lack of competence could hurt you.

If they have two or more of the following characteristics, WATCH OUT!

Really, Really, Really NICE – incompetent people sometimes use ‘nice’ as a coping strategy. They think that if they really, really, really nice then the teacher will be more likely to forgive them or the boss will be reluctant to fire them.

This is a dangerously effective coping strategy because most of us like nice people and we would rather deal with nice people than cranky ones.

In fact, we are more likely to forgive really, really, really nice people for their incompetence than we are to forgive cranky people. After all, this is why incompetent people adopt ‘nice’ as a strategy; it works. At least, it works for a while and then after a time we get fed up with their constant screw-ups and even their ‘niceness’ is no longer enough to compensate for their perpetual incompetence.

Invisibility – incompetent people sometimes try to make themselves invisible. They sit at the back of the class or the back of the meeting room hoping they aren’t noticed and called upon. Also, they keep quiet and don’t raise their hands or volunteer anything because when they do their incompetence becomes evident for all to see.

Invisibility is also a dangerously effective coping strategy because we cannot see them. Since they’re invisible, they’re difficult to identify.

When I walk into a crowded room, I’ll stop, smile and look around the room. Then, I’ll have a second look and try to identify the people I did NOT notice the first time. Chances are, these ‘wall-flowers’ are trying to be invisible for a reason. One reason may be shyness (not a crime), but another reason might be incompetence.

Mumbling – sometimes incompetent people mumble. This is a form of ‘sound invisibility’. Fortunately, mumbling is easy to identify. When they mumble, they cannot be understood. So, you ask them to repeat what they said and you get more “mumble, mumble”.

The mumbler hopes you give up and go away. Failing that, they hope you fill in the blanks yourself. That way they cannot be pinned down. If they don’t say anything they cannot be proven wrong. “Well, mumble, mumble, maybe mumble, mumble, misunderstood mumble, mumble what I said.”

Excuses – Beware anyone with never-ending excuses. Incompetent people spend a lifetime developing the ability to create excuses, some of which can be very creative. A lot of excuses can be a warning sign.

Fast-talkers – Not every incompetent person is a fast-talker, but this could also be a warning sign. They talk fast because they fear you’ll find out that they’re incompetent. They never give your brain time to analyze what they’re saying because they talk so fast, you can’t engage your critical thinking skills. You can’t get a word in edgewise and by the time you do, you’ve forgotten what you wanted to say. Like most characteristics, they decrease the amount of shit they get so, being a successful strategy, they adopt them.

Never wrong – Beware of people who always make excuses and never accept responsibility for their mistakes. Mentarch writes, “Incompetents will do and say anything to defend themselves … including disassembling, obfuscating, lying and blaming others … they misrepresent, they use decoy arguments and make ad hominem attacks.”

I worked with a fellow for decades who never once admitted to making a mistake. He had endless excuses and it was always someone else’s fault. Fortunately, it didn’t take me long to realize he was incompetent. The final straw was when he screwed up in a big way and my boss asked me to take the blame so the incompetent idiot wouldn’t look bad to an important client. Sometime later, the client told me that he knew I had ‘fallen on my own sword’ to protect the idiot. We eventually forced the incompetent into early retirement. Good riddance!

Always right – this is the flip side of ‘Never Wrong’ above. One characteristic of people who think they’re always right is their inability to listen. They’re like Google that starts giving answers before you’ve finished typing.

At the risk of being politically incorrect (as if I care!) it seems more women than men fall into this category. Perhaps it is women’s propensity to gullibility where once they learn something they think they know it all. Or, perhaps it’s the Feminist’s cult of perpetual victimhood, their belief that their shit doesn’t stink and all men are a**holes. It’s hard to say.

Many years ago, one of the best doctors I ever had was female. One reason was she listened. Unfortunately, I moved away. Nowadays, listening skills seem to have deteriorated considerably.

I patronized the same optometrist for almost 25 years. I change glasses about every two years and, although expensive, they always gave me good service. Then the two old guys retired and the business was taken over by two young ladies. The third last time I bought glasses, I told the young ladies I need lenses for viewing a computer screen at the office. They gave me lenses with a very narrow field of view so I had to keep moving my head from side to side to read the screen. I returned the glasses.

“Oh, you need screen lenses.”
“What’s that?”
“Lenses designed with a wide field of view for a computer screen.”
“Yes, that’s what I said the first time”

They gave me the right lenses. The second last time I bought new glasses, I gently reminded them of the first screw-up and repeated (several times) that I need a wide field of view for reading a computer screen. They screwed up again with a narrow field of views and after some argument (NEVER, ever argue with a customer even if they’re wrong) they again reluctantly changed to the proper lenses.

The last time, even though I reminded them of the first two screw-ups and repeated I needed wide field of view for reading a computer screen MANY times, they again gave me the wrong lenses. When I returned, they argued a LOT and said “Oh, you’ll get used to them. Try them for a couple days.” I tried. A couple days later I brought them back and they said, “Oh Nikon doesn’t make screen lenses anymore.”

Why couldn’t they tell me that the first time? Is it because I’m a male and couldn’t understand such a difficult technical word like, “No”?

I told them “Listen sisters, three strikes, you’re out. You’re fired and I’m telling everyone I know what lousy service you give.” I walked out and found a better optometrist; one who listens. He’s male.

Beware of people, especially women who ‘know it all’. They’re dangerous. This is supported by a preponderance of jokes.

“Who needs Google? My wife knows everything.”

“For Sale: Encyclopedia set. Not needed. My new bride knows it all.”

Negative about others – Some people, in order to compensate for their incompetence, try to drag other people down with constant negative comments so they look better in comparison. No matter what you tell this type of person, no matter how positive it is, they’ll bend and twist it out of shape. They could make Mother Theresa look like Adolph Hitler. Beware; if a person does this about others behind their back, they are also likely to do it to you behind your back. Everything you say WILL be used against you.

Sometimes these people can be identified by what they laugh at. If the only time they laugh is at someone else’s mistakes, pain or tragedy then you may be dealing with one of these people. They’re constantly searching for the negative and take great delight in finding it in others.

Avoidance – Some incompetent people bend over backwards to avoid doing something. They know that whenever they do something they get shit. To avoid getting shit, they do nothing. It’s easier to make excuses for doing nothing than justify their mistakes. If only they were half as creative in doing what they’re supposed to do as they are with their excuses they’d be incredibly competent. But, of course, they’re not which is why it’s less painful for them to do nothing and get a little shit than do something, screw it up and get a lot of shit.

Sticking their noses into everyone else’s business – Some incompetent people, unable to do their own jobs compensate by telling other people how to do their jobs. They try to make themselves look good by appearing to be busy ‘improving things’ and thus avoid revealing their inability doing their own jobs.

Over-confidence – although this is not a coping strategy, it may be a sign of someone who believes they’re better than they really are. We live in a rapidly changing world that requires constantly upgrading our skills. Overconfident people may be loath to improve because they think too highly of themselves.

As well, overconfident people may think they don’t need anyone else’s input so they try do things themselves rather than ask for the opinions of others. Never underestimate the value of teamwork. Two heads are better than one and three better than two. It takes bravery to admit you don’t know everything.

Question: aside from identifying incompetent people by the characteristics listed above, is there anything else you can do before you’re able to determine whether someone is competent or not?

Answer: Yes, there is. Most people are trusting and they assume someone is competent until proven otherwise. However, you must remember that the average person is, well … average. This means half of all people are above average and half are below average. So, the odds are only 50/50 that someone is above average. Those are not good odds upon which to stake your health, wealth or life.

Again, if we’re talking about the garbage collector, it’s no big deal. However, if you’re about to have brain surgery, shouldn’t you do some homework first and determine whether the surgeon is competent or not? Maybe he’s below average?

It is much more effective to assume people are NOT competent? Why? Because if you assume incompetence, you’re going to be a lot more likely to engage your critical thinking skills than if you assume competence.

As well, if you assume incompetence, you’ll prepare for it. You’ll ask for a draft or outline or a brief meeting before the deadline to ensure that person is on the right track rather than be blind-sided at the last minute. Talking to a stranger on the phone, you’ll assume they will fail to deliver as promised so you’ll ask for their name and verify the phone number thus giving them more incentive to do what you asked. It’s also smart to request an interim phone call to ensure you haven’t been put on the backburner and that everything is on track. And, if they don’t call you; call them.

It’s also wise to assume the other person assumes you are incompetent unless you have a track record with them proving your competence. If nothing else, it keeps you on your toes and at the top of your game. If they ask you to send an email to someone else, copy them so they can see you’ve done as requested. Always assume the other person assumes you’re incompetent until you prove otherwise and do the same with them.

Sometimes I work on lengthy projects where I might not be expected to contact the client for a long time. Yet, I will contact them at least once a day even to tell them nothing. Seriously! “Hi, I’m calling to tell you absolutely nothing except I’m still working on it and haven’t forgotten about you.” I have NEVER had a negative response to that. Often they’ll laugh. The longer you go without contacting them, the more they worry they might have been put on the backburner. Contacting them and telling them nothing assuages that concern.

Question: do incompetent people recognise other incompetent people?

Answer: probably not. One is more likely to recognize incompetence if it is below the perceiver’s level of competence. I have no competence in brain surgery. This makes me an incompetent brain surgeon and less likely to recognize a brain surgeon’s incompetence.

So, will I assume, the surgeon is incompetent? You better believe it. Will I do a lot of homework, research and ask a lot of questions? You know it because unlike having my garbage picked up, my life depends on a competent brain surgeon as well as a lot of other people.


October 11, 2014
Updated October 19, 2014

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About gerold

I have a bit of financial experience having invested in stocks in the 1960s & 70s, commodities in the 80s & commercial real estate in the 90s (I sold in 2005.) I'm back in stocks. I am appalled at our rapidly deteriorating global condition so I've written articles for family, friends & colleagues since 2007; warning them and doing my best to explain what's happening, what we can expect in the future and what you can do to prepare and mitigate the worst of the economic, social, political and nuclear fallout. As a public service in 2010 I decided to create a blog accessible to a larger number of people because I believe that knowledge not shared is wasted.
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43 Responses to How to Identify Incompetent People

  1. Steve says:

    So it’s been ~7 YEARS since this article was written. And it still one of the only useful articles on the first page of the search…. “How to deal with incompetent people”

    Most of the other articles talk about creating safe spaces for them and remaining calm…. “Take up meditation!” Lol.

    Anyway, nice information. Thank you.

    • gerold says:

      Thanks, Steve. I’m glad the article is still relevant.

      You touch on something perplexing. Why haven’t there been more articles on something that touches us daily? Perhaps incompetence is one of those things we aren’t supposed to talk about. To me, that’s all the more reason to uncover it.

      The spineless accommodation you mentioned (“safe spaces”) is a symptom of social incompetence and decay. This is an angle I hadn’t considered for the article.

      Also, and this is getting into ‘Woo-Woo’ territory, I’m finding that vaccinated people have become stupider. My dentist screwed up a simple procedure, people are babbling more, people are more confused; they seem to be missing a beat. As if we don’t have enough to deal with already! Now we are witnessing the rapid dumbing-down of society.

      – Gerold

  2. Savannah says:

    This is a VERY good article .
    Yes my life has gotten destroyed by incompetent people especially women .

    I am a woman and I don’t find it insulting .

    It is reality and women need more personal & professional development training instead of always being given the leeway for being oh so “ victimized”.

    I have had medical disaster due to very very incompetent , thoughtless women .


  3. Dr Paul Kotschy says:

    Hi Gerold.

    Having read your blog, I found some of the indicators of human incompetence you identified interesting. However, may I say that you too have clearly demonstrated incompetence in two important ways.

    Firstly, the style of your writing has many flaws. They are flaws because they erode the impact of your message.

    Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, you reach conclusions based on anecdote. And at least one of those conclusions is dubious. For example, the use of your optometrist incident to educe that women think they’re right more than men think they’re right is unfortunate. Publishing such claims requires much better scrutiny of evidence than citing one anecdote. I expect greater caution from you, because of your alleged statistical background.

    Furthermore, your “sixty years of memories and experience” does not qualify as evidence in support of your claims.

    Gerold, I was really interested in what you had to say. But sadly, with these two aspects of incompetence, I feel less inclined to take your message seriously, and so would look elsewhere.

    Finally, I find the tone of your responses to contributors like Michelle Tegg unfortunate and, frankly, disgusting:

    “Stuff your `peer reviewed study!’ I speak from experience. I have no peers.”

    Michelle did not deserve this.

    • gerold says:

      Hi, Doc

      Citing the female optometrists as an example of “Always Right” was to serve as an example, not a scientific study. I could cite more examples, but they too would be anecdotal, not scientific. Incidentally, it obviously struck a nerve (always suspicious) based on several indignant comments as if “women can do no wrong.” Sorry gals, but you’re not infallible. Furthermore, I gave them 3 opportunities and they struck out 3 times.

      If Michelle wants to spank me for being politically incorrect, that’s her prerogative. Out of curiosity, why are you going to bat for her?

      As well, I stand by the principle I iterated in my response to Michelle, that I have no peers. Neither do you. Nor does anyone. Perhaps I should have expanded on that, but I tried to keep it brief because it’s a sore point with me and no reflection on Michelle.

      The whole concept of “peer’ is a sacred cow that needs to be gored. It requires a full-length article to do it proper justice. Suffice to illustrate are the increasing scandals in so-called “peer-reviewed” publications and the rise in industry-sponsored studies.

      As well, “Peer” is a dangerous, envy-based word designed to drag everyone down to a common level of mediocrity. I’d rather be tried by a superior than a so-called peer. My courtroom experience testifies to that.

      – Gerold

      • Dr Paul Kotschy says:

        Hi,, Gerold.

        Regarding your “Citing the female optometrists as an example of ‘Always Right’ was to serve as an example, not a scientific study”, exactly! That’s exactly my point about your dialectic tactic of elevating anecdote to the status of a theory. It is an easy tactic. It is effective. But is a dubious one because it can be used with great effect to propagate falseness. It is a tactic which exudes incompetence.

        Gerold, if you were to introspect honestly for a moment, then I think you might realise that your style, tone and content reflect a degree of incompetence in four of your identified characteristics, namely, “Never wrong”, “Always right”, “Negative about others”, and “Over-confidence”. Perhaps you cannot see that others can see that.

        But honestly, I do not expect you to engage in such introspection, even though doing so will likely help you (and your readers). It might even give you some peers! From your writing, it seems that you could benefit from some peers, people who have positive regard for who you are, not people who wish to compete with you, or you with them. But the truth is, I do not know you. I only know what you write and how you write.

        • gerold says:

          OK, once more into the fray … Doc, since you insist on sticking around, be prepared to get spanked.

          Sorry to disappoint you, Doc, but I never claimed to have all the answers. This is my home page blurb; “My mission is to empower you with knowledge so you aren’t fleeced like the other sheep. I don’t have all the answers but I’ll help you cut through some of the crap with unusual ideas and perspectives you won’t find anywhere else. Where you go from there is entirely up to you. So, don’t follow me; you can make your own way!”

          Yes, this ENTIRE article is based on experience because, as I wrote at the beginning of this article, “I was surprised how little information is available on incompetent people. I searched the internet and found many posts and sites about organizational and political incompetence as well as incompetent people within organizations with the greatest number involving business, leadership, management, medical, teaching and the military.

          “However, I found nothing about the incompetent people you’re likely to encounter in everyday life. So, this will rely on my own admittedly limited experience. If you know other coping strategies or characteristics of incompetent people, feel free to leave a comment below.”

          So, you’re very welcome for this groundbreaking, albeit anecdotal perspective. If you can provide links to other articles of this nature, I would welcome them.

          Yes. I am confident – you say over-confident. But that too is part of my writing style. Life is shades of gray. Reading about shades of gray is boring and loses readers’ interest. How much of an essay would you read if it was full of “…on the other hand(s),” and relative terms like ‘some,’ ‘many,’ ‘most, with endless explanatory footnotes? Most readers would reply with “TLDR” (too long didn’t read.)

          I speak confidently about what I know based on experience. Contrary to your insinuation, I welcome opposing views, and I do so without deleting them. And, sometimes I’m wrong although not often because I WRITE WHEREOF I KNOW. I don’t write about brain surgery or scuba diving because I know nothing about them.

          When I am proven wrong, I admit it. A reader identified several misattributed images on one of my Fukushima articles. I admitted my error and corrected the images.

          You say you “do not expect [me] to engage in such introspection.” Listen up, Reverend; you might insult this Troglodyte, but don’t ever talk to my sisters that way.

          You also say I “could benefit from some peers, people who have positive regard for who you are.” If you recall, I already slammed ‘peers’ in my previous comment. Furthermore, being nice is not on my mission plan (2nd paragraph.) You want nice? Go to kindergarten. You want a friend? Get a dog.

          I completed my mission and so, Doc, other than griping, whatya gonna do about your new-found knowledge? BTW – my blog’s masthead is “The truth shall set you free but first it will make you miserable.”

          – Gerold

  4. gerold says:

    Wow! Your honesty is remarkable as well as refreshing. It’s also one of your saving graces as I’ll explain below.

    First, let me ask you a question. Do you feel inferior or do you feel insecure? Most people feel insecure to one degree or another. Women feel more insecure than men and the most insecure people I’ve known were beautiful girls. They always wonder, “Do they like me for who I am or just my good looks?” The only people who don’t feel insecure are psychopaths / sociopaths.

    Your disability is all the more remarkable because humans are social animals and we devote more brainpower to facial recognition than any other function. That’s why many people see faces everywhere; on toast, in a cloud, wood knots, etc. (it’s called Pareidolia.) As we’re social animals, your Prosopagnosia (face blindness) is certainly a challenge.

    It sounds very similar to Asperger’s Syndrome which is a high functioning form of Autism and has a number of characteristics:
    – clumsiness
    – difficulty developing friends
    – poor social skills, difficulty recognizing body language and empathizing
    – poor communication skills
    – narrow but well-defined interests they lose themselves in
    – sticking to routines
    – literalness and difficulty with irony, satire, mockery
    – they’ve had a lifetime developing excuses

    Aspergers drift toward non-people occupations where they work with things rather than people i.e. accountants, engineers, trades, etc. There are two types of Apergers.
    – those who admit and understand they have it and develop workarounds.
    – those who refuse to admit they have it. These are VERY difficult to deal with.

    I worked with two Aspergers, both professional engineers in the same company. One realized he had this disability, admitted it, and didn’t try to hide it. He developed coping mechanisms to deal with it. He is very competent and highly respected.

    The other Asperger refuses to admit to his disability. He is very incompetent. He never admits his failures, has endless excuses and always blames everyone else. No one wants to work for him or with him. He’s what I call an Asperjerk.

    On the way to the airport, I was delayed by construction and I knew the admitted-Asperger was taking a later flight. I called him, told him about the construction and suggested he leave twenty minutes earlier. There was a pause of about ten seconds. I knew what he was doing. He was ‘running scenarios’ in his head. Was I kidding? Playing a prank? Being an idiot, etc. Finally, when he realized I was being helpful, he said “Thanks.” Before he answers a question, he always pauses and thinks.

    Friends and partners of Aspergers can help once the Asperger confides his disability with them. They can give him cues in social situations. A wink, hand touch, elbow bump, etc. Aspergers go a long way to overcoming their disability by admitting it rather than trying to hide it.

    I wonder if you could do the same? Rather than hide your disability, would it not help if you let people know? There would be two reactions. Some people would avoid you and run away. I say ”Good Riddance!” You don’t want them in your life. Other people, once they understood your disability and didn’t take your behavior personally would be inclined to help and less inclined to judge. They could help you develop work-arounds and offer you cues in difficult social situations.

    As for respect, I think it’s over-rated. Everyone wants respect, but self-respect is more important than what others think. You might gain more respect by showing you have the courage to admit your disability and by your willingness to let the idiots self-edit themselves out of your life.

    – Gerold

  5. Autumn_Bonsai says:

    This was a refreshing read. Lately I’ve been having to deal with incompetent doctors. I’ve been to the Emergency ward four times in so many months for chest pain. The public health doctors can’t figure out what it is that caused the pain and suggest that I might have a psychological problem, and should seek a psychiatrist/psychologist. This is problematic for a number of reasons: 1) I have a variety of physical symptoms that are not symptoms of any psychiatric disorder like skin turning blue/grey, ankles swelling 2) I do not meet the criteria for any psychiatric disorder that would explain my symptoms 3) none of these doctors were qualified to make a psychiatric diagnosis since none of them were clinical psychologists or psychiatrists. Even if there is reason to suspect a psychiatric condition exists, that determination can only be legally made by a certified mental health practitioner. 4) a patient having a psychiatric disorder does not eliminate the possibility of their also having a physical ailment. It’s called ‘comorbidity’, is not uncommon, and ANY doctor should know that this is a very real possibility. Incompetence in itself is not the real problem, it’s the lack of awareness of the limits of one’s own knowledge. In the medical field this could be fatal. If doctors don’t know what’s causing a patient’s symptoms, they should refer the patient to the relevant specialists, not demonise patients as crazy.

    • gerold says:

      Autumn, your description sounds like medical hell.

      Even well-trained doctors suffer from the Dunning–Kruger effect. Wikipedia calls it “a cognitive bias in which people of low ability have illusory superiority and mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is. The cognitive bias of illusory superiority comes from the inability of low-ability people to recognize their lack of ability. Without the self-awareness of metacognition, low-ability people cannot objectively evaluate their actual competence or incompetence.

      You said, “Incompetence in itself is not the real problem, it’s the lack of awareness of the limits of one’s own knowledge.” Add to that the limitations of specialization. A doctor might know his specialty, but little else and unable to understand connected fields. In fairness, diagnosis is the most difficult part of medicine as well as auto repair, problem-solving, etc. Once the cause is identified, the solution is usually easy. Plus, doctors have egos like everyone else and don’t like to admit they’re wrong or incapable.

      From my own experience, I use the medical system as a tool to help me help them to diagnose the problem. Sometimes they need to be prompted or led by the hand or gently corrected when they’re going down the wrong path, but it’s not easy. You have my sympathy.

      – Gerold

  6. chris says:

    You fit some of your own criteria in your writing. Many of the most competent and industrious people I know fit one or more of these descriptions, so I’m going to say [citation needed] on this one…

    • gerold says:

      You write. “You fit some of your own criteria in your writing.” Sorry, but that is very general so I cannot address it unless you provide specific examples.

      You write, “Many of the most competent and industrious people I know fit one or more of these descriptions…” I never said any one description was a sure-fire guarantee of incompetence. I wrote, “If you see people doing these things, it’s not guaranteed that they’re incompetent, but you should be wary and very careful with these people until you know for sure… If they have two or more of the following characteristics, WATCH OUT!” I don’t know what color of black and white your world is, but mine is shades of gray and a matter of degrees; something many people find incomprehensible. This likely explains why dogmatic religion is more popular than ever-changing science.

      Your reading comprehension is lacking. I’ll be charitable and assume English is not your mother-tongue. Keep up the good work, but keep practicing.

      Citations? You want citations? NO SHIT, Sherlock! I wish there were some good articles I could have cited. I wrote, “I was surprised how little information is available on incompetent people… I found nothing…” Once again, you demonstrate lack of reading comprehension.

      Had I found any articles I would simply have guest-posted a good one rather than doing all the work required to research and write this article. Instead, I relied on sixty years of memories and experience of family, friends and colleagues, and dredging through year books, pictures and old photo albums to identify incompetent people and recall their coping strategies.

      What you have in this article is ORIGINAL content. If readers know of good articles on incompetent people’s coping strategies, please comment with citations or links.

  7. Michelle Tegg says:

    Well apart from identifying as a misogynist, and a stalker of clients (at least once a day? Wtf??) I found your article quite enlightening for the most part. Out of the top 4 results on Google, you gave me the best practical information on recognising incompetence in ourselves I’ve seen thus far. I’m not actually being sarcastic in case it came across that way. But just a little reciprocal advice, I would maybe try to address the gender-bias that consciously or subconsciously skew some of your thinking. Perhaps some of the “incompetent” females you speak of may have just had a shocking morning with a screaming toddler they’ve just dropped off to daycare? After all, women shoulder the majority of childcare, single or not. Or perhaps they are dealing with a death in.the family, family breakdown, have been sexually assaulted, are dealing with gender-bias in the workplace? Just a few things that affect women in exceptionally greater proportions than men, statistically speaking. Perhaps you should try and categorise pepole less based on gender? But still your article does contain some great points and has been useful for me. Just some non-biased food for thought, is all.

    • gerold says:

      A little gender sensitive aren’t we?

      I speak from experience. If that bothers you, that’s your problem not mine.

      The former male optometrists were competent; they asked questioned and didn’t pretend to have all the answers.

      The female optometrists screwed up not once, not twice, but on THREE different occasions. That’s NOT having a bad day. That’s incompetence.

      The lesson is BEWARE of females who think they know it all because there’s a good chance they’re incompetent. I never said ALL females.

      I’m not a misogynist. I’m a misanthrope. I hate everyone who’s stupid regardless of gender. What makes you think women are so special?

      And, what’s with “stalking clients everyday”? That’s good customer relations letting them know we haven’t forgtten them. With your attitude, if you were working for me, I’d fire your ass.

      – Gerold

  8. Deb says:

    Excellent observations, and I’d like to be able to share it. I can’t. The generalization about women always blah blah blah, isn’t pertinent (neither would a reference to “mansplaining” be).
    Either undercuts your credibility.
    Thanks, though, for everything else!

    • gerold says:

      Sorry Deb, but you lost me on both counts.

      First, I never said “women always” about anything. I said, “more women than men fall into this category.” That’s not always; that’s a matter of degree. It never ceases to amaze me how many people don’t comprehend the relativity of degrees.

      Second, I have a problem in general with the charge of “mansplaining.” It’s usually leveled by someone who’s thin-skinned and it smells too much like they’re playing the victim card. Also, it overlooks the fact men do it to other men (what makes women think they’re so special?) As well, it ignores the fact that in many cases the receiver REALLY IS incompetent. As I explained in the article, incompetent people don’t realize their incompetence. On three different occasions I explained to the female optometrists I need lenses with a “wide field of view” and three times they screwed up. That’s not condescension (“mansplaining”) on my part; that’s incompetence on their part.

      – Gerold

      • Michelle Tegg says:

        Why mention their gender at all? The fact they were female is largely irrelevant and hardly a peer-reviewed study. A competent person would realise that will alienate most women from the point you are trying to make.

        • gerold says:

          A little gender sensitive aren’t we?

          I mention GENDER because that’s the POINT! Beware of females who think they know it all. The previous male owners asked questions and listened to their customers. They were competent.

          The know-it-all females thought they knew everything and didn’t listen. They screwed up not just once, not even twice, but on THREE different occasions. That’s INCOMPETENCE!

          Stuff your ‘peer reviewed study!’ I speak from experience.

          I have no peers.

          – Gerold

  9. Andrew says:


    Gerald doesn’t believe in “conspiracy theories” and yet acts competent and feels he can dicern
    competency in others.

    Cannot make this shit up.

    PS Here are many studies showing gerald is incompetent

    The internet seems to be showing humanity how extremely stupid we are. I bet gerald is a baby boomer aka “the lead gasoline” generation!

    • gerold says:

      Did your mother raise any children that weren’t completely stupid?

      a) WTF does disbelief in conspiracy theories have to do discerning competency? Answer: nothing, although I’d like to know what you’re smoking.

      b) WTF does fluoride have to do with my competency? Answer: again nothing. BTW I don’t drink fluoridated water nor am I as stupid as your pointlessness demonstrates.

      I’d go on and completely shred the rest of your comment, but you’re not worthy of any more of my time.

      BTW – it’s spelled GerOld with an O not an A so you’re not only stupid, you can’t read.

  10. Krysten says:

    I am incompetent in skill when it comes to processing certain tasks, however, awareness-wise, I’ve always acknowledged my deficiency, and always admired and sought guidance from those with greater ability in the areas that I lack. In other areas, such as understanding abstract concepts, detecting inefficiencies in processes, connecting ideas, communicating, etc, I am regarded as have great ability compared to my peers, however, it seems that practical and unguided tasks often elude my capability to perform well. I have a siv of a memory, and I struggle greatly with mental organization. My skills in the former (abstract concepts, communicating, etc) get me into the door with great companies, however, despite my best efforts, I tend to fall short in fast-processing tasks such as customer service, independent projects, etc. I’ve even been fired as an accounting intern, where initially I was the most admired intern for the ideas I had, my willingness to work, and how I conducted myself, but I kept making mistakes to the point where I was stunting my supervisor’s projects. It was a small firm with limited training resources, so it was “learn it now, or get out.” I was also a waitress, and was the stereotypical one who spilled food and dropped silverware on customers all the time due to physical and mental miscalculations. This has grieved me so, for I endeavor to compose detailed mental checklists to ensure each critical step had been executed in all different lines of work, however, my shortcomings repeated themselves nevertheless.
    So I think your article hits the nail with those whose attitudes are responsible for their incompetence, however, there is a breed out there like me whose ineptitude lies in a particular skill as opposed to mindset. I try very hard to make up for it, seek and receive guidance, but the processing speed isn’t there. When given time, I can really think and understand fully a situation, but I have delayed processing and reaction time in such occasions where immediate response is required, and where it seems others are such quicker thinkers than I. An organization with high levels of structure, developed and on-going training procedures, and more task consistency, would help minimize my errors, so I am gearing myself towards those in hopes of success.

    But like Kelly said, everyone needs a paycheck, and we weren’t all blessed with abilities, but make do with what we have.

  11. trey says:

    I work in a large government organisation, from my experience people aren’t lazy or incompetence overall, but because there is a larger pool of people you see all sorts at play here.

    my current team of 8 is largely incompetent,which is why we are having serious issues which affects mainly the manager/boss. these are some of the individuals that I summarise in point form as each person has different combinations of incompetence , stupidity and event talent when it comes to dealing with this disability.

    person 1 – is generally stupid and incompetent but has angled himself as a politician who likes to manipulate the work schelude, make alliances with other works, use company policy and political correctness as defence arsenal and generally making all others including the boss fear him ie. don’t mess with me because I know the system and will take you down with me.

    person 2 – stupid and incompetent but is full of confidence and makes big claims. Self belief mixed with denial of past failures. Makes emotive and stupidly formed arguments and generally not capable of learning complex or abstract systems or tasks. Follows a regimented routine when conducting work and unable to find solutions to problems if it doesnt fit into the fix routine but with force it to fit regardless. Works long hours and very hard but causes more problems the more he works.

    person 3 – nice guy but is in a job that is too complex but because the job pays well is unwilling or unable to move to an easier job with the same pay or unwilling to step down to a lower role. keeps quite and hides failures in past projects. Uses other people and resources in the organisation to assist in performing the primary function of the job and simply collates the efforts of others or subordinates into a final package which is incoherent and apparent is composed by multiple and unco-ordinated authors.

    person 4 – incompetent networker, generally incompetent but is a talented networker and organisation person. Uses various creative means to complete tasks but concentrates effort in building relationships and finding opportunities in an organisation. Competent politician and can use cases and incidents as leverage to either promote oneself or use as weapons against the opposition..

    • gerold says:

      Wow! You have my sympathy. Working with those people would drive me nuts.

      Unfortunately, government employment does not attract the best and brightest (I’m trying to be charitable.) You’re obviously more competent than they are, otherwise you wouldn’t recognize their incompetence. Still it must drain you to put up with it.

      – Gerold

  12. Throton says:

    I am one of those people, Gerold, I am incompetent, so what my friend?

    Should I change, would like your doctor or dentist to have 10 years of schooling? And if your trash collector left you a chocolate on your can would it be better for 𝘺𝘰𝘶?

    I bet if we combed through everybody’s lives, relationships, etc. we could find incompetency in everyone.

    But, at least I’m not the one pointing the finger, right?

  13. Erin says:

    It doesn’t matter where I go, the grocery, car repair, restaurant, I CANT GET ANYTHING RIGHT. Example, today I go to the store present a raincheck, store again is short on product. Clerk more focused on filling out another, rather than honoring amount I bought then returning it, so I helped with that. JUST GIVE IT BACK! She was so confused trying to work out the raincheck volume (5 to 2) adjustment, (rather than return in tact for my inconvenience for returning AGAIN for inadequate stock), SHE DIDNT GIVE ME THE DAMN DISCOUNT! ITS ONLY $10, but like whats all the effort for? I go to the CADI DEALER, check engine light on, car stalling, they have it a WEEK. $900 later, replaced 02 sensor, throttle choke. “PLEASE CHECK IT THOROUGHLY FOR ANY OTHER POTENTIAL PROBLEMS”, I ASK. 5 DAYS LATER, NOT EVEN 75 MILES, CHECK ENGINE LIGHT ON. Got to take it back AGAIN! I call to get in, no opening for a week! I call later, different guy, come Friday! This is a redo, I shouldn’t have to wait! So Im going again Friday, not in a week other asshole set. I go to the salon (who I tip well, BTW), she clamps the clip with the sharp teeth on my CHEEK!!! OUCH, LIKE MY SKIN ISNT SAGGY AND HANGING OFF THAT YOU CANT FEEL! “YOU JUST CLAMPED THIS ON MY FACE”!! I SAY AND REMOVE SAID CLAMP (NO APOLOGY OR OOPS NOTHING) STILL TIP HER $30. (IN HOPES SHE WONT TORTURE ME NEXT TIME?) I order food, (the rare times we dine out) reiterate order slowly (I tend to customize at times, like omelettes) and 80% of the time the get it ALL wrong. I call up to clarify a police report from a wreck NOT MY FAULT, dumb operator repeats 5 digit report # back incorrectly after I say it super slow 3Xs, then says “You already amended it! Oh, no its not you” NO CUZ MY NAME ISNT SHAWN STERLING, MORON, I IDENTIFIED MYSELF WHEN I CALLED, (the liar who hit me), then asks if anyone called me back to change my 2 line statement!!! “NO THATS WHY IM CALLING, IDIOT!! I JUST STATED THE REASON FOR MY CALL! “THE COP GOT MY 2 LINE STATEMENT WRONG! HE WONT CALL BACK, SO WHY IM CALLING”. A DUMB COP CALLED ASKED IF OFFICER HAS CALLED TO CHANGE STATEMENT. NO, YOU JUST KEEP ASKING ME STUPID SHIT INSTEAD OF DOING IT, DAMN IT!!!! ITS NOT CHANGED YET. The car was in the body shop 3 months after the crash and you don’t even want to hear about that fiasco. NOT MY FAULT AND TWO GRAND OUT OF POCKET FOR DAMGES THEY CAUSED AND WONT COVER, NO DEDUCTIBLE REIMBURSED, AS PROMISED WHEN OTHER GUY WAS CHARGED AT FAULT). FED THE EFF UP!!! I CAN GO ON AND ON. I AM SO SICK OF MENTALLY DISABLED INDIVIDUALS I WANT OFF THIS PLANE. CANNOT DEAL WITH STUPID ANYMORE!! People literally act like half their brain is gone. I have a higher than average IQ, but most of this isn’t effing rocket science, just simple common sense, minute concentration AND ATTENTION TO DETAIL!

    • gerold says:

      Yeah, Erin, it’s difficult dealing with incompetent people. It probably won’t get any better as people are getting more dumbed-down all the time.

      Most of the incidents you described are service-oriented; in other words people who serve the public. That, in itself is part of the problem. Many people feel service is beneath their dignity so they resent serving. Right there is an attitude problem.

      A company I once worked for was in the machinery business – sales, parts & service. They refused to hire people who were raised in cities (“citiots”) and preferred to hire people raised on farms, farming communities or small towns. Why? Because they had better attitudes. Citiots had an entitlement mentality and hadn’t learned the three elements of success: get up, dress up and show up. It’s said that 90% of success is just showing up whereas citiots took any excuse not to go to work, but still expected to get paid. People can be taught skills but they can’t be taught attitude.

      I assume everyone I deal with is an idiot and I’m often right. I’ve developed a few work-arounds. I ask people to repeat what I told them “just so we’re on the same page.” It’s better to catch mistakes at the beginning rather than try to fix them at the end. Or, if something takes a while, I’ll ask for progress reports. Show me what you’ve done so far. My favorite phrase is ‘don’t tell me, but show me.” It’s another way of correcting mistakes before they get out of hand.

      Another thing I do, especially on the phone, is ask for their name. That way they know they can be held accountable so they’re more inclined to do a better job. I do it in person also. I always carry a pen and small note pad. I ask their name and make sure they see me write it down. And, when I find someone who does a good job, I try to go back to them and show my gratitude because even a simple “Thank you” goes a long way.

      However, nothing is foolproof and fools often find ways to screw up despite all efforts. Another of my favorite phrases is “Whadya expect during the decline of civilization?” And, yes, it is frustrating.

      • Erin says:

        Thanks for your rapid reply! Love your citiots! And they ARE dumbed down from all the predictive programming and mind control of media, entertainment, etc. All of which I avoid. I only research and study topics to educate myself. Thats what I find entertaining. I love how you assume most people are idiots and you’re absolutely right! Is it a genetic mutation of some sort? Just returned from the dealer, where I related I had my Cadi for a week to only to get it back with light back on within 5 days. They had a car reserved, yet service guy asked me to WAIT WHILE THEY CHECKED IT OUT! WHAT? I SAID I WAS PROMISED A LOANER, CANNOT WAIT. (I HAD ALREADY APPROACHED THE DAZED, CONFUSED MECHANIC WHO HAD SCANNER PLUGGED IN, COULD SEE HE WAS COMPLETELY BAFFLED. THERE WAS NO WAY HE WAS GOING TO FIX IT QUICKLY.
        I had to again request my loaner. It’s been hours and no update, so they haven’t figured it out. Still he expected me to wait? Rude to even suggest, I’m sorry. I just felt he was resentful that they failed to repair my car, I had to return and now they are being “put out”! And watch now, he’ll likely fabricate a pricey “problem”. Another thing, have you ever noticed how they always try and get their hands in your wallet, if you appear to have accomplished more in your life than they? As they lack the aptitude or skills and basic BRAIN POWER to have achieved any degree of success!
        Anyway, I pressed on cheerily to the store for my small overcharge, got a full refund and apology. (It’s the principle and was on the way.) Even this gal looked at both documents, receipt, raincheck and didn’t see the error, until AGAIN, I pointed it out. IT WAS AS IF SHE COULDN’T READ THE #’S! MIND BOGGLING, GEROLD! AND EXHAUSTING. IM NEALRY A HERMIT, AS I DREAD THE PUBLIC SO BADLY. IT JUST BOILS DOWN TO SIMPLE CONSIDERATION AND AWARENESS. I truly believe they’re putting stuff in the water and food to make people stupid. Im a baby boomer and swear they weren’t this lame even a decade ago. The most obvious solution to an easy issue evades them completely. Then they CLEARLY RESENT my resolution, not grateful that someone can think. I can be condescending, I admit, but seriously, who wouldn’t after all this AND MORE? Basic common sense and reason continually eludes EVERYONE lately. Its a mass epidemic! When I do meet someone “sharp”, I’m taken aback and compliment them! What a rarity! Thanks for your time. It’s truly refreshing to meet someone like minded! Congrats!

        • gerold says:

          I see you’re still having challenges with your Cadi dealer, Erin. You should keep a journal with times and dates in case you ever decide to sue GM.

          You’re right about that age group. I can’t explain it. Some people think it’s the fluoride in the water, but they’ve been fluoridating water for decades so that can’t be it. Besides, I’m immune to conspiracy theories which seem to infect almost everyone nowadays.

          Keep in mind that incompetent people don’t recognize or appreciate people more competent than they are. I recall someone asking me if stupid people realize they’re stupid. I said, no they don’t, otherwise they wouldn’t be stupid. It’s the same with incompetent people. It takes a great deal of self-awareness for an incompetent person to recognize that they’re incompetent and a lot of courage to admit it.

          Chin up and don’t let the idiots grind you down

          – Gerold

  14. Marc Pilon says:


    Your post is excellent.

    I’m currently in the midst of an existential crisis: I’ve been working for the public service for about 7 years and increasingly I’m having difficulty stomaching incompetent people, of which there are many here. At work, I’m known as a highly competent but critical employee. A shit disturber, if you like.

    You’re right about blaming the organization : it’s much better to be bold and leave. This is something I’ve done several times over the years. Now, however, I’m about six years to retirement, not wealthy, and therefore feel somewhat less bold, especially given that I’m an older worker (61).

    Still, you’re absolutely right on that point (and the others about incompetence).

    Your post has given me much to reflect about!


    • gerold says:

      Thanks, Marc. You make good points.

      For what it’s worth, I’m of an age I could retire comfortably tomorrow with a DB pension, but I choose to continue working perhaps another two years. First, there’s too much economic uncertainty and I want to see which way the wind blows before I go on a fixed income. In the second place, at my age, time goes so fast that two years will be over before I know it. In your case, you’ll find that the last six years goes a lot faster than the first six.

      I also find that the older I get the less the incompetent idiots bother me. It seems age makes me allergic to incompetence.

      – Gerold

      • Marc Pilon says:


        Good points, all.

        In fact, before leaving my first reply, I was thinking that maybe I needed to change my attitude towards the incompetents. This is what Viktor Frankl, a psychologist who was interned in a concentration camp, advocates. If he survived his incredible hardships and even grew as a human being, perhaps I can too.

        The pity is that I really love my work (translation for a Canadian provincial health insurance board) and view it as very useful for the people receiving the documents. What really gets me is the incompetents who can’t organize their work and the work of others, thereby generating confusion and creating false emergencies down the line. And, naturally they’ll blame others as a diversion strategy. They also have a propensity for meddling in the work of competent people and are often ironically seeking higher administrative positions. Of course there is a logic to all of this, albeit twisted…

        I’ll give some further thoughts to your excellent comments!


  15. Fascinating. This is one of those areas of invisibility that are like dangerous potholes in the road of life. It’s hard to spot something that is not there, when it should be. Bravo!

    Another area of fascination: Orwellian language (and belief, attitude) manipulation. Now, American wars are “peacekeeping” actions. Conspiracies don’t exist (they’re a fantasy), yet my own research shows that they’re “Dirt Ordinary.”

    Would be interesting to see your take on psychopaths. They know the difference between right and wrong, but don’t care. And when they have $Trillion$ at their disposal and governments and their agencies at their beck and call, it kind of takes one’s breath away. Like when the “world” is afraid of warmth in the middle of an ongoing Ice Age. A masterpiece of marketing.

  16. This is a very good blog post. I shared it on Facebook, as I found the information well worth presenting to others.

  17. M says:

    After many years, finally someone told me I was incompetent. They are right and I wish someone had told me sooner. I’ve done a great disservice to many students because I thought I was doing well when in fact, I’ve been an idiotic fool. So if your employee is incompetent, tell them. You’ll save them the heartbreaking pain (that I assure is very real) of knowing they were incompetent for many years.

  18. bbushh says:

    Unfortunately I find people working in government jobs should be given at least their first “strike” as a preemptive measure…….maybe 2 “strikes”….. hmmm…

  19. Paul says:

    But is doing nothing the result of personal incompetence or the system itself? I mean, at this point, it seems breathing will offend someone, so would not the best strategy be to simply do nothing? In addition, if you do something out of SOPs, you will get in trouble. Creativity and adapting to situations is frowned upon. Again, given all this, what else can one do then nothing?

    I mean you are certainly not going to get rewarded for going above and beyond, unless you know the high ups, and certainly won’t get in trouble for not doing anything (As long as you pretend to be doing something).

    • gerold says:

      Good points. Without a doubt, there are organizations that stifle creativity and discourage thinking outside the box. Usually the larger the organization, the more incompetent it is.

      However, I think blaming the organization is a refusal to accept personal responsibility. Incompetent people are drawn to large, incompetent organizations because it’s an easy place for them to hide (a form of “invisibility” discussed in the article). That’s likely why so many useless people work for government bureaucracies.

      One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in a 40 year working career and six decades of living can be summed up in two words: BE BOLD. Nothing good comes to a person who does nothing. Wisdom is knowing how to rock the boat enough to get things done and get ahead without overdoing it and being labelled a ‘loose cannon’.

      If someone is capable and competent, why work for an organization that stifles them? Be bold and find something better suited to one’s talents. Nobody ever said it would be easy, but if it’s easy, chances are a lot of incompetent people are doing it.

      – Gerold

      • Paul says:

        While reward may be the case, the possibility exists where someone else simply takes credit for it. Indeed, even if one is efficient, the boss usually gets the credit. My father worked hard for a hospital system once (Nearly a decade), and he got the pink slip for it. So, again, why bother? Especially since most companies are not going to be there in a couple decades from change and all that.

        I find limiting desires is more effective than working hard for frivolous consumer products, especially if reward is not guaranteed. Curiosity and risk has killed more cats. This is what I call wisdom.

        However, large corporations are the best place to be, since they get all sorts of tax breaks, while smaller businesses, where creativity is allowed, do not, and therefore are becoming rarer. In addition, not wanting to live in a city is a limiting consequence.

        • gerold says:

          Paul, you’re absolutely right that someone will take the credit for your work. But, that’s how you work the system; you make sure your boss looks good to his boss. That way, your boss has your back and he has the incentive to protect you so you can continue making him look good.

          I willingly coached my own staff on this and I wouldn’t hire anyone who had a problem with this. Likely they were glory-hounds and I refuse to hire glory-hounds because they were in it for themselves and not supportive of the team’s efforts to do their jobs and make our boss look good.

          There has to be a balance. I once took a lateral transfer to get away from a boss who took all the credit and blamed me and my team for his mistakes. He didn’t deserve me or my capabilities. Nobody wanted to work for him. He had a nervous breakdown. Good riddance.

          And yes, limiting desires is more effective than consuming gadgets. To attain wealth, it’s not what you make, but what you keep. This was driven home when I read an article about a multi-millionaire who buys his light bulbs at the dollar store.

          One needs to find a balance between working for soul-sucking, large corporations with more benefits and, on the other hand creative and more personal small businesses with fewer perks. Unfortunately, out-of-control government regulations are killing small businesses. This not only makes the above choices harder but it’s killing the job creators.

          – Gerold

          • Paul says:

            I haven’t thought about teamwork this way. Good to know.

            For me, time is more important than money. I am young and hopefully have years ahead of me, but I know it will go by quick if I do not value it.

          • gerold says:

            Very wise of you to recognize that time is more important than money. Most people don’t realize that until old age. I recall talking to an 85 year old a long time ago who said at his age it seems like it’s time to get up for breakfast about every 15 minutes.

            I didn’t understand him then, but I do now. Life is like a roll of toilet paper; the closer you get to the end, the faster it goes.

            – Gerold

  20. Kelly says:

    Come on Gerold. Everybody needs a paycheque. Stop being so hard on 50% of people out there. 😉

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