Some people just can’t person. Scientists have yet to discover the gene for total incompetence. They probably never will.
Take my boss, for example.
One time he enrolled 50 students into a classroom with 20 desks. He also scheduled three courses in the same room at the same time. After saving the day, I showed him how to use spreadsheets.
“You’re amazing at this,” he said the second time. “Maybe we should make it part of your job.” When I glared, he said he was kidding.
But then it actually happened.
Underlings like me have taken over about half of our boss’s responsibilities. When we start to complain, he tells us to delegate more.
“Delegate to who?” we ask.
Our boss looks at us like we’re the morons. “Each other,” he says.
Stop wondering what’s wrong with people.
Rumor has it that our president spends hours in his office drinking wine and taking selfies. I thought, “Pics or it didn’t happen.”
That was a lie. Because when I finally saw pics, my mind almost broke. It couldn’t accept the information.
The president offered one of our students wine, and she showed me the selfie to prove it. There he was, glass in hand.
He had one of those special sticks.
You wonder what on earth goes through a person’s head, and how they managed to get where they are now. This question has kept some of us up at night. But no longer. I’m done contemplating incompetence.
I’ll still tell funny stories about it. But now I’m focused on managing my moronic bosses as well as my stress. I’ve developed a process.
Everyone screws up. When that happens, we admit our mistakes and fix them. You can’t expect more than that. Incompetent people do the opposite. They screw things up often. They don’t apologize. Rarely do they fix their mistakes. Even worse, they never learn from them.
There’s no use making excuses for this class of person. When Karen screws up five times in a row, don’t lie to yourself.
It doesn’t matter if she’s going through a hard time. Plenty of us have to deal with more than we should.
Validate your judgement.
There’s also no use complaining about incompetent people at length. Doing that just makes you more like them. It’s funny how many times I’ve listened to someone lose their mind over a coworker.
They’ll spend half an hour venting when they could be working. I’ve probably done that myself on occasion.
Everyone needs to vent now and then. But here’s a better idea. Just validate what you’re feeling.
That’s what a vent really is. So just cut to the chase. Call a friend, or talk to a coworker you can trust. Say, “I think X is happening, and it’s a problem. Do you agree? What can we do about it?” The last part is important. If someone’s making your job or life a pain, then you have to alleviate. Otherwise, you’re going to keep complaining in circles.
Quarantine your troublemakers.
A few years ago, I watched an office aide try to drive a golf cart down a flight of brick stairs. The golf cart was full of teens. It almost flipped over, which would’ve really upset the parents.
After maneuvering the golf cart off the stairs, our team made a difficult decision. We pulled him in for a calm meeting. “Tom, we think it’s best if you don’t drive the golf cart anymore.”
That meant more work for us. But not as much work as having to call parents and explain broken bones over the phone.
Also, it gave us peace of mind. We didn’t have to worry about what else he might try to do with the golf cart.
We already know that a truly incompetent person doesn’t learn from their mistakes. Despite multiple interventions, they never change their behavior. That’s the whole problem.
Arguing with incompetent people does nothing but waste your time and raise your blood pressure. You’ll never make them see things your way.
Continuing to interact with them like a competent person creates future opportunities for them to let you down.
So just stop. If you can’t fire them, at least remove clueless people from the things they’re screwing up. Even if it means taking on their work yourself. Consider it a quarantine. Your goal is to limit the number of ways they can make your life difficult.
Don’t make a big show of quarantining someone. It’s actually better if they don’t know what you’re doing. When you see them, smile. Say hi. You don’t have to be their friend. You just have to keep them under control. When you start feeling resentful, remember the energy you’re saving.
Decide what’s worth your time.
Maybe you’re tired of saving someone from themselves. Sometimes you don’t have a choice. If you don’t fix their mistakes, it causes problems for you. Other times, you do have a choice.
Some mistakes don’t lead to immanent disaster. They just slow things down and irritate everyone.
Let these mistakes happen. If you have time, document them. Don’t start conflicts with the problem person. Send the reports to your boss. If your boss is the issue, then send them to his boss and copy HR.
Keep your eyes on the prize.
We all have to deal with at least one incompetent coworker, or boss. Don’t distract yourself with internal rants. No, it’s not fair that you have to babysit them. But you have to focus on why you’re doing it.
You’re not cleaning up other people’s messes because you enjoy it. You don’t get off on playing the martyr. (At least, you shouldn’t.) You’re adulting for them in order to achieve your own goals.
We’ll probably never know what makes certain people so useless. Great minds have tried. The best you can do is treat and manage. Remember that, and you’ll keep your sanity.