Knowledge-hiding in the workplace is common and takes different forms, some more harmful than others, according to new research by Catherine E. Connelly, an associate business professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and David Zweig, an associate management professor at the University of Toronto, Scarborough.
Theirs was not a study of inadvertent communication failures. (That’s a research topic in itself.) Rather, the professors examined the deliberate attempt “to withhold or conceal knowledge that has been requested by another member of the organization.” Based on surveys at a range of workplaces, they were able to trace a “continuum of deception” among knowledge hiders, Professor Zweig said in an interview.
On the least-damaging end of the spectrum, employees felt that they were justified in concealing information when, for example, it was deemed confidential. (Indeed, revealing a piece of juicy confidential gossip could be grounds for dismissal in some cases.)
Further along on the spectrum, the researchers found that workers might withhold knowledge that a colleague legitimately needs by “playing dumb” — saying they will provide the information later and never following through — or by giving incorrect or incomplete information.
Why would people act in a way so contrary to their employer’s interests? Because the cliché that knowledge is power holds some truth, Professor Zweig said. “Even though every organization touts the benefits of teams,” he said, “we’re often rewarded individually for our performance.”I think there's plenty of things that weren't covered by the article, including the possibilities that the information requested:
- would be used for the greater glory of the asker.
- would be used for the greater glory of the asker, without the giver being granted credit.
- would be used in the incorrect context and would politically damage the information giver.