Hiding Knowledge From Coworkers Makes The Hider Less Creative

In cutthroat, competitive workplaces, employees may be tempted to hide what they know from their colleagues in order to prevent coworkers from gaining an edge. But such duplicity redounds to the detriment of the hider, reports a study published in the Academy of Management Journal.

The research, led by Matej Cerne of Ljubljana University in Slovenia, finds that “knowledge hiding prevents colleagues from generating creative ideas, but it may also have negative consequences for the creativity of the knowledge hider.” When employees hide knowledge, the authors write, “they trigger a reciprocal distrust loop in which coworkers are unwilling to share knowledge with them.” In other words, everyone is worse off.

In an article about the study published by Business News Daily, journalist Chad Brooks points out that knowledge-hiding behavior is more common in some kinds of offices than in others:

“Specifically, in workplaces that have a ‘performance climate,’ where employees are encouraged to compete with each other in the belief that this enhances performance, workers have an incentive to hide knowledge, Cerne said.

Cerne adds: ‘But they’re not likely to gain from it, because in the tit-for-tat culture that prevails in such settings, co-workers will respond in kind, and the culprit’s standing with the boss will probably suffer.’”

By contrast, Cerne tells Brooks, employees are less likely to engage in knowledge-hiding when they work in an office that promotes a “mastery climate,” in which the emphasis is on cooperation and learning.

This research reads to me like a strong argument for promoting a workplace culture of collaboration, cooperation, and “giving,” to borrow a term from the wonderful book by Adam Grant, Give And Take.

Brilliant readers, what do you think? Have you witnessed people hiding knowledge from colleagues at the place where you work?

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