What causes knowledge hiding in organizations and how can it be averted? Professors Peng He, School of Management Fudan University, and Chris Bell, Schulich School of Business, York University Canada explore the causes, impact, and remedies of the phenomenon.
Conflict, Envy and Knowledge Hiding: A chain reaction, by CoBS Editor Pavan Jumbai. Related research: How and when intragroup relationship conflict leads to knowledge hiding: the roles of envy and trait competitiveness, International Journal of Conflict Management · November 2020.
For quite a few years now and the foreseeable future, global and local economies are shifting towards being knowledge-focused. In such a scenario, the consequences of knowledge hiding – the intentional attempt by an individual to withhold or conceal knowledge requested by another person – are catastrophic to the organisation.
Professors Peng and Bell analyse the causes and effects of knowledge hiding. While there can be various causes such as time pressure, ethical leadership and individual factors such as motivation, the professors focus on a particular factor that is widely credited for initiating knowledge hiding – relationship conflict. After understanding the causes, we look at a few methods to mitigate and eventually cease knowledge hiding.
Relationship conflicts as the spark
To understand and tackle such an important phenomenon, it is essential to look at the cause of it. Knowledge hiding, the professors claim, is not a spontaneous reaction but rather a gradual reaction that almost always starts with the same trigger – Relationship Conflicts: disagreements among group members about interpersonal issues. For example, personal differences or differences in norms and values.
Studies have consistently shown that while the conflicts that arise during a task over the method or content of it can lead to positive outcomes due to healthy and constructive criticism, relationship conflicts can lower group performance, harm group creativity, and increase counterproductive work behavior. When the goal of the individual digresses from the success of the mission to personal success or failure, it inevitably leads to relationship conflicts.
Envy and Competitiveness as the catalysts
Now that causes are strongly established, Professors Peng and Bell move on to find if there are specific catalysts that can accelerate the phenomenon. And indeed, there is not just one but two such catalysts – envy and competitiveness.
Envy is a painful, social, self-conscious “emotion of wanting an advantage that another person has and/or wishing the other did not have it”. Competitiveness refers to “the enjoyment of interpersonal competition and the desire to win and be better than others”. As evident from the definitions, both these characteristics arise from individual social comparisons and often lead to inferiority, hostility, and resentment through adverse behavior.
The crux of the argument is that relationship conflict is a trigger for competition and social comparison and so will promote envy which eventually leads to knowledge hiding. In a reaction that starts with relationship conflict and ends with knowledge hiding, competitiveness and envy play a vital role as very effective catalysts in increasing the pace and strength of the reaction.
Knowledge hiding as the end product
Initiated by relationship conflict and fuelled by envy and competitiveness, knowledge hiding is widely prevalent in workplaces, with 76% of employees having withheld knowledge from their colleagues and 60% of employees having experienced difficulty in obtaining important knowledge and information from their colleagues. So how can an organisation combat this pervasive issue?
An effective solution to combat knowledge hiding is to manage intragroup relationship conflict, for instance, by fostering a friendly and collaborative environment that will improve the relationships within the group or team. The undesirable effects of competition can be mitigated by increasing cooperation, refocusing the target, and engaging both employees and managers.
Professors Peng and Bell argue that as the need to defend one’s standing becomes less salient, employees should abstain from knowledge hiding. Perhaps the most important and sought-after resource in an organisation is knowledge. This makes it all the more an imperative to ensure that knowledge hiding remains a marginal – if not inexistent – characteristic of the employees and the organization itself.
- Link up with Peng He and Chris Bell on LinkedIn
- Read a related article: Why and when do employees hide knowledge?
- Discover School of Management Fudan University
- Apply for the Fudan-MIT International MBA programme.
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