The benefits of playing it close to the vest at work

Image of David Zweig

When it comes to hiding knowledge from your colleagues, not all behaviour can be considered equally negative. In fact, some types of knowledge hiding may actually improve co-worker relationships and break the cycle of the negative behaviours within organizations.

The research, co-authored by David Zweig, Chair of UTSC’s Department of Management, reveals that while different types of knowledge hiding exist within an organization there are important differences in the way both perpetrators and targets interpret the behaviour.

Specifically, targets of so-called “rationalized hiding ” (for example, saying a report is confidential) react more positively to having their request for knowledge denied and reported improved relationships with the perpetrators. In response, targets are less likely to retaliate and hide knowledge from others. This in turn might help disrupt the pattern of employees hiding knowledge from each other.

“Some types of knowledge hiding may actually enhance the relationships between colleagues and break the cycle of knowledge hiding in organizations,” says Zweig.

It raises the question, why hide knowledge in the first place?

“Members of an organization are competing for finite resources, whether it’s a promotion or to gain greater influence within their organization,” says Zweig. “Employees are supposed to be working as a team but there are strong incentives to hide knowledge because knowledge gives power within an organization.”