Hide and Seek can be fun to play but it isn’t any fun at all if you don’t even know you are IN the game!
A colleague told me they discovered a problem with a sub-contractor and reached out to resolve the issue. After texts, voice mail messages, and emails, combined with confusion, worry, and then anger at getting no response, she issued the ultimatum of a deadline and a canceled contract. It was only then that she received a response: an explanation that the person was having some challenges.
So now, instead of an apology, my colleague is getting the message that her attempts to resolve a business issue with the person best suited to do that doesn’t warrant anything other than accepting their absence. This actually serves to add to her frustration.
Rather than resolving the issue, the person that is needed to solve the problem hides out. They think they are avoiding another’s anger when in reality they are fueling it. They may think they are avoiding shame or embarrassment and they are simply burying it a little deeper.
Genuine problem solving is the exact opposite of this. It’s pretty simple – when you encounter a problem, you fix it. If only it was as simple to do. Effective and open communication are invaluable skills in the workplace and sharing knowledge is essential for problem-solving. When there is no response and it seems like you are being ‘ghosted’ at work – that usually creates the exact opposite result: problem maintenance.
Frustrating as it may be to discover this – not everyone wants to share information. Hiding knowledge is the deliberate act of withholding or even concealing information. People can pretend to be uninformed, offer inaccurate information, promise to share information or get back to you – but never do, or find excuses about why they are not engaged in solving the problem.
Why Do People Hide Out?
It could be due to a fear of losing power or the status that is achieved through knowing information. Or it could be that there is worry about being judged about what is known or not known, or that the relationship isn’t really very good. People might be hiding because there is a ‘cost’ to sharing and if those costs are personal – like shame or embarrassment – knowledge is held back for protection. Somehow, there is an expectation that there is an advantage to be gained by hiding out.
Does hiding out protect and benefit those who do that? The obvious answer is no.
I’ve read some studies that indicate that people who hide out are less likely to be happy at work. Hiding information can cause others to feel less safe in their jobs. It can follow that if someone is hiding out, they are less likely to build honest and meaningful relationships with colleagues. That in turn makes it harder to have a positive attitude about both work and others. While that is not good for those hiding out, this behavior frustrates and angers their colleagues, and that spreads that ‘not good’ feeling around the workplace.
Can Anything Be Done?
Hiding out and hiding information is harmful to those that do it and those that work with them, as well as bad for the workplace. It makes sense to create workplace relationships where people feel comfortable speaking openly about their concerns. That can mean regular meetings to talk about concerns and problems. Not texts or emails – meetings that provide the opportunity for conversation.
There is value to educating those you work with about the very real consequences of hiding information and hiding out. The people who engage in this behavior may not truly understand that while they think they are protecting themselves their behavior is actually having the opposite effect. Changing this kind of behavior may not be easy as some folks have had years of developing hiding into a highly developed habit, so patience is required.
Hiding out and hiding knowledge is a lot more common than you might think. The first thing to do is acknowledge reality. How many requests (emails, texts, voice mail messages) should it take for you to talk with someone you work with? Together you can make the changes that are needed to improve things.
if you are left alone, they may not like the decisions that are made.