How perpetrators and targets construe knowledge hiding in
Catherine E. Connelly
and David Zweig
DeGroote School of Business, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada
Department of Management, University of Toronto Scarborough, Toronto, ON, Canada
Research has begun to document the negative organizational consequences of knowledge hiding, or the intentional attempt to
conceal knowledge, among employees. However, different knowledge hiding behaviours exist, and we explore whether some
types of knowledge hiding are more harmful than others. Although theory would suggest that knowledge hiders rationalize their
behaviours and fail to anticipate the negative consequences of their behaviours, we found that they did anticipate harmed
relationships and retaliation. In addition, targets of knowledge hiding did not always construe the behaviour as harmful or as
necessitating retaliation. Overall, our research suggests that not all knowledge hiding is equally harmful. Some types of
knowledge hiding may actually enhance the relationships between colleagues and might break the cycle of knowledge hiding in
Keywords: Knowledge hiding; Knowledge sharing; Social construals; Interpersonal relationships.
Employees are expected to share their knowledge with their
co-workers (Cabrera & Cabrera, 2002; Gagné, 2009), and
organizations invest tremendous effort and expense in
developing knowledge management systems to facilitate
this transfer (e.g., Wang & Noe, 2010). Many organizations
take steps to increase employee knowledge sharing among
employees, including developing reward systems (e.g.,
Bock, Zmud, Kim, & Lee, 2005; Swap, Leonard, Shields,
& Abrams, 2001), enhancing social networks and interper-
sonal relationships (e.g., Jarvenpaa & Majchrzak, 2008;
Kankahalli, Tan, & Wei, 2005; Kuvaas, Buch, & Dysvik,
2012;Škerlavaj, Dimovski, Mrvar, & Pahor, 2010)and
crafting organizational cultures that support knowledge
sharing (Connelly & Kelloway, 2003; Jarvenpaa &
Staples, 2001; Muller, Spiliopoulou, & Lenz, 2005).
Despite the organizational beneﬁts of knowledge
sharing among employees, many workers are reluctant
to share their knowledge with their colleagues. As noted
by Cabrera and Cabrera (2002), divulging personal
insights into one’s co-workers involves a social
dilemma. Although employees recognize that knowledge
sharing may beneﬁt the broader group, they are also
aware of the potential personal costs that sharing may
involve. For example, some employees may fear loss of
unique status or power (Ulrike, Beatriz, Jurgen, &
Friedrich, 2005), whereas others may be apprehensive
of being evaluated (Bordia, Irmer, & Abusah, 2006) and
thus adjust their behaviour accordingly.
In consequence, many employees do not actually share
all their knowledge (Cress, Kimmerle, & Hesse, 2006). In
fact, employees may engage in “knowledge hiding”,
where they attempt to withhold or conceal knowledge
that has been requested by another member of the orga-
nization (Connelly, Zweig, Webster, & Trougakos, 2012).
Interpersonal dynamics inﬂuence whether someone is
likely to hide knowledge—employees tend to engage in
knowledge hiding against co-workers they distrust (Černe,
Nerstad, Dysvik, & Škerlavaj, 2014; Connelly et al.,
2012). However, situational factors are also important
—employees are more likely to hide when the knowledge
is complex, when it is not task related and when employ-
ees perceive that there is not a climate of sharing in their
organization (Connelly et al., 2012).
We are beginning to understand the conditions under
which people are inclined to hide knowledge and what
the consequences of this behaviour might be. For exam-
ple, Peng (2013) found that territoriality concerns can
inﬂuence how much knowledge people will withhold
from others. In addition, Černe et al. (2014)have identi-
ﬁed important consequences of knowledge hiding,
Correspondence should be addressed to Catherine E. Connelly, DeGroote School of Business, McMaster University, 1280 Main Street West,
Hamilton, ON, Canada L8S 4M4. E-mail: email@example.com
Both authors contributed equally to this work.
European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 2015
Vol. 24, No. 3, 479–489, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1359432X.2014.931325
© 2014 Taylor & Francis
showing that knowledge hiding reduces the creativity of
people who engage in it and triggers a reciprocal distrust
loop that leads to further hiding. Our research builds on
these ﬁndings by examining the anticipated interpersonal
consequences of knowledge hiding from the perspectives
of the knowledge hider (the perpetrator) and the person
who believes that knowledge has been hidden from him
or her (the target). Because knowledge hiding involves
ambiguous situations and subjective evaluations (i.e.,
individuals never know the full extent to which a
colleague is hiding knowledge), we use construals as a
framework to explain how individuals interpret and
respond to knowledge hiding.
Our article is structured as follows. In Study 1, we
develop and test a model of the consequences to an
individual who has hidden knowledge from a co-worker
(the perpetrator). In Study 2, we retest this model with a
new sample to assess the consequences for employees
who believe that a co-worker is hiding knowledge from
him or her (the target). In both studies, we note differential
outcomes for the various types of knowledge hiding (i.e.,
playing dumb, rationalized hiding, evasive hiding).
Finally, we discuss implications for research and practice.
Connelly et al. (2012)identiﬁed knowledge hiding is an
intentional attempt by an individual to withhold or
conceal knowledge that has been requested by another
person and demonstrated that knowledge hiding is com-
prised of three separate but related factors—rationalized
hiding (i.e., the hider is offering a justiﬁcation for
failing to provide requested knowledge by either sug-
gesting he or she is unable to provide the knowledge
requested or blaming another party), playing dumb (i.e.,
the hider pretends to be ignorant of the relevant knowl-
edge) and evasive hiding (i.e., the hider provides incor-
rect information or a misleading promise of a complete
answer in the future, even though there is no intention
to actually provide this). According to Connelly et al.
(2012), people are more likely to hide knowledge from
those who they distrust, but the speciﬁc knowledge
hiding behaviour that they use may be affected by
their perceptions of the context. For example, people
are less likely to engage in evasive hiding when the
organizational climate supports knowledge sharing, but
more likely to be evasive when addressing complex
questions. We build on these ﬁndings to discover the
consequences of the different knowledge hiding
Knowledge hiding is not a uniform set of negative
behaviours. Unlike counterproductive workplace beha-
viours, knowledge hiding is not necessarily intended to
harm an individual or the organization. Rather, it is a
common response to a given situation. Indeed, knowl-
edge hiding has been distinguished from a number of
related, but distinct, behaviours such as deception, social
undermining, incivility and territoriality (e.g., Webster
et al., 2008). Interestingly, research on the reciprocal
effects of workplace behaviours such as aggression has
adopted a variety of theoretical frameworks to explain
the effects of these behaviours. For example, Glomb and
Liao (2003) adopted a social information processing
(Salancik & Pfeffer, 1978) and a social learning
framework (Bandura, 1977) to explain why victims of
workplace aggression would retaliate with aggression.
However, we note that workplace aggression is often
overt. Knowledge hiding behaviours, in contrast, range
from more overt actions to more covert ones.
Knowledge hiding has been previously shown to be
distinct from a lack of knowledge sharing. Connelly
et al. (2012) suggest that knowledge hiding and knowl-
edge sharing result from different motivational sources
and they demonstrate this difference empirically. For
example, knowledge hiding might be motivated by
instrumental or anti-social drives, whereas knowledge
sharing is often pro-socially motivated. In addition, a
lack of knowledge sharing is not an intentional attempt
to hide knowledge. In much the same way that counter-
productive workplace behaviours are distinct from
organizational citizenship behaviours, knowledge hiding
and knowledge sharing represent separate behaviours.
As such, it is difﬁcult to generalize from research on
knowledge sharing to explain the consequences that may
arise from knowledge hiding. Our research is an
important ﬁrst step in this regard.
Although we have some evidence about why employ-
ees may engage in knowledge hiding, it is not clear what
the consequences are of this behaviour. To date, only one
study has explored the consequences of knowledge hid-
ing. Černe et al. (2014) demonstrated that being a target
of knowledge hiding elicits a reciprocal distrust loop
with the perpetrator that can also diminish creativity.
Further, these researchers found that these effects were
exacerbated in a performance-oriented climate. We aim
to further explore the consequences of knowledge hiding
by investigating how targets and perpetrators of knowl-
edge hiding construe the behaviour. Thus, we use
construal theory as a guiding theoretical framework to
explore the outcomes of knowledge hiding.
Beginning with Lewin’s(1948) work highlighting the
importance of one’s subjective understanding of a
situation, it is acknowledged that how people construe
an event or action will shape their reactions. Self-con-
struals, or how people perceive their relationships with
others, are comprised of our independent, relational and
collective selves (Kashima et al., 1995) and can guide
our cognitions, emotions and behaviours. Relevant to
knowledge hiding is the fact that self-construals and
particularly relational self-construals can affect percep-
tions of interpersonal conﬂict (Gelfand et al., 2001).
Based on this research, we expect that how people
construe the act of knowledge hiding, from the perspec-
tive of those who engage in the act and from the
480 CONNELLY AND ZWEIG
perspective of those who encounter it, will inﬂuence
their cognitions, affect and behaviours.
Knowledge hiding is difﬁcult to study because of the
inherent complexity of examining perceptions of a beha-
viour that has been intentionally concealed. According to
Robinson, Keltner, Ward, and Ross (1995), people’s
interpretations of behaviour play an important role in
determining their responses to ambiguous situations
(i.e., such as knowledge hiding). Indeed, people tend to
overstate their ability to accurately determine the inten-
tions of the people with whom they interact; in essence,
it is their subjective construals (i.e., not objective apprai-
sals) that guide reactions to others’behaviours.
Within the realm of construals is the actor–observer
perspective, which determines how an action is inter-
preted differently by multiple observers. Wojciszke
(1994) demonstrated that actors will view their own
behaviour in competence terms (e.g., it is efﬁcient in
accomplishing goals), whereas observers will view the
same behaviour in moral terms (e.g., linking the action to
the intended goal), when the behaviour is performed by
someone else. It is possible that actors (perpetrators) will
construe their actions from a competence perspective but
targets of knowledge hiding will construe the act as
being immoral. Depending on the perspective of the
person (perpetrator or target), the act of knowledge hid-
ing will be perceived very differently. Indeed, Gordon
and Miller (2000) found that actors and observers make
fundamentally different attributions for behaviours such
as lying. Their research suggests that actors attribute
their own lying to situational factors, but attribute
observers’lying to dispositional factors.
The way in which perpetrators and targets construe
the act of knowledge hiding will have an inﬂuence on
their respective reactions to this behaviour. Past research
has linked self-construals to a wide range of perceptions,
processes and outcomes and has been applied to explain
how individuals react to injustice and make social
comparisons (Richman & Leary, 2009). Speciﬁcally,
reactions to rejection have been found to elicit affective
outcomes (e.g., hurt feelings, sadness, anger) and reac-
tionary motivations such as a heightened desire for social
connection, antisocial reactions and withdrawal. These
different reactions are linked to how the event is
construed. Thus, we use a self-construal lens to examine
the impact of knowledge hiding on both perpetrators and
targets. By considering both parties’perspectives, we
explore differences in how knowledge hiding is con-
strued, justiﬁed, reacted to and identify some of the
consequences for perpetrators and targets. Speciﬁcally,
we investigate the impact of knowledge hiding on the
quality of interpersonal relationships among perpetrators
(Study 1) and targets (Study 2) and future intentions to
withhold knowledge in the future. These results offer
important implications for enhancing knowledge sharing
and mitigating the effects of knowledge hiding in
STUDY 1: KNOWLEDGE HIDERS’
As noted by Gordon and Miller (2000), whose research
focused on how individuals respond to possible decep-
tion, self-serving motivations and attributions may
inﬂuence individuals’evaluations of others. Their
research suggests that actors and observers may differ
in how they perceive a given communication; people
tend to underappreciate that multiple construals of some-
one else’s behaviour are possible, but also tend to believe
that their own behaviours are altruistically motivated.
According to Gordon and Miller, most individuals can
maintain the belief that they are honest by relying on
hasty, partial or otherwise biased searches for evidence
of their honesty. By relying on deﬁnitions of honesty that
are complimentary to one’s actions, individuals may
consider themselves honest despite the fact that they
tell numerous or serious lies.
These actor–observer differences are more pro-
nounced if the actor’s behaviour is negatively valenced,
due to self-serving bias (Miller & Ross, 1975).
Perpetrators are motivated to engage in cognitions that
rationalize or explain away their negative behaviours by
recalling external or mitigating circumstances. Further,
according to Wojciszke (1994), the multiplicity of beha-
viour features enables different interpretations of the
behaviour. The same actions are construable both in
moral and in competence terms. This actor–observer
perspective determines whether competence or moral
categories are used to construe the same behaviour.
Thus, perpetrators will construe their behaviour in
competence rather than moral terms, but targets are
likely to prefer a moral interpretation.
Within the context of knowledge hiding behaviours, it
is quite plausible that perpetrators will seek to justify
their behaviours using external factors as a way of main-
taining their beliefs that they are honest in their interac-
tions with others. Further, perpetrators of knowledge
hiding might view their behaviour as reﬂecting their
competence. We therefore extend the research of
Gordon and Miller (2000) and Wojciszke (1994) to the
context of knowledge hiding. Although lying and knowl-
edge hiding are both somewhat negative behaviours,
there are important differences. Lying (often termed
deception) is “a message knowingly transmitted by a
sender to foster a false belief or conclusion by the
receiver”and is accomplished via falsiﬁcation, equivoca-
tion or concealment (Buller & Burgoon, 1996, p. 205).
However, only evasive hiding and playing dumb involve
deception; rationalized hiding does not. As such, it is not
yet clear if the consequences are different for people who
hide knowledge and for those who lie. Further, it is not
yet clear if the different types of knowledge hiding by
perpetrators lead to different consequences.
Previous research suggests that actors can construe
their own behaviour altruistically, as being competent,
KNOWLEDGE HIDING CONSTRUALS 481
and can maintain the belief that they are honest (e.g.,
Gordon & Miller, 2000; Wojciszke, 1994). Thus, we
expect that perpetrators who engage in rationalized hid-
ing will view their behaviour as honest and indicative of
competence, and therefore construe that this behaviour
will not harm the relationship with the target or elicit
future intentions to withhold knowledge by the target. As
such, we hypothesize that:
Hypothesis 1a: Perpetrators of rationalized hiding
perceive that it leads to a better relationship with
the target and that it will not lead to future
intentions by the target to withhold knowledge.
Both evasive hiding and playing dumb involve active
attempts at deception. For example, people who are
hiding knowledge by playing dumb must pretend that
they do not have the capacity to provide assistance, even
though this is not true. Similarly, employees who are
engaging in evasive hiding may promise that knowledge
will be forthcoming, even though they do not actually
plan to provide it. We expect that the deception involved
in these strategies will pose problems in that it will
interfere with people’s otherwise positive self-construals.
Despite most people’s predisposition to see themselves
as honest and altruistic (e.g., Gordon & Miller, 2000), it
will be much more difﬁcult for those engaging in evasive
hiding or playing dumb to maintain these beliefs while
engaging in these deceptive behaviours. As such, we
hypothesize the following:
Hypothesis 1b: Perpetrators who engage in evasive
hiding perceive that it leads to a worse relationship
with the target and future intentions by the target to
Hypothesis 1c: Perpetrators who engage in playing
dumb perceive that it leads to a worse relationship
with the target and future intentions by the target to
In an interview study of employees, Connelly et al.
(2012) found that co-workers who believed that a col-
league had hidden knowledge from them felt that the
relationship was damaged and indicated a desire to
retaliate against hiders. To expand on this, the goal of
this study was to test the relations between three dif-
ferent knowledge hiding strategies and two different
outcomes of knowledge hiding. As such, we conducted
a survey of employees who hid knowledge from co-
workers. As part of a larger study, participants were
recruited through email messages, and those who parti-
cipated were entered into a lottery to receive gift certi-
ﬁcates from an online organization. An examination of
early versus late respondents revealed no signiﬁcant
differences. Consistent with suggestions for studying
deviant behaviours (Bennett & Robinson, 2003), we
used a critical incident technique in which participants
were asked to describe a recent knowledge hiding inci-
dent at work. As with prior research (Connelly et al.,
2012), we did not deﬁne the term “knowledge”for
participants, because this may depend on the context
and the individuals involved; that is, we let respondents
decide what knowledge meant to them. Speciﬁcally, the
participant was instructed to:
Please think of a recent episode in which someone
requested knowledge from you, and you declined
to share this knowledge or expertise or did not give
all of the information needed. For example, you
might not have shown someone how to do some-
thing, only gave a part of the information needed,
declined to tell something he or she needed to
know, or did not help him or her learn something
To make this incident more salient, participants were
then asked to provide a description of this incident.
A total of 194 employees from a voluntary online
panel of English-speaking adults (The StudyResponse
Project: Stanton & Weiss, 2000) completed our ques-
tionnaire. The use of this panel overcomes some of the
limitations of other data collection methods (e.g., the
use of undergraduates or employees from only one or
a few organizations) by sampling from adult employ-
ees in a wide variety of organizations and occupations.
Because of the nature of our research question, this
diversity was an important consideration for our study.
The StudyResponse panel has been widely used (e.g.,
Piccolo & Colquitt, 2006).Theresponseratewas
approximately 11%, which is typical for panel studies.
Although our participants came from around the
world, most participants were North American
(49.2% US, 17.5% Canada), and all spoke English.
Approximately 57% were female and a wide age
range was represented (e.g., 30% between 30 and 39
and 22% between 40 and 49 years of age). Education
varied, with the most prevalent category, at 39%,
being “some college or university”. Total full-time
work experience varied from less than 1 year to over
20 years, representing a variety of functional areas.
Managers made up 36% of the sample and participants
were employed in several industries.
Knowledge hiding. The three sub-dimensions of
knowledge hiding were measured using a scale created
and validated by Connelly et al. (2012). Evasive hiding
was measured with four items, such as “told him/her that
482 CONNELLY AND ZWEIG
I would help him/her out but stalled as much as possi-
ble”. The internal consistency of this scale was accepta-
ble (α= .73). Playing dumb was also measured with four
items, including “said I didn’t know even though I did”
and demonstrated good internal consistency (α= .84).
Rationalized hiding was measured with three items,
including “explained that I would like to tell him/her
but was not supposed to”and demonstrated good inter-
nal consistency (α= .78).
Hurt relationships. Four items assessing potential
damage to the relationship with the colleague who
requested knowledge from him or her were developed
for the purposes of this study. The items are: “this
episode permanently weakens my relationship with my
co-worker”,“this episode makes me trust my coworker
less”,“this episode temporarily weakens my relation-
ship with my coworker”and “this episode makes me
dislike my co-worker”. This measure was reliable
Intentions to withhold. Items assessing target inten-
tions to withhold knowledge from the perpetrator in
the future were developed for the purposes of this
study and measured with four items: “He/she would
probably withhold his/her knowledge from me”,“He/
she would likely keep his/her ideas to himself/herself
if I asked this person asked for help”,“He/she would
plan to keep his/her knowledge from me”and “He/
she would always remember to withhold his/her
expertise from me”. This measure was also reliable
Analysis and results
Item means, correlations and reliabilities are shown in
Table 1. We analysed our data with structural equation
modelling (SEM), which allowed us to test our hypoth-
eses while accounting for measurement error (Kelloway,
1998). The research model was tested using AMOS 19.0
(Arbuckle, 2010) by following the Anderson and
Gerbing (1988) two-step procedure for SEM analysis.
First, a conﬁrmatory factor analysis (CFA) model was
speciﬁed and estimated. This model included ﬁve latent
variables that were allowed to correlate freely with one
another, presented a very good ﬁt[χ
/df = 1.725,
p< .001; IFI = .95; TLI = .94; CFI = .95;
RMSEA = .06] and met the criteria for very good
model ﬁt established by Hu and Bentler (1999).
Furthermore, the ﬁt of the ﬁve-factor model was superior
to the ﬁt of alternative models. The ﬁt of each model is
included in Table 2.
Because the CFA model demonstrated very good ﬁtto
the data, a structural model was speciﬁed to test our
hypotheses (see Figure 1). The ﬁt statistics for this
structural model were good [χ
/df = 1.92, p< .001;
IFI = .94; TLI = .92; CFI = .94; RMSEA = .07]. No
item errors were allowed to correlate.
Hypothesis 1a, which suggested that perpetrators who
engage in rationalized hiding will not perceive that they
harm their interpersonal relationships with the target, or
result in future intentions to withhold knowledge by the
target, was partially supported. Rationalized hiding was
perceived to harm the relationship with the target
(β= .20, p< .05), but it was not related to future
intentions by the target to withhold knowledge.
Hypothesis 1b, which suggested that perpetrators who
engaged in evasive hiding would harm the relationship
Study 1: Perpetrators of knowledge hiding—correlations,
means, standard deviations and internal consistencies
Measure M SD 1 2 3 4 5
3.57 1.62 (.73)
2.07 1.59 .03 (.79)
3.Playing dumb 2.21 2.20 .19** .08 (.84)
2.86 2.86 .15* .20** .27*** (.90)
5.Withholding 3.34 3.34 .11 .12 .40*** .48*** (.92)
Study 1: Perpetrators of knowledge hiding—measurement
RMSEA CMIN/df NFI TLI IFI CFI
Five factor .061 1.725 .90 .94 .95 .95
Four factor: Three hiding,
.133 4.394 .73 .70 .77 .77
Three factor: One hiding,
.117 3.646 .77 .77 .82 .82
Two factor .164 6.169 .60 .54 .64 .64
One factor .19 8.183 .47 .36 .50 .49
Figure 1. Structural equation model for the hypotheses tested in
Study 1: Knowledge hiders’anticipated reactions. Standardized path
coefﬁcients are shown. Dotted lines indicate non-signiﬁcant results.
*p < .05, **p < .01, ***p<.001.
KNOWLEDGE HIDING CONSTRUALS 483
with the target and elicit future intentions to withhold
knowledge by the target, was supported. Evasive hiding
was perceived to harm interpersonal relationships
(β= .76, p< .01) and lead to future intentions to with-
hold knowledge by the target (β= .51, p< .05).
Hypothesis 1c, which suggested that perpetrators who
engaged in playing dumb would harm the relationship
with the target and elicit future intentions to withhold
knowledge by the target, was also partially supported.
Playing dumb was not related to perceptions of a harmed
relationship with the target, but it was signiﬁcantly
related to future intentions to withhold knowledge by
the target (β= .37, p< .001).
In this study, perpetrators report different outcomes
depending on the type of knowledge hiding that was
performed. Even though rationalized hiding is not as
deceptive in nature as evasive hiding or playing dumb,
perpetrators perceive rationalized hiding as likely to be
harmful. However, perpetrators also perceive that their
evasive hiding will lead to a hurt relationship and future
intentions to withhold knowledge by the target. As eva-
sive hiding falls closest to behaviours that are deceptive,
it appears that perpetrators are unable to justify their
actions as being due to the situation or to perceive
themselves to be honest. Evasive hiders appear to
appreciate the negative outcomes that can come from
this type of knowledge hiding behaviour.
Interestingly, perpetrators who engage in playing
dumb do not perceive that they have harmed the relation-
ship with the target. Indeed, although playing dumb
involves deception, it does not involve equivocation, as
does evasive hiding. It merely involves concealment of
knowledge. Thus, perpetrators who engage in playing
dumb might be able to maintain their biased beliefs in
their implicit honesty. However, perpetrators who play
dumb do recognize that targets are likely to withhold
knowledge from them in the future, perhaps recognizing
that reciprocity will not be forthcoming should a request
for knowledge be made.
STUDY 2: TARGETS’REACTIONS TO
Previous research has suggested that rejected targets
respond with negative affect and reactionary motives to
retaliate (Richman & Leary, 2009), and that targets of
knowledge hiding respond with further hiding (Černe
et al., 2014). Thus, we expect that individuals who
perceive that a colleague is hiding knowledge from
them will construe the knowledge hiding event as rejec-
tion. However, people can experience three sets of
motives simultaneously following a rejection event—a
heightened desire for social connections (with the
rejector or others), antisocial desires to defend oneself
or to retaliate against the rejector, and withdrawal from
social contact in order to prevent further rejection. Given
the possible reactions to rejection identiﬁed by Richman
and Leary (2009), rejection can lead to different out-
comes based on the disparate motivations elicited by
the event. It is consequently possible that the different
types of knowledge hiding elicit different motivations in
response to the rejection episode. For example, there is
often a plausible reason provided by perpetrators who
engage in rationalized hiding (e.g., my boss will not let
me share this information), whereas those who engage in
evasive hiding (e.g., I’ll get you that information later)
and playing dumb (e.g., I just don’t know) do not pro-
vide rationales for their behaviour. The presence or
absence of reasonable explanations for the behaviour
might elicit different motivations for the target in
response to the perceived rejection. Speciﬁcally, the rea-
sons offered by someone who engages in rationalized
hiding may elicit the respect of the target, because the
“hider”is fulﬁlling his or her responsibilities. As a result,
targets of rationalized hiding might be motivated to
enhance the social connection with the perpetrator in
an effort to avoid future rejection, whereas targets of
evasive hiding and playing dumb might attempt to
avoid future rejection by withdrawing from the perpe-
trator and retaliating. As such, we hypothesize that:
Hypothesis 2a: Targets of rationalized hiding
perceive a strengthened relationship with the
knowledge hiding perpetrator and report lower
intentions to withhold knowledge in the future.
Hypothesis 2b: Targets of evasive hiding perceive a
harmed relationship with the knowledge hiding
perpetrator and report greater intentions to withhold
knowledge in the future.
Hypothesis 2c: Targets of playing dumb perceive a
harmed relationship with the perpetrator and report
greater intentions to withhold knowledge in the
We used the same critical incident technique as in Study
1, with one adjustment. Participants were instructed to
“think of a recent episode in which you requested
knowledge from a speciﬁc colleague, and he or she
declined to share his or her knowledge or expertise
with you or did not give you all of the information
The same measures described in Study 1 were used but
with minor modiﬁcations because the participants were
knowledge hiding targets (not perpetrators).
484 CONNELLY AND ZWEIG
A total of 210 employees from the same voluntary online
panel of English-speaking adults used in Study 1
completed our questionnaire. The response rate was
approximately 11%. Again, most were North American
(53.3% US, 14.8% Canada), and all spoke English.
Approximately 56% were female and a wide age range
was represented (e.g., 23.8% were between 30 and 39
and 23.3% were between 40 and 49 years of age;
SD = 1.43). Education varied, with the most prevalent
category, at 36.2%, being “some college or university”.
Total full-time work experience varied from less than 1
year to over 20 years, with most respondents having
between 2 and 5 years of experience at their current
organization, representing a variety of functional areas
(e.g., administration, sales, information technology, ser-
vices). Approximately 35% of the sample held manage-
ment positions, and participants were employed in many
industries (e.g., real estate, transportation, health,
Table 3 shows the means, standard deviations,
correlations and internal consistencies of the variables
used in Study 2.
A CFA model was speciﬁed and estimated. This model
included ﬁve latent variables that were allowed to corre-
late freely with one another. The model presented a very
good ﬁt to the data [χ
/df = 1.62, p< .001; IFI = .96;
TLI = .94; CFI = .95; RMSEA = .06] and met the criteria
for good model ﬁt established by Hu and Bentler (1999).
Furthermore, the ﬁt of the ﬁve-factor model was superior
to the ﬁt of a four-factor model where the two outcome
variables were combined; and the ﬁt of a model where
the three forms of knowledge hiding were combined into
a single factor (see Table 4).
Because the CFA model demonstrated very good ﬁtto
the data, a structural model was speciﬁed to test our
hypotheses (see Figure 2). The ﬁt statistics for this
structural model were very good [χ
/df = 1.81,
p< .001; IFI = .94; TLI = .92; CFI = .94;
RMSEA = .06]. No item errors were allowed to correlate
Hypothesis 2a, that a colleague’s rationalized hiding
will improve the target’s relationship with that person
and lead to lower intentions to withhold knowledge in
the future, was partially supported. Rationalized hiding
was negatively related to a harmed relationship
(β=−.37, p< .05) but not related to future intentions
to withhold knowledge. Hypothesis 2b, that a colleague’s
evasive hiding would be related to a harmed relationship
and greater intentions to withhold knowledge, was sup-
ported. Evasive hiding was positively related to percep-
tions of a harmed relationship (β= .55, p< .01) and to
the target’s intentions to withhold knowledge from the
hider in the future (β= .35, p< .05).
The ﬁnal hypothesis (2c), that a colleague’s playing
dumb would be related to a worse relationship and
greater intentions to withhold knowledge, was partially
supported. Playing dumb was positively related to per-
ceptions of a harmed relationship (β= .29, p< .01) but
not to intentions to withhold knowledge in the future.
This study again suggests that the type of knowledge
hiding has differential effects on the relationship between
Study 2: Targets of knowledge hiding—correlations, means,
standard deviations and internal consistencies
Measure M SD 12345
3.95 1.66 (.73)
1.78 1.26 .16* (.78)
2.69 1.60 .25*** .37*** (.84)
4.63 1.82 .06 .03 .31*** (.90)
5.Withholding 3.25 1.88 .01 .10 .19** .43*** (.94)
Study 2: Targets of knowledge hiding—measurement models
RMSEA CMIN/df NFI TLI IFI CFI
Five factor .055 1.623 .89 .94 .96 .95
Four factor: Three
hiding, one outcome
.117 3.868 .73 .72 .79 .78
Three factor: One hiding,
.107 3.391 .76 .76 .82 .82
Two factor .147 5.509 .61 .56 .65 .65
One factor .187 8.321 .40 .28 .43 .42
Figure 2. Structural equation model for the hypotheses tested in
Study 2: Target reactions to knowledge hiding. Standardized path
coefﬁcients are shown. Dotted lines indicate non-signiﬁcant results.
*p < .05, ***p<.001.
KNOWLEDGE HIDING CONSTRUALS 485
perpetrators and targets and on intentions to engage in
future withholding of knowledge by targets. Speciﬁcally,
rationalized hiding appears to elicit more positive reac-
tions compared to other types of knowledge hiding.
Targets of rationalized hiding reacted positively to the
event and reported an improved relationship with the
perpetrator. In contrast, both evasive hiding and playing
dumb lead to perceptions that the relationship has been
damaged. Additionally, evasive hiding by perpetrators
elicits the desire to retaliate by endorsing intentions to
withhold knowledge from this person in the future.
Though the net effect of knowledge hiding on the
target could be assumed to be identical, the fact that
different strategies of hiding knowledge had somewhat
different (and, in some cases, harmful) effects is impor-
tant. In each knowledge hiding episode, no knowledge
was provided to the requester, but in only some instances
was this act perceived to be damaging. These observa-
tions appear to be consistent with self-construal theory.
As suggested by Richman and Leary (2009), social
rejection elicits negative emotions (hurt feelings, anger,
sadness, anxiety), but people’s construals of the rejection
event determine the particular motives that guide their
behavioural responses. For example, when rejection is
considered unfair, antisocial responses will be more
likely. People will be motivated to withdraw and retaliate
in response to rejection.
In the context of knowledge hiding, some types of
knowledge hiding strategies may affect the construals
that then guide a target’s behaviours. As noted above,
rationalized hiding, which involves an explanation why
the knowledge was not forthcoming, may be interpreted
as being due to situational factors and might not be
construed as a rejection episode. As such, it may be
less likely to elicit a motivation to engage in a response
such as future intentions to withhold knowledge. In
contrast, evasive hiding may not only trigger negative
emotions resulting from rejection, but also trigger the
motivation to retaliate in response by endorsing future
intentions to withhold knowledge. Additionally, a co-
worker’s evasive hiding elicited a strong endorsement
that the relationship was harmed, more so than the other
types of knowledge hiding. These results for evasive
hiding suggest a vicious cycle; when knowledge is hid-
den from someone, it is construed as a rejection episode
that triggers a motivation to retaliate by intending to
withhold their own knowledge in the future. These ﬁnd-
ings reinforce the reasons why managers should strive to
discourage knowledge hiding, and speciﬁcally evasive
hiding; it is harmful to employees and to organizations.
Being the target of a playing dumb episode also
elicited perceptions of damage to the relationship, but
not to the same degree as evasive hiding. As indicated,
playing dumb did not elicit motivations to retaliate.
Although we did not measure withdrawal directly, con-
strual theory posits withdrawal as a possible behavioural
outcome of a rejection episode. Thus, it is plausible that
targets that experienced playing dumb chose to withdraw
from the perpetrator rather than seek out opportunities to
retaliate in the future.
Knowledge hiding occurs regularly in organizations
(Connelly et al., 2012), but little is understood about
the consequences of this phenomenon. Using construal
theory as a lens, we consider the implications of knowl-
edge hiding from the perspectives of both the hider and
knowledge hiding target. We also speciﬁcally consider
why the various types of knowledge hiding (i.e., playing
dumb, rationalized hiding, evasive hiding) may have
Across two studies, we identiﬁed the outcomes attrib-
uted to knowledge hiding, how targets of knowledge
hiding construe the behaviour and how hiders perceive
their own behaviour. We discovered that targets of
knowledge hiding view different types of knowledge
hiding in different ways. Speciﬁcally, whereas rationa-
lized hiding is not perceived to harm the relationship
with the perpetrator or lead to future intentions to with-
hold knowledge, both evasive hiding and playing dumb
have negative implications for the relationship. Further,
evasive hiding leads to greater intentions to withhold
knowledge in the future.
Examining these results through construal theory sug-
gests that the more deceptive knowledge hiding beha-
viours are construed as a rejection episode, which then
motivates targets to retaliate (e.g., Richman & Leary,
2009). In the case of evasive hiding, targets are moti-
vated to engage in retaliation, whereas playing dumb
elicits a motivation to distance oneself from the
Our focus on perpetrators reveals a different set of
conclusions regarding knowledge hiding behaviours.
Drawing on the research on lying and actor–observer
differences, we hypothesized that perpetrators of
rationalized hiding would be able to maintain their per-
ceptions of themselves as honest, competent and altruis-
tic and thus not perceive that their behaviours would
harm their interpersonal relationships with the target.
However, this was not the case. Perpetrators of rationa-
lized hiding recognized the negative impact of this beha-
viour on their relationship with the target but did not
perceive that their behaviour would lead to future inten-
tions to withhold knowledge by this target. We posit that
perpetrators of rationalized hiding still perceive their
behaviours to involve some deception, and thus are
unable to justify their behaviour sufﬁciently to maintain
their beliefs in their own honesty. In contrast, we found
that those who engaged in evasive hiding, arguably the
most deceptive form of knowledge hiding, did perceive
damage to interpersonal relationships and anticipated
retaliation by the target.
486 CONNELLY AND ZWEIG
The behaviours involved in playing dumb are not as
deceptive as those associated with evasive hiding. This
might help explain why hiders did not perceive playing
dumb as harmful to the relationship; but even so, some
deception was involved. Thus, those who played dumb
perceived that targets would retaliate in the future by
withholding knowledge from them. Given that people
tend to overestimate the extremity of the underlying
beliefs and construals of the other side (Robinson
et al., 1995), those who engaged in evasive hiding and
played dumb might have anticipated that their targets
would react in extreme ways to the behaviour (e.g.,
intending to withhold future knowledge).
Study limitations and directions for future
As with all research, the current studies have both
strengths and limitations. We examined the novel beha-
viour of knowledge hiding in organizations from the
perspective of perpetrators and targets. In addition, we
explored the differential outcomes for the three distinct
factors of knowledge hiding. Further, we adopted a
construal framework to expand our understanding of
knowledge hiding to explore the consequences of this
behaviour for different parties. It was necessary to rely
on single source data to identify the act of knowledge
hiding (in its different forms) and explore the conse-
quences of these behaviours. Because of the nature of
our hypotheses, a research design that avoids the use of
self-reported data would not be feasible. Knowledge
hiding is inherently difﬁcult for others to observe accu-
rately; we therefore measured both one’s own knowledge
hiding and one’s perceptions of others’hiding
behaviours. It is these perceptions that form the basis
of the employee’s reactions; as with other employee
perceptions (e.g., interpersonal justice, trustworthiness)
it is most accurate to examine the participants’impres-
sions rather than attempt an objective assessment.
Similarly, self-construals could not be assessed by a
third party. Our research design is therefore consistent
with the broader social construals and knowledge hiding
literatures. However, we cannot completely rule out the
possibility that existing relationships might inﬂuence
whether perpetrators hide knowledge and whether targets
will withhold knowledge, regardless of the actions of
perpetrators. A longitudinal study which assesses inter-
personal relationships and interactions over time would
help in understanding the role of prior relationships in
knowledge hiding. Finally, we acknowledge that our
response rates to our surveys on knowledge hiding
were low. However, they are comparable to the response
rates from other studies employing online samples, and
our analyses revealed no differences in early versus late
Considering the limited research exploring the
consequences of knowledge hiding in organizations,
there are many avenues for potential research. A
qualitative study would supplement the evidence here
and detail how speciﬁc knowledge hiding behaviours
elicit construals from both perpetrators and targets. The
intentions for different types of knowledge hiding might
not always lead to expected consequences. For example,
perpetrators might not always have good intentions for
engaging in rationalized hiding and targets might con-
strue perpetrator intentions differently as a result.
Further, it is possible that the consequences of knowl-
edge hiding are different when it occurs between a super-
visor and subordinate. According to Idson and Mischel
(2001), perceivers are likely to go beyond unelaborated
trait inferences and infer mediating variables (e.g., con-
struals) only if the target plays an important role in their
lives. In other words, we describe people in trait terms if
we do not know them well or they are unimportant to us
(e.g., a co-worker in a different division). But, if they are
important to us (e.g., boss), we make more inferences
about their behaviours.
De Cremer, Van Knippenberg, Van Dijk, and Van
Leeuwen (2008) suggest that individuals’responses to
social dilemmas (i.e., cooperate or act in self-interest)
may be affected by their social identiﬁcation. People
who include the group in their own goals are more likely
to respond cooperatively to requests from group mem-
bers, as long as they identify with the group. As noted by
De Cremer et al. (2008), this phenomenon is consistent
with interdependence theory (Kelley & Thibaut, 1978).
Further, Černe et al. (2014) found that a mastery climate
focusing on learning serves to attenuate the incidence of
knowledge hiding. It would be interesting to extend this
research further to examine how social identiﬁcation and
collective goals affect organizational members’knowl-
edge hiding behaviours.
Additionally, future research should explore potential
dispositional moderators of knowledge hiding. For
example, it is possible that agreeableness might inﬂuence
the type of knowledge hiding that is displayed by perpe-
trators; highly agreeable people may avoid engaging in
rationalized hiding and may prefer the less confronta-
tional “playing dumb”strategy. Further, agreeableness
might inﬂuence the reactions of targets to knowledge
hiding behaviours; agreeable co-workers may be less
inclined to retaliate against someone who hides knowl-
edge from them. Another potential dispositional modera-
tor of knowledge hiding is Machiavellianism (Paulhus &
Williams, 2002). If they consider it to be personally
advantageous to do so, those high in Machiavellianism
might be inclined to pursue the more deceptive types of
knowledge hiding and be more likely to ignore potential
reactions to their behaviour.
Similarly, it would be interesting to determine if
dispositional factors such as automatic hostile attribu-
tions (Wilkowski & Robinson, 2008) would affect reac-
tions to knowledge hiding. Some individuals might be
predisposed to interpret ambiguous situations such as
KNOWLEDGE HIDING CONSTRUALS 487
knowledge hiding as rejections, whereas others give the
other party the “beneﬁt of the doubt”. It is also likely that
factors, such as trait aggressiveness, trait irritability, trait
anger, dissipation-rumination or Type A personality
(Bettencourt, Talley, Benjamin & Valentine, 2006),
might also exacerbate the reactions of individuals who
perceive that someone is hiding knowledge from them.
They may react more negatively (e.g., the relationship
would be more harmed, they would withhold more
information in retaliation) than others who do not have
Additional research is certainly required to more fully
understand the consequences of knowledge hiding in
organizations. One interesting avenue would be the con-
cept of “ability to focus”, as explained by Mayer and
Gavin (2005). In their article, they explain why employ-
ees who are distracted by the untrustworthiness of their
managers are less inclined to engage in organizational
citizenship behaviours. It would similarly be interesting
to examine if the suspected knowledge hiding of one’s
peers presents a similar distraction. As we have seen
from our ﬁndings, the construal process is cognitively
and affectively complex; by placing an additional
demand on employees, they may need to cope by redu-
cing discretionary behaviours.
In our study, we did not examine the inﬂuence of
prior relationships on how the act of knowledge hiding
was construed by a target. Our ﬁndings therefore provide
the necessary groundwork for this possible inﬂuence to
be considered. In the literature on advice seeking (e.g.,
Hofmann, Lei, & Grant, 2009), we see that previously
determined perceptions about another person’s ability,
accessibility and trustworthiness interact to predict
whether someone will be asked for advice. It would be
interesting to see if these factors also interact to affect
how someone reacts when the advice or information is
Although our research was conducted speciﬁcally to
examine knowledge hiding among co-workers, this is
not to imply that supervisors never hide knowledge. An
interesting extension of our work would be to examine
how subordinates construe knowledge hiding from the
supervisors, and how these construals are affected by the
supervisors’leadership styles. For example, when trans-
formational leaders hide knowledge, this may lead to less
negative consequences than if a transactional leader
engages in this behaviour.
Contributions to practice and conclusions
The current research has implications for both organiza-
tions and employees. First, this research provides further
evidence that knowledge hiding occurs in organizations
and leads to detrimental social interactions amongst
employees. The act of knowledge hiding can elicit a
cycle of hiding behaviours that can limit the productive
transfer of knowledge in organizations and impair team
functioning. Organizations and employees alike should
be aware of these negative consequences and strive to
limit the incidence of knowledge hiding in organizations.
A number of ways to limit the incidence of knowl-
edge hiding have been suggested, including increasing
the perceptions of the trustworthiness of colleagues by
emphasizing a shared identity, enhancing a sharing cli-
mate within the organization and rewarding knowledge
sharing efforts (Connelly et al., 2012). We contribute
to this literature and suggest that helping to reduce
actor–observer biases in construing the knowledge hid-
ing behaviour, perhaps through greater transparency and
social interaction, will help perpetrators understand the
negative impact of their behaviours and lead to a reduced
motivation by targets to retaliate. Interestingly, a meta-
analysis by Baillet (2010) suggests that increased
communication is a solution to social dilemmas; com-
munication is said to reduce the likelihood that people
will respond in self-interested ways. Thus, increasing the
frequency of social interaction and communication
between parties might help to mitigate the negative
consequences of knowledge hiding.
Decreasing the incidence of knowledge hiding in
organizations is important, because it will help
employees to collaborate more effectively. Our research
suggests that perpetrators and targets of knowledge hid-
ing construe the behaviour in different ways, but the
outcomes of knowledge hiding are largely detrimental,
particularly when co-workers engage in evasive hiding
or playing dumb. By understanding how perpetrators and
targets construe knowledge hiding, and limiting the
expression of this behaviour, organizations can break
the cycle of knowledge hiding and reap the beneﬁts of
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Original manuscript received April 2013
Revised manuscript received April 2014
Revised manuscript accepted June 2014
First published online June 2014
KNOWLEDGE HIDING CONSTRUALS 489