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At UBC Sauder, innovative ideas are hatched every day. Our professors challenge students to think differently and to make change in the world of business and beyond.

Professor Karl Aquino, a leading scholar studying the underlying forces guiding behaviour in the workplace, has made a discovery that sheds light on the dynamics at play in office politics. His recent study shows that people who worry about workplace rejection or sabotage end up bringing it upon themselves.

Karl Aquino

His research into rejection at work reveals that paranoia about nasty gossip or being snubbed leads people to look for clues that confirm their fears, ultimately annoying colleagues and increasing the likelihood they will be rejected or subverted.

“It may be best to ignore impulses that tell you that you’re the victim of office politics,” Aquino says.

He explains it’s natural for people to wonder how others view them, especially when popularity in the workplace is often rewarded with power and financial compensation.

“However, our research shows employees should do their best to keep their interactions positive and ignore the negative. As the expression goes, kill them with kindness.”

In one of the study’s experiments, he discovered that people who readily interpret interactions with others as negative are also more likely to engage in eavesdropping or spying to confirm their impressions.

Another experiment showed that individuals who reported wanting information about unfair treatment within a group were more likely to have angered the group and be the focus of rejection.

A third experiment measured study participants’ comfort level with a co-worker who is worried about unfair treatment compared to others. Rather than be saddled with a worrywart, participants were 3.5 times more likely to choose individuals who demanded concrete feedback on work quality.  Participants were also 16.5 times more likely to prefer working with someone who tends to focus on work group dynamics as a whole.

The study, “Do I want to know? How the motivation to acquire relationship-threatening information in groups contributes to paranoid thought, suspicion behavior, and social rejection,” is published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

Aquino, the Richard Poon Professor of Organizations and Society at UBC Sauder, has published extensive research into workplace victimization and justice that includes investigations into affirmative action, dishonesty, revenge and sexist perceptions of conflict. He teaches classes in UBC Sauder's BCom, MM, MBA and Executive Education programs.

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