Being paranoid about office politics can make you a target: Sauder research

Prof. Karl Aquino


People who worry about workplace rejection or sabotage can end up bringing it upon themselves, according to research from the Sauder School of Business.

The new study 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,” says lead author and Sauder Prof. Karl Aquino, whose study will appear in a forthcoming issue of the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

Aquino explains that 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, the researchers 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.


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