You’re less likely to share with culturally different coworkers

Your cultural background at work can determine if colleagues are willing to share or are more likely to withhold business information with you.

You can’t fight what you do not know. Sharing how much you earn and what you know about bad clients and difficult bosses with your colleagues is key to succeeding at work.

But new research highlighted in Harvard Business Review finds that these whisper networks are not reaching all the people who need it in the office. Researchers Burcu Subaşi, Wendy van Ginkel, and Daan van Knippenber found that your cultural background at work can determine if colleagues are willing to share or are more likely to withhold business information with you.

Minority groups at work more likely to be out of the loop

In one of the experiments, researchers split 180 participants into teams that included Dutch, German, or Chinese nationalities. The researchers found that when left unattended for a project of opening a fictional theater, the German and Dutch participants shared information about the project equally with each other, but Chinese participants were more likely to be out of the loop and had their performance hurt as a result. The results suggest that smaller cultural differences are not as likely to hold you back, but the more differences that come into play like nationality and language differences, the more likely you are going to experience a knowledge gap.

“Nationality minority status invites differences in team member interactions that result in less access to distributed information, and as a consequence lower performance, for low-status nationality minority individuals,” the researchers concluded.

Information backchannels help employees know who to work for and what they should ask. Knowledge sharing is especially key to helping vulnerable employees who are just getting established in their careers and lack the support of deep networks. For this kind of collaboration to work, information sharing about what you know about the job needs to be available for all to hear.

For bosses, this can means making it a part of your duty to emphasize the value of sharing ideas and giving feedback. Praise teammates who collaborate with each other and acknowledge credit where it is due. When we know we are being watched for fairness, we feel social pressure to act more fair. The researchers found that when the participants were publicly observed by a third party, knowledge sharing got more even. It’s a reminder for managers and employees: to prevent information hoarding, good behavior needs to modeled and rewarded.

Monica Torres|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at mtorres@theladders.com.