10/10/2014 08:52 am ET Updated Dec 07, 2014

How to Put an End to Player-Hating

One little-discussed problem in organizations of all sizes is "player-hating." Player-hating is slang terminology that is defined as jealousy and disdain arising from another person's success or achievements. It takes many forms ranging from relatively innocuous water-cooler griping -- "Can you believe Johnny received that promotion?" -- to outright rage and sabotage of one's colleagues -- "I'll show her."

While "player-hating" exists in almost all types of organizations and settings, it can breed negativity, stifle organizational productivity, and impede progress. Business leaders must be vigilant to monitor for player-hating and guard against it. I draw on my experiences in academia, business, and government to discuss both the origins of player-hating and offer suggestions of how to manage it.

Player-Hating's Origins
Player-hating has two primary origins. The first origin is an individual's feelings of inadequacy about themselves. Player-hating can arise as a defensive mechanism when someone feels that they are being passed up for promotions or not recognized for their efforts or excellence. Rather than making an honest assessment of their own strengths, weaknesses, capabilities, or approach an individual derides the competence of either their promoted or rewarded colleague, or decision-making superiors.

I once sat on the selection committee of a competitive scholarship that took great care to award individuals based on their personal narratives and leadership qualities. One losing applicant, whose academic achievements were quite rich, but whose personal narrative lacked the depth and texture of awardees, subsequently complained to me that the winners were all "BS'ers" -- missing an opportunity to recognize that his academic accomplishments, while quite significant, might not have quite lined up with what the committee sought to honor.

The second origin is a lack of transparency. Often times organizations will take time to make good decisions about promotions and recognition, but provide inadequate visibility into how those decisions were made. This lack of transparency can create perceptions of unfairness, and unnecessary disappointment, jealousy, and anger. No amount of good process and decision-making can substitute for clear and directive communication about the rationale for decisions.

In one organization of which I was a part, I watched a highly capable woman-the exact right person for the job-promoted into a position with little public explanation about how her previous experiences had uniquely prepared her for the her new role. Water-cooler conversation from those who had little exposure to the woman or her past experiences included inappropriate speculation about the circumstances under which she received the job.

What We Can Do About It
Importantly, player-hating can be evidence of two different types of broken organizational cultures. The first type might be an organization that has a ineffective culture of managing and assigning credit in which credit is assigned arbitrarily without consideration of true merit. Joe McCannon and I have previously written about this problem elsewhere and offer some potential solutions.

The second-equally common-type of broken culture is one in which the organizational or group norms make it acceptable to engage in derision of one's colleagues. In these cases, a critical antidote to "player-hating" is to call it out. When we allow individuals to minimize the achievements or merits of others, we enable a judgmental organizational culture in which individuals feel sheepish about sharing their achievements-out of fear that their colleagues will minimize them. These types of organizations inevitably focus on the wrong things.

Organizational leaders can set an important example by calling out such behaviors and commentary as inappropriate; and also by personally counseling individuals who feel inclined to minimize others. In some cases, individuals who are perpetually negative about others might be better advised to seek employment elsewhere.

Why It Matters
Literature on organizational culture suggests that individuals often perform best when the organization honors achievement; enables individuals to self-actualize; and in which people feel like they are a part of a greater whole. Player-hating stands in the way of each of these ends.

Organizational leaders should take care to remember that behaviors and norms around how we speak about others start from the top. The best leaders celebrate and recognize the achievements of their colleagues -- and encourage others to do the same.