We learn about snitching as children, often at home, when siblings practice it on each other, or in our early years at school. By whatever name, snitching, tattling, ratting, or finking is the act of informing authority about an alleged transgression by a third party, usually a peer. And again as children, we learn that the practice is deprecated. Those who snitch are sometimes ostracized or socially penalized in a variety of ways. To most children, snitching — all snitching — is bad.
But that's the child's view. Children have difficulty with nuance. To children, things tend to fall into two categories: good and bad. We're adults now, and we can do a little better.
Let's use neutral terms to help us in the discussion. In place of "snitching", I prefer "reporting." The person reporting is the reporter or witness. What's being reported is the offense. The person who's alleged to have committed the offense is the accused. The report recipient is the authority.
Even when the offense is real and the report would be truthful, deciding whether to report it to authority can be difficult. Let's examine the issues.
- How serious is the offense?
- If the offense is serious enough, reporting it is probably not a social transgression. What "serious enough" means is up to you, but most crimes are serious enough, certainly. Also serious are fraudulent absenteeism, false reports about work in progress, ethical violations, and violations of regulations.
- Indeed, if the offense is serious enough, If the offense is serious enough,
reporting it might be obligatory,
even if the offense isn't
a crime or ethical breachreporting it might be obligatory, even if the offense isn't a crime or ethical breach. For example, if a co-worker's performance is far enough below standards, reporting it might be an expected part of your own performance.
- One useful test: if the authority finds out somehow that I knew about the offense and chose not to report it, will I be in trouble? If so, then the offense is probably "serious enough."
- Isn't all reporting antisocial?
- If the primary purpose of the report is to benefit not the organization, but the reporter or someone else, then the report might be a social transgression. For example, some people report offenses to ingratiate themselves with authorities.
- If the primary purpose of the report is to harm the accused or someone else, then the report might be a social transgression. For example, some people report transgressions because they seek revenge against the accused, or because the accused is a rival for a promotion or a plum assignment. Some seek to harm the supervisor of the accused, or the spouse of the accused. The accused might be merely a proxy for someone else.
- One general principle: a report is most likely to constitute a social transgression if its primary purpose is to benefit the reporter, or to harm someone else.
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Devious Political Tactics: Divide and Conquer, Part II
- While most leaders try to achieve organizational unity, some do use divisive tactics to maintain control,
or to elevate performance by fostering competition. Here's Part II of a series exploring the risks of
- Ethical Influence: II
- When we influence others as they're making tough decisions, it's easy to enter a gray area. How can
we be certain that our influence isn't manipulation? How can we influence others ethically?
- Preventing Spontaneous Collapse of Agreements
- Agreements between people at work are often the basis of resolving conflict or political differences.
Sometimes agreements collapse spontaneously. When they do, the consequences can be costly. An understanding
of the mechanisms of spontaneous collapse of agreements can help us craft more stable agreements.
- Pariah Professions: I
- In some organizations entire professions are held in low regard. Their members become pariahs to some
people in the rest of the organization. When these conditions prevail, organizational performance suffers.
- Some Hazards of Skip-Level Interviews: II
- Skip-level interviews are dialogs between a subordinate and the subordinate's supervisor's supervisor.
They can be both heplful and hazardous. Here's Part II of a little catalog of the hazards.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming May 31: Unresponsive Suppliers: III
- When suppliers have a customer orientation, we can usually depend on them. But government suppliers are a special case. Available here and by RSS on May 31.
- And on June 7: The Knowledge One-Upmanship Game
- The Knowledge One-Upmanship Game is a pattern of group behavior in the form of a contest to determine which player knows the most arcane fact. It can seem like innocent fun, but it can disrupt a team's ability to collaborate. Available here and by RSS on June 7.
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- Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
- Many people experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes
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speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises
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- The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
- On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald
Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen
had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished.
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Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.