How to Handle the Knowledge Wardens

Plan ahead, document your request and use positive reinforcement

How to Handle the Knowledge Wardens — abstract illustration
How to Handle the Knowledge Wardens — abstract illustration
Photo by luismolinero on depositphotos

Three Characteristics of Knowledge Wardens

Have you ever needed timely, critical information but been unable to get it because the person with that information was unavailable or unwilling to provide it? Frustrating? You bet. That’s because you’re dealing with a knowledge warden.

Knowledge wardens exhibit a classic passive-aggressive type of behavior. You’ve heard the saying “Knowledge is power.” Knowledge wardens have embraced that saying wholeheartedly. They desire both power and control as a means to gain acknowledgment of their status or position. In their minds, if they have control and hold power, then others will have to acknowledge them as having great worth.

Knowledge wardens fail to provide information at their disposal when requested to do so. This failure typifies their passive-aggressive behavior. To deal with knowledge wardens effectively, you first have to be able to recognize them. Three descriptive characteristics of knowledge wardens are listed here.

1. They hoard or withhold information

Knowledge wardens may try to hoard crucial information because they feel powerless. Either their position in the company or their own insecurities have left them believing they have little or no control. Hoarding information is their way to gain and show some semblance of power.

They like to control important data or materials necessary for others to function effectively and want to be seen as in control. In a knowledge warden’s mind, if he or she is the only person holding key information, then he or she is the person in control in the workplace. Knowledge wardens crave respect and daily affirmation of their importance. The irony is, even if they get what they desire, they’ll never believe they’re truly worthy.

2. They make excuses

Excuses are a second characteristic of the knowledge warden. This is part of their desire to withhold information to keep their control. For example, a knowledge warden will make an excuse for not being able to get information to a co-worker who needs that information to complete an important assignment.

Again, the goal of the knowledge warden in this situation is to be seen as the person in control of critical information that is necessary for others to complete their jobs.

3. They will try to make themselves unavailable

The third characteristic of the knowledge warden is that he is generally not available. If you want him for some reason, he just can’t seem to be found. In fact, he is a genius at scheduling meetings and having other tasks that keep him away from his desk and out of contact.

If he’s not available, he can’t be expected to provide the information or materials that someone may request. Not being available is the perfect ploy for the knowledge warden.

To be effective and successful in your job, you have to get the information you need while giving the knowledge warden the acknowledgment he needs to overcome his insecurities. To accomplish this, you first have to be able to recognize the characteristics of the knowledge warden, so that you can then use strategies to effectively cope with this person and create a more stable and positive work environment.

Strategies for Coping with Knowledge Wardens

People can get frustrated and angry when information or materials they need are withheld from them. When this happens at work, your question becomes how to cope with the person withholding the information — a person known as a knowledge warden.

Your goal is to get the information you need to do your job effectively, no matter who is the keeper of that information. To get the information you need, you can use the three strategies described here to cope with the knowledge wardens in your workplace.

1. Plan ahead

An important initial strategy for dealing with knowledge wardens is to plan ahead so you can give them plenty of lead time to fulfill your requests. Your ability to plan ahead will stand you in good stead with a knowledge warden, since it can ease the knowledge warden’s reluctance to help and deflect one of that person’s common complaints that he’s just “too busy” to get to all the requests he receives.

Be sure to let knowledge wardens know you’ve planned ahead in making your request specifically to meet their busy schedules. This strategy plays to the need of the knowledge warden for control, power, and acknowledgment.

2. Document your request

Another important strategy is to document your request for information and submit it in a timely fashion. If the knowledge warden has required forms or procedures, be sure to follow them. Knowledge wardens will use your failure to follow their procedures as a reason to stonewall your request. Your documentation is one of your guarantees that your request won’t be ignored.

In addition, be as specific and as detailed as possible when filling out forms for knowledge wardens. A lack of detail on the forms can result in questions and delays. By being as complete as possible and filling in all the blanks on required forms, you can ensure that the forms will be processed rather than returned to you for further work.

3. Use positive reinforcement

When you have contact with knowledge wardens, always remember to mention the worth of their efforts and give them positive reinforcement. All employees like to be appreciated for the work they do, and that’s particularly true of knowledge wardens.

The final strategy of giving them positive reinforcement can be used at any time, but it’s very important to give it after you receive something useful from the knowledge warden. If the knowledge warden provides what you requested, let that person know how helpful he or she was. It’s also a good idea to let the knowledge warden know how you’ll use what he or she has provided.

The knowledge worker in your workplace will respond in a positive way when you use the three strategies described here. Using these strategies encourages knowledge workers to react positively and give you the information you need, so you can do your own job more efficiently and more successfully.

A consultant, trainer and author specialized in management, corrections and industrial relations

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