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Covert Hostility / Covert Hostile

Contributed by Jim Thiemens

Covert hostility occurs when the anger of the individual has been socially and individually censured to a point where it has been suppressed and the individual no longer dares express their anger, constructively or otherwise.  Yet they still possess sufficient energy to express some feeling on the matter, and so what anger exists comes forth covertly.

All manner of subterfuges may be attempted.  The person may appear hospitable and claim to care for others and to have the good of others as his foremost interest; yet, at the same moment, he works, unconsciously or otherwise, to injure or destroy the lives and reputations of people and also to destroy property.

When people work in an environment where there is little or no openness and where people suppress their ideas, views and opinions because they fear reprisal  - they eventually lose their power or influence. Frustration then mounts and the “hostility” comes out in a “covert” manner because they no longer feel they can confront “the boss” the “corporate staff” and all conscious self-expression is suppressed.

We would also point out the “overt” or openness is the opposite of “covert” or closed or suppressed.  There can also be “overt hostility” but at least it is in the open and as such has the potential to be handled where covert cannot. 

Covert hostility is vicious and seems like it comes from no where but in fact often comes from members of the organization that look on the surface to be the least likely to be so destructive.  This is why the awareness of a leader is so important because there are signs and indicators and when one sees them they can be passively confronted with questions like:

“I noticed this in your behavior - can you tell me about it?” 

“I noticed some inconsistencies in your production - what happened?”

“I see you handled that situation that way– do you think there is a better way?

These kinds of discussions, if the leader is open enough, can lead to some very positive realizations and can really turn things around.

The other way to handle these “covert hostiles” is to isolate them so you can do your work.

Covert hostiles get to power because past supervisors won’t confront them in performance reviews. These Covert Hostiles then see the rest of the organization “conspiring” against them. They then continue to wreck damage on the organization, in many cases severely curtailing the ability of the organization to perform to their capabilities.