Malicious compliance

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Malicious compliance (also known as malicious obedience) is the behavior of intentionally inflicting harm by strictly following the orders of a superior while knowing or intending that compliance with the orders will have an unintended or negative result. The term usually implies the following of an order in such a way that ignores or otherwise undermines the order's intent but follows it to the letter.[1][2] It is a form of passive-aggressive behavior that is often associated with poor management-labor relationships, micromanagement, a generalized lack of confidence in leadership, and resistance to changes perceived as pointless, duplicative, dangerous, or otherwise undesirable. It is common in organizations with top-down management structures with poor morale, leadership, or mutual trust. In law, this practice has been theorized as a form of uncivil obedience,[3] and it is a techniques which is also used in art practice.[4]

Managers can avoid this by not making excessive or incomprehensible demands from employees.[5]


As an example of malicious compliance, a group of U.S. firefighters were required to wear self-contained breathing apparatus for safety reasons. In response, they took to wearing the equipment on their backs but not using it. This made their work less efficient than if they had not been wearing the breathing apparatus at all. A further instruction was required that ordered them to wear and use the apparatus.[6]

In many of the German folk tales about Eulenspiegel, some of them incorporated into Charles De Coster's The Legend of Thyl Ulenspiegel and Lamme Goedzak (1867), Eulenspiegel is depicted as serving as an apprentice to various craftsman, each apprenticeship lasting only a short time and cut off when Eulenspiegel obeys the literal meaning of a master's orders – causing the master material damage, social shame or both, and being promptly dismissed.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tom DeMarco, Tim Lister, Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams, p. 179, Addison-Wesley, 2013 ISBN 9780133440737.
  2. ^ "U.S. Set To Begin Massive Military Exercises in Qatar", transcript, NewsNight with Aaron Brown, Dec 6, 2002, retrieved June 7, 2007, Malicious compliance is when your boss tells you to do something and you do it even though you know it's not going to have the desired result.
  3. ^ Bulman-Pozen, Jessica; Pozen, David E. (2015). "Uncivil Obedience". Columbia Law Review. 115 (4): 809–872. ISSN 0010-1958. JSTOR 43387025.
  4. ^ Steinberg, Monica (2020-03-01). "Uncivil Obedience: Lowell Darling Follows the Law". American Art. 34 (1): 112–135. doi:10.1086/709417. ISSN 1073-9300. S2CID 218780624.
  5. ^ Cecilie Strømgaard Patscheider (8 August 2016). "Djøf: Lyv dig ud af spørgsmål om babyplaner og seksualitet til jobsamtalen". Politiken (in Danish).
  6. ^ Gagliano, Mike; Phillips, Casey R.; Bernocco, Steve; Jose, Phillip (2008). Air Management for the Fire Service. Fire Engineering Books. ISBN 9781593701291.