I am looking for a word that would describe a feeling among a group of workers who are distrustful of one another and overly paranoid of an impending group breakdown & failure.

For context, imagine a group of people who are so concerned with looking out for their own personal welfare & job security in the context of a set of work procedures and regulations that they meticulously follow instructions to the letter, even if they know that they are ill-advised or wrong. Furthermore, they would meticulously document every piece of communication they could, from whom, to whom, in the (to them, seemingly very likely) event that an impending failure will occur that they want to have maximum plausible deniability to distance themselves from it when it occurs, and also to pin the blame on someone else if possible.

Is there a single word for this? I was thinking maybe "Kafkaesque" but I think that this word has more to do with a feeling of lack of control in an oppressive system.

  • Also, Kafkaesque is an adjective, not a noun. So, you could have a Kafkaesque feeling but you couldn't feel Kafkaesque. Commented Aug 21, 2018 at 14:45
  • @JasonBassford Hmm, one can feel angry, feel happy, feel sad - all those are examples of feel (adjective). Of course, one could feel anger/happiness/sadness/(noun) as well, though that communicates something slightly different.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 1:48
  • @lawrence Hmm. But there's something about the construction of this word that sounds off. Perhaps if you could feel Kafkaesquely? Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 4:22

2 Answers 2


As a native speaker of North American English, the first word that came to mind for me was guarded.

guarded - adjective - Cautious and having possible reservations.

For example, I might say, "People are really guarded and cynical here at Cutthroat LLC."

One possible example of this type is turf guarding, which goes hand in hand with backbiting and the blame game.

blame game - noun - a situation in which people try to blame each other for something bad that has happened.


Probably, those feeling can be described as:

Egocentric (adjective)

Thinking only of oneself, without regard for the feelings or desires of others; self-centered.

"As a consequence, this prevalence of mass marketing and consumerism has led to a selfish, egocentric culture where one's own apparent needs and desires come first at the exclusion of the needs of others."

Citation from book: Environmental Problem Solving: Psychosocial Barriers to Adaptive Change By Alan Miller.

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Circumspect (adjective)

Wary and unwilling to take risks.

"the officials were very circumspect in their statements."

  • 1
    +1 "Egocentric" strikes right to the heart of the thing.
    – Lumberjack
    Commented Aug 21, 2018 at 23:32

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