Have you seen the movie? Doooo-doo. Doooo-doo. The first notes of the Jaws theme song are instantly recognizable. Whether or not you have seen the film, the music probably still evokes a feeling of fear. You might even visualize a shark lurking in the water, waiting to sink its teeth into an unsuspecting swimmer or surfer. But there is a different type of shark to worry about — one that is typically found in cubicles.
There is a name for this type of predator who circles looking to attack: the office shark.
If you have worked with one of these creatures, you know exactly who I am talking about. Powerful, fast-moving, and bloodthirsty, the office shark will do anything to stay at the top of the food chain. Its modus operandi? Ambushing anyone it perceives as weak or a threat to its power. The shark may take the form of a competitive co-worker, hostile teammate, or a frustrated manager.
How do you know you are dealing with a predator like this? Look out for signs of unchecked aggression. Depending on its environment, the shark may bully teammates, make vicious comments about people behind their backs, or disparage ideas in a meeting. It revels in pointing out the mistakes of others — and will say anything to appear superior to the rest of the team.
The real danger comes when the office shark takes a giant bite out of a positive company culture.
Kindness, transparency, and team spirit are bait to the shark. As soon as it gets a whiff of these values, it launches into attack mode. Once it sinks its teeth in, the shark destroys any trace of joy — leaving a lifeless mess in its wake.
Everyone deserves a workplace where these predatory creatures do not thrive. But if you sense that one is nearby, do not panic. Here is how to handle the shark in your office:
Stay close to the shore
Wandering too far offshore can be dangerous. Protect yourself by keeping your distance and not revealing unnecessary information to the shark. For example, avoid giving details about your personal life or sharing thoughts about your teammates’ projects. Even if you have good intentions, any extra info can give the shark ammunition for a future attack.
Avoid sudden movements
Too much splashing and thrashing can attract the shark right to you. So be steady and calm in everything you do. Complete your work on time, be present and thoughtful in meetings, and show kindness to your teammates. No matter what happens, do not lose your cool or sink to the shark’s level.
Swim in a school
It is easier for the shark to charge at you if you are alone. To safeguard yourself, cultivate strong relationships with your co-workers. They can support you if the shark sets its sights on you. Building trust and forging bonds takes time, but it helps to have your teammates by your side if the tide turns against you.
With a powerful sense of smell, the shark can sniff even the smallest weakness and insecurity. You can turn this one around for yourself. Communicate frequently with your manager to identify the areas you can improve and how to bolster your strengths. By proactively seeking feedback about your performance, you can work to be a stronger and more impactful teammate.
Stand your ground
If the shark is actively attacking you, you must defend yourself. Instead of swimming away, maintain eye contact and be assertive. Your goal is to convey a simple message — that you will not be anyone’s next meal. So how do you do this? Take credit for your work and correct any lies that the predator spreads. If the shark unfairly criticizes you in a meeting, speak up clearly and confidently.
Attacking others usually comes from a place of insecurity — a need to tear down others in order to feel strong.
Underneath its menacing teeth and antagonistic behavior, the typical shark is simply a (very large) fish. Its aggression probably stems from a lack of self-confidence and insecurity in its ability to do the job. After all, most people do not attack unless they feel threatened.
If you find yourself swimming close to one of these sharks, stay true to your values. Focus on contributing to the team and put your energy into building relationships with friendly co-workers. By doing your part to create a positive work culture, you make the ocean that much safer for everyone else — no need to watch your back.
Have you worked with sharks?
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