Shark Week at Work! Are You Swimming With an Office Shark?

By Robert Half July 1, 2018 at 6:00am

Just in time for summer vacation, Discovery Channel’s popular Shark Week is coming back to rear its menacing fin in our faces.

These days, sharks can threaten more than just our day at the beach. If there’s anything we can learn from the Sharknado movie series (yes, wait for it, there is a lesson here), it’s this: Sharks are everywhere, including the workplace.

The office shark is a workplace bully, a unique creature that shares many characteristics with its ocean-dwelling cousins. Here are six survival strategies for swimming with sharks at work:

1. Know your office shark

Some office sharks are worse than others, ranging from the relatively docile credit-takers and gossip-lovers, to the more aggressive backstabbers and saboteurs. Keep on top of which kinds of sharks are native to your waters so you know what to expect — and how to react — when you must work with them. If you’ve been paired with a credit-taker, for example, document each person’s contributions to the project so it’s clear who did what. 

2. Move gracefully

Whether you find yourself in the ocean or in the office, try to move smoothly. In the workplace, this means remaining professional at all times. A workplace bully might try to goad you into reacting to a snide comment, for instance. Don’t take the bait.

3. Be vigilant 

When in dangerous waters, proceed with caution. Don’t be paranoid, but keep your eyes and ears open. If you spot an office shark, track its movements and keep well clear. Can you see the office gossip swimming your way? Consider updating your cube-mate about last night’s date at lunch instead of right now.

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4. Swim in a group

Rest assured that there’s safety in numbers: A workplace bully is less likely to attack a group. Build solid, healthy work relationships with your non-predatory coworkers so you always have a support system and friendly colleagues who can toss you a lifejacket if needed.

5. Recognize aggressive behavior

Shark attacks are easier to predict if you know the warning signs. Watch carefully for signs that your office shark feels irritated or threatened and prepare to defend yourself or sidestep conflict. You can sense when a spotlight-stealer is ready to attack, for example, when he or she starts dominating the conversation during a team meeting. If you’re running the meeting, step in and make sure others have a chance to offer their opinions, too.

6. Avoid provoking sharks

When sharks are near, use common sense. Don’t poke them or back them into a corner. Don’t adopt their tactics. Always take the high road and the long view. An office shark looks out for himself or herself. A valued employee looks out for the company.

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