Outsmarting the Workplace Sharks

· Some professionals, especially those in competitive fields, may feel pressure to stand out from their coworkers in order to move ahead – and making others look bad may be one tactic they use to promote themselves.
· Being able to handle challenging or overly competitive coworkers – and maintaining healthy coworker relationships – is crucial for career success, particularly in environments that require a lot of collaboration.

What are some characteristics of a workplace “shark”?
· Competitive or cut-throat
· Take credit for others’ work
· Talk badly about co-workers or managers
· Stick others with their responsibilities
· Call attention to others’ shortcomings

Are these employees purposefully trying to make people look bad?
· It’s easy to assume that someone is purposely trying to sabotage you, but it’s not always the case. Some people may simply be unaware of how their actions are negatively affecting others.

What are some examples of how employees make others look bad on the job?
· This type of behavior can range from something as simple as pointing out someone’s mistake to shooting down a colleague’s idea to taking credit for someone else’s work.
· Some things can be subtle: For example, one person was having lunch with her new boss and a coworker. The coworker began the lunch by noting that the person had gone to a university with a dubious reputation.
· Other things can be more obvious. For example, one person received a promotion that made her coworker jealous; he thought it should be awarded to him. So the man told his boss that his coworker had been bragging to him about her promotion and her new, larger office.

Why are workplace sharks tolerated? Aren’t they setting a bad example for other employees?
· Many times supervisors may not be aware of the inappropriate behavior of an employee. If rude workers perform well on the job, their unprofessional behavior is sometimes overlooked by their managers-even though it shouldn’t be!

What are some other tips for coping with challenging coworkers?
· Learn to adapt so that you can effectively communicate with challenging coworkers. You don’t need to change your behavior completely; just remember that a different approach can often help you reach the same goal.
· Try to look at the big picture. The more you know about your coworker’s job and responsibilities, the better you can work with him or her, which makes you a more valuable employee.

Six survival strategies for swimming with sharks at work:

1. Know your office shark.
Some office sharks are more dangerous 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.
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.

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 other coworkers so you always have a support system and friendly colleagues who can toss you a lifejacket if needed.

5. Recognize aggressive behavior.
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.

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.

How can you defend yourself from a workplace shark?
· You want to address the situation, especially if it’s ongoing. If someone is determined to try and make you look bad on the job, you don’t want that person to succeed.
· For young professionals especially, it can be helpful to consult a mentor – or someone who has been with the company for a while – for advice. This person likely experienced his fair share of “problem employees” and may know how best to handle the situation in the given environment.

How can managers become more effective at dealing with rude, unprofessional workers?
· Don’t expect things to turn around overnight. Give difficult people and difficult situations some time. Keep in mind that working together to establish a level of communication that hasn’t existed before is in itself a success. On the other hand, some rudeness should never be tolerated, and doing so is often construed by the rude coworker that rudeness is acceptable.

How important are healthy, coworker relationships?
· When coworkers are friends or have healthy relationships worker productivity and retention can improve.
· Colleagues who have strong relationships at work are more likely to support one another when faced with challenges or new responsibilities, giving a boost to team spirit.
· Those who are able to form friendships early on in the job are likely to acclimate more quickly and stay on board for the long term.
· Taking it a step further, 57 percent of executives polled by our company in a separate survey said that office productivity is positively affected when coworkers are friends outside of the office – and nearly two-thirds, (63 percent) of employees surveyed agreed.

Tips for dealing with annoying coworkers:

1. The Transgressionist
This coworker might be guilty of one (or more) of several social etiquette fails. Perhaps he has a body odor problem, blasts loud music on his computer speakers, goes overboard during the holidays or heats up codfish stew in the break room microwave .

Tip: If you decide to bring the faux pas to your coworker’s attention, do it privately. Be as tactful as possible and consider offering a little empathy.

2. The Killjoy
The boss is too tough. The fluorescent lights are too bright. The bonuses could’ve been bigger. The Killjoy never seems to be happy, and her constant negativity really brings down the office environment.

Tip: One trick is to listen to her grievances then ask how you can help solve the problem. Because the Killjoy typically isn’t looking for a solution, they just wants to vent.

3. The Snoop
Gossip is a mainstay of the corporate world, but some annoying coworkers take it too far. The Snoop is always spreading rumors and nosing around for the latest dirt on everybody.

Tip: If you find yourself cornered by the Snoop, do your best to change the subject to a more professional topic – the duller, the better. Most importantly, never contribute to the rumor mill.

4. The Competitor
The Competitor is anything but a team player. When a coworker gets the limelight, the uninterested Competitor offers only backhanded compliments.

Tip: The Competitor’s seemingly overinflated ego can often hides insecurity. Offer mild congrats for his achievements and be humble about your own. To counteract their negativity, cheer the successes of your other coworkers whenever possible.

5. The Bully
Much like it did in high school, bullying occurs in the workplace. According to research by the Journal of Managerial Psychology, workplace bullies affect some 84 percent of employees in some manner.

Tip: These annoying coworkers may not have progressed socially beyond high school, but you have. In many cases, office bullies will lay off once it’s clear their methods don’t affect you.
Document every offensive encounter you experience or witness with the Bully. If you feel the Bully has crossed a line, take your formal complaint to your manager or the HR department.

6. The Slacker
A big deadline is looming. You clock in, power up your computer and get to work on that report at nine o’clock on the nose. Your cubicle mate saunters in at quarter after, checks out your progress over your shoulder and proceeds to spend the next hour playing Candy Crush.

Tip: The Slacker’s actions – or lack thereof – might be infuriating, but unless it has a direct impact on your own productivity, it’s best to mind your business and let your boss handle these annoying coworkers.

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