The 4 Tips You Need to Handle Workplace Sharks
Updated: Jan 29
I believe that workplace politics are fundamentally just the way that things get done within an organization. Identifying the stakeholders and being able to move a project from start to finish using formal and informal means is the goal of all workplace politics. But every company has its sharks. These are the big fish that use people to get ahead. They plant landmines and create roadblocks, they break their word and twist stories to make themselves look good and put down people who they perceive as competition.
It's frustrating, but sharks are a part of life.
Learning how to fight them is a muscle that you can strengthen if you use a few key strategies to get ahead.
Have a mentor
Sharks are apex predators, but you don't have to fight alone. Leveraging your support network for help is your first line of defense. Reach out to your mentor figures for guidance and allyship. Who do you have an established relationship with? Who has a clear head and your best interests at heart? Seek them out and get their advice for how they would handle the situation. They might understand the shark's motives in a way you don't, or they may be able to run interference from a different angle.
Don't try and “out-shark” them
It can be easy to get sucked in to the negativity of getting ahead, especially if your workplace is full of sharks. After all, if they’re fighting dirty, it's frustrating to sit there and just "take it." We want to fight back.
Take it from me: fighting fire with fire is not a productive use of your time. Behaving sharkishly by dragging their name through the mud, trying to put them down with your superiors, or spreading tales of their misdeeds is only going to bring you down, too.
And to top it off, that kind of behavior snowballs and it’s totally unsustainable. If you end up going to the Dark Side, you'll burn through allies and peers as people see you engaging in the same kind of behavior you resent.
Understand their "why"
Nobody works in a vacuum, so knowledge is a powerful tool. Every shark has a different motive that is prompting them to act the way they are. Maybe they're on a tight deadline, and it's bringing out the worst in them. Maybe they're terribly insecure and don't know how to build relationships, only destroy them. Whether it’s psychological factors or practical ones, try and learn what is making the shark tick. It can help you craft your strategy and get them out of your way.
Find a common ground
Everyone wants something, even sharks. In my experience, their goal is something that will make them look good, so if you can find a commonality that benefits them, you can leverage their drive and make genuine progress instead of being constantly blocked. For example, if you pitch your initiative in a way that stresses the bottom-line ROI it will generate— which will in turn make the shark look good— they may be more willing to help you achieve your goal. Help them to see how your ambition and drive aren't a threat to them, but an asset to the whole team.
Sharks don't have to be a roadblock, but you can't avoid them forever. If you need help addressing a troublesome shark in your organization, let's connect. Click here to get a consultation with me on your calendar.