Posted on Apr 20th, 2006

Of all the four letter words available to us in the English language, "work" can be one of the most distasteful.

You may be reading this over your morning coffee, getting ready to start the work week. If you are one of the most fortunate among us, you get to do something for a living that you truly enjoy.

You have a career.

Or you may be in the group that does something for a living, just to put bread on the table.

You have a job.

Whether you have a job or a career, the vast majority of us spend the majority of our waking hours working.

Handling the many stresses of work can be an exhausting experience. One of the most difficult sfressors of work cart be dealing with professional relationships. Whether you are dealing with a boss, a co-worker or an employee, relationships at work can be a tremendous source of stress.

Let’s take a look at two different ways of handling stressful relationships in the workplace.

One of the most useful distinctions to make about a work relationship is the difference between dolphins and sharks. Let me explain through the use of a metaphor. When you go to the beach, it’s usually fairly safe to swim in the water with dolphins. Swimming with sharks, on the other hand, is a very dangerous activity. The trouble is, sometimes when you’re in the water it can be very difficult to tell the difference between the dolphins and the sharks.

In the workplace, dolphins are the people you can trust. Sharks are the people that, at best, you can’t trust and, at worst, you have to protect yourself against.

Dolphin traits

• Do what they say they will do.

• Can be confided in.

• Are team players.

• Their behavior matches their words.

• Take responsibility for mistakes.

• Can be trusted.

Shark traits

• Fail to follow through.

• Can’t be confided in.

• Are out for themselves.

• Their behavior doesn’t match their words.

• Blame others.

• Can’t be trusted.

The most dangerous kind of shark is the kind that behaves like a dolphin. If you will allow me to mix my animal metaphors, I think I can explain what I mean.

There is the story of the beaver that was getting ready to cross the river. Just as he was getting ready to cross, he came upon a scorpion who wanted a ride across. The beaver refused, saying the scorpion would sting him and he would die. The scorpion denied this and promised he would not harm the beaver, if only he would take him across the river. The beaver, being a good-natured and trusting chap, allowed the scorpion to crawl on his back and he swam across the river. Just as the beaver reached the shoreline, the scorpion stung him and got off. As the beaver lay dying, he asked the scorpion why he broke his promise. The scorpion replied,

"I’m a scorpion - that’s what I do."

And so it can be with some work relationships.

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