Posted on Jun 7th, 2006

Q. I work in an office with several people, all of whom I get along with quite well. There is one person, however, that really gets my goat. He gladhands everyone, smiles and schmoozes with the boss and acts like everyone’s friend. The problem is this person steals other people’s ideas, talks behind your back and is basically a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I love my job, and I would not leave it for the world. So what do I do? Do I go to the boss and complain, do I rally my co-workers, do I confront this person myself?

A. I’m often asked this question, probably because there seems to be one of these folks in just about every workplace.

What you’re dealing with is what I call a shark. And what’s worse, it’s not a shark that’s big and obvious as in "Jaws." This one looks and acts like a dolphin.

The problem here is that when you are in the water, it’s hard to tell them apart.

Let’s take a quick look at the difference between dolphins and sharks at work, and then we’ll put some "hands and feet" on these notions.

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.


They do what they say they will.

You can confide in them.

They are team players.

Their behavior matches their words.

They take responsibility for mistakes.

They can be trusted.


They fail to follow through.

You can’t confide in them.

They’re out for themselves.

Their behavior doesn’t match their words.

They blame others.

They can’t be trusted.

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. 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.

One useful way to handle the sharks and scorpions in your work life is to play the game called "I can expect that." For most dolphin-like people, it usually comes as a surprise when people behave like sharks. It catches us off-guard.

Playing "I can expect that" simply means that with certain people, we can expect them, almost trust them, to behave in shark-like ways. Playing "I can expect that" allows us to:

Anticipate negative behavior.

Plan for negative behavior.

Respond instead of react.

Predict another’s behavior.

Reduce our stress level.

After a little practice, you can even laugh a little at what’s happening - "Here it comes, I was expecting that."

A client I once worked with had a colleague who exhibited some distinctly shark-like behavior. Whenever Mary presented an idea in a staff meeting, her colleague would shoot it down.

By playing the "I can expect that" game, Mary was able to arrive at a creative solution. Whenever Mary had an idea that she really wanted to see happen, she simply anticipated her colleague’s response and ran the idea past her at least a week before the meeting. By doing this, she gave her colleague the illusion of participation and prevented her from shooting down the idea.

Now, some may call this manipulative. I call it simply working smarter. You don’t have to confront the person, talk to your boss, or rally your co-workers. The good news here is that this technique can help you keep your head in difficult situations. And if you can "keep your head when all about you are losing theirs," you expose the sharks for what they really are.

Visit for tips and tools for creating and growing a great relationship. You can also subscribe to our f*r*e*e 10 day e-program on how to enrich your relationship today, from relationship coach and expert Jeff Herring.

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