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Workplace Predators

by Nan Russell

Polar bears are known for fierceness and lack of natural predators, although wolves and walruses can kill them. Feeding primarily on seals, the hungry bear featured in a recent episode of Planet Earth, happened on larger prey. Outweighed by the Atlantic walruses, with tusks that can reach three feet long, the Polar bear sought to nuzzle, push and pry his way past a mother to her calf, despite added protection from the walrus group.

Repeatedly, the bear bit the neck and body of the walrus. But grayish-brown skin, up to two inches thick, protected her from the Polar bear's honed claws and teeth. In the end, the bear lost more than that battle. Alone, exhausted and unable to kill any of the hundred or more clustered walruses nearby, he ultimately starved.

This interaction of the bear and the walrus reminded me of workplace predators. You know the ones. Coworkers who knock others down for sport, trivializing successes, throwing stones at accomplishments, and ridiculing initiative as brown-nosing.

Coworker predators celebrate your missteps and failures, offering public jabs as a way to ward off contenders. Their caustic teeth of jealously, and jagged claws of success-envy, can painfully hit their mark in a forum fraught with public scrutiny. Their messages can derail projects, reputations and careers. They tear down others as a way of building themselves up, trading potential substance and significance for sarcasm and snide remarks.

I've encountered my share of workplace predators, attacking, biting, and clawing others to hinder success. They deliver reasons you won't, can't or shouldn't try something, and their negative predictions cast doubt shadows.

Early in my career, I was cowered by the seeming strength of workplace predators, retreating into more neutral positions or second-guessing my thinking. The thinness of my confidence skin, soft and vulnerable, was an easy target for them. Their attacks made me question my abilities, direction, and contributions, at times feeling like they might even succeed in breaking my spirit or pushing me from the environment.

But I finally realized their attacks came as a result of my competence, success, and achievement. As my confidence grew, so did thicker skin, and it became easier to withstand their attacks.

Workplace predators are not winning at working, since people who are never tear down or attack others, even if their livelihood depends on it. Instead, people who are winning at working are like walruses, developing their protective thick skin in a group oriented approach. They do that through teamwork, results, quality and self-esteem, growing denser skin with each success, achievement, and accomplishment.

Unfortunately, here's the reality - when you're winning at working, you're going to have to deal with workplace predators. So, get yourself ready. Develop behaviors that repel and weaken their antics. Grow the thickest skin possible by your consistent performance, trust, integrity, and achievement. Cement your strength with persistence, determination and passion.

Then, when they strike, practice Thomas Jefferson's words, "Nothing gives one person so much advantage over another as to remain cool and unruffled under all circumstances." Remember, unruffled walruses starve bears.

(c) 2007 Nan S. Russell. All rights reserved.

Nan Russell is a writer, columnist, small business owner and online instructor. She is currently writing her first book, Winning at Working: 10 Lessons Shared. For more information or to subscribe to her eColumn, visit Nan's web site at


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