Office a Jungle?
How to Deal with Office Animals
The office is full of many different personality types.
When you can identify the different types of those who work for
or with you, you can better learn how to deal with and understand
them. While there is no
direct correlation between people and animals, you will clearly
recognize some character traits and behaviors – perhaps even in
yourself – in the following five animals that will help you to work
Snakes have a reputation for being sneaky and manipulative. In
reality, they are very independent and highly adaptive.
In the office, the snakes are not
the office gossips or troublemakers! Rather, they are the people who
prefer to keep to themselves and do their work, lying low in their
quiet, unassuming way. Like their animal counterparts, most office
“snakes” are beneficial to the environment and pose no danger to
To handle human snakes, you must be observant: What does this individual
perceive as threatening? They
hate sudden disruptions, so avoid abrupt changes and try not to spring
anything on them out of the blue. Snakes work best when they feel as
if they are always in the loop about matters that could affect them.
Just because they’re quiet doesn’t mean that they don’t want and
expect to be involved. Include them in all relevant decisions and make
sure they’re aware of the status of projects so that nothing sneaks
up on them.
These majestic creatures are similar to humans in many ways: they have
similar life spans and maturity phases, are bright, empathetic and
have great memories. Their massive size gives them tremendous power.
If you’ve ever seen the aftermath of a stampede, you know
that a lot of inadvertent damage can occur to the surroundings.
Office elephants throw their weight around, exercising power simply
because they can. They may or may not even realize the damage this
behavior can cause. Usually, they have acquired this power over time,
but they don’t have an official role in which to use it. For
instance, a manager may change positions within your company after a
number of years. Knowledge of the organization’s history and
politics can be powerful. What’s more, even if the current role
doesn’t give the “elephant” any real authority in the new
position, he or she may hang on to the power inherent in the former
When you work with or supervise an “elephant,” consistent contact is
essential to help ensure that they won’t use power and authority to
make decisions that negatively affect you or projects. Stay in
communication, speaking to the individual frequently, presenting ideas
and getting feedback. Even if you’re not always able to use
elephants’ ideas, at least you will help them to feel included in
the process, and they will be more likely to tread lightly than
These animals sprang into the popular imagination in animated form in
Lion King. Intensely loyal to their colony, meerkats take turns
vigilantly watching out for predators.
Office meerkats are the same way, always looking out for each
other and the good of the entire group. They are excellent at
developing and nurturing relationships, and will do whatever it takes
to make sure the group functions as a team.
When working with “meerkats,” you must avoid doing anything that seems
inconsistent with the goals of the organization. Such behavior is
likely to incur their wrath. They
are happy to inform the group if they discover behavior that
undermines the group.
Because meerkats are not necessarily the showiest of office animals, you
must remember to recognize and appreciate them. They deserve attention
for consistently being present with the right attitude and the right
In the office, human “vultures” are committed to their projects
and the company’s goals. You can identify office vultures by looking
on the sidelines, where they tend to lurk, waiting for an opportunity
to gain favor, sometimes at others’ expense. If you have vultures on
your team, let your boss know often what you and each individual on
the team is doing, so that a vulture can’t fly in and steal credit.
If you’re supervising vultures, communicate with each team member
through informal one-on-one status updates. Ask what exactly they are
involved in and how they feel the team is working together. You’ll
find that vultures’ language will be full of “I’s” and not a
lot of “we’s.” Even when questioned about the team, they’ll
focus on what they are
accomplishing rather than what the team is achieving.
Human vultures simply have huge egos, and to deal with them most
effectively, you must stroke those egos and make them feel like
they’re very important. Assign them personal projects and individual
responsibilities, so they can shine on their own, not through taking
credit for others’ work.
You can’t be truly successful if you’re surrounded by
“yes” people all the time, and no team can function at its best
without a variety of perspectives. Donkey types bring that to the
table. They keep you and the team honest and thinking about other
options. They are committed and want to do what is right.
Unfortunately, donkeys often think that their way is the right way.
Find ways to give donkeys complete individual responsibility for a
project. Let them know that they will be held entirely accountable for
the project, whether it works or not. Give them the flexibility and
latitude to do whatever they want to get results, but also make them
accountable for the end product. They may learn eventually to listen
to feedback from others, especially when they see that their way
doesn’t always work.
Whether you’re the organization’s CEO or a member of a project team,
you have at least a little bit of one of these animals in your
personality, maybe even more than one. However, unlike these animals,
you have been trained and adapted to your environment.
The key is knowing how to train others on your team or in your
No one likes to feel dictated to, no matter what their animal “type.”
Like animals, few humans really enjoy being told what to do,
but we will all do many things willingly when we feel as if doing so
is our own idea. Anytime you can make them feel as if the idea
you’re presenting to them is theirs, not yours, you will be far more
successful at getting what you want from them. When that happens,
you’ll have flocks of happy employees who positively contribute to
the company’s bottom line.
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