Scientists say your odds of encountering an oceanic shark are 10-million to 1, but you are much more likely to run up against the office variety _ and they are more predatory.
Office sharks are motivated by ambition, competitiveness and insecurity, Sarah Francis wrote in Cosmopolitan, and when business is bad and layoffs are imminent, office sharks prowl, propelled by their instinct for survival. Good-natured, highly competent young women make the most tempting prey.
"Even though women have been in the workplace for many years, we still have idealistic views," said Carole Lieberman, a Beverly Hills, Calif., psychiatrist. "We may not be alert to danger signals. And we play by the old rules, trying to get things to be fair, acting as peacekeepers. That makes us particularly vulnerable."
Sharp-toothed colleagues come in both sexes and are divided into three main subspecies.
Nurse shark. This specimen seems docile, even helpful at first, and usually does not attack unless provoked. The problem is, this type tends to be paranoid and finds your very existence a threat. Typically, a nurse shark will pose as an expert on office politics. Don't trust her advice and guidance.
Hammerhead. Members of this aggressive breed are blatant about their dislike for you. Winning through intimidation is their standard operating procedure as they feed on all creatures powerful and puny.
Great white. The most voracious and feared office shark, the great white claims to be your friend, then spreads ugly rumors about you.
Don't allow such a hostile colleague to "get the goods on you," Lieberman warned.
"She'll use personal information about you to her advantage," the psychiatrist said. "At social occasions, particularly where there's alcohol, barriers drop and you may start talking to her as if she's your best friend."
Once you realize a ruthless colleague is out to get you, you must hold your ground, said Janice
LaRouche, author of Strategies for Women at Work.
"Abusers are bullies, and they tend to pick on people they perceive as weak and respect those who stand up to them," she said. "If you respond assertively, they'll back off. They have no concept of what constitutes an equal relationship, but they'll soon realize bullying isn't going to work with you."
Here are some strategies for dealing with office sharks:
Keep cool. Don't let a tantrum-thrower frazzle you. Lose your cool, and you lose.
Have allies. Maintain strong working relationships with people you trust, but always be discreet about your personal life. If you suspect a shark, confront her when your friends are around.
"Bring her out in the open," said Chuck Kitzmiller, a personal management specialist in Fort Pierce. "Ask her to explain her behavior."
If all else fails you can feed misinformation to the person who is out to get you. Or leak details of her top-secret project. Subtly let the boss know when she makes a mistake, but be sure the tip can't be traced back to you.