Sharking is a term used in pocket billiards and other cue sports when one’s opponent tries to use sometimes subtle behaviors to disturb your game or your rhythm. It can be as obvious as talking to you while you are shooting or standing behind the pocket in which you are aiming to sink your object ball. The general idea is to disrupt and to give them an advantage. Often, sharking does not work, but sometimes it does and thinking that it does reinforces the tendency for a shark to keep on sharking…
In business, you might see it as a small comment at a meeting to distract you or to focus attention away from what you are trying to communicate, to decrease your effectiveness in some way, to their perceived benefit and to your detriment. Sometimes your peers do it to you, consciously or unconsciously.
In some cultures this kind of sharking is even The Norm. People poke fun at others and it becomes a joke to many. I think of stereotypical cop cultures or military cultures as examples, which generally changed with more and more diversity being added, which served to constrain it to some degree.
And sometimes, your boss can act as a “Petit Tyrant” — a little tyrant — and behave in a way that “sharks” you in some way. This can happen in so many situations that it is hard to nail down, and it often reflects their conscious or unconscious biases against things. It is not the size of the tyrant, but the act of workplace bullying that makes them little. And what they do may not even be important so long as they think it raises them up over you, somehow. This behavior, done over time, can disrupt teamwork and decrease performance or one’s motivation to succeed.
The best way to deal with it is to identify it, to acknowledge it and to hope that it goes against some kinds of rules and organizational paradigms, to make them see their behavior as abnormal in some way. But it can also be political.
I’m generally a “Rules Guy,” in that understanding the rules generally mitigates the sharking to some degree. In pool, it is not a legal activity and people can be banned from tournaments or leagues by engaging in that behavior. (If you want to see my summary of 10-ball rules, you can find it here – I could not find a good summary so I created one!)
So, how might this impact the perceived power of a leader?
In many ways, I think. Often, the “petit tyrant” would actually benefit if their behavior could be more self-constrained, that they do a better job of recognizing “the sharking” they engage with others in their workplaces. Their behavior actually does nothing to improve collaboration and teamwork and generally pushes people apart. It can also be political for someone other than themselves to address the problem.
Let me share a divergent example as a case study. Understand that I am a pretty good observer of behavior, looking at the issues around people and performance since 1978.
I learned how to play pickleball. It is a great game and a lot easier than tennis for an old-timer like me. It is nicely challenging, a group activity where one meets new friends, and is physically active enough to be challenging.
Of course, as I was learning the game, I was watching YouTube, spending many hours watching instructional videos, matches, summaries of rules and all that stuff. (I am, remember, a rules-hound.) I would guess that I have spent 100+ hours observing over the past 6 months.
My understanding of the rules and tips for play then sometimes bumped into the group’s organizer, perceived leader and instructor, who we can call BT. Generally, he was right, but sometimes he was wrong. And he did not, generally, seem to like the fact that I was aware of things about the game that he may not have known about. He criticized aspects of my game for months, on many things. (I can only guess at this stuff.)
But the reality is that he often seemed to play petit tyrant with me, and only me.
In racquet sports games, it is common to call out the score. In pickleball, there is a norm that one always announces the score before serving.
My Mom, starting about age 80, gradually lost her hearing and would generally wear a hearing aid. But with my sister and I, she would often say that we were mumbling so that we would have to repeat ourselves. I never witnessed her asking anyone but Kim or me about not hearing. To a degree, I think it was a power issue, that she could play “petit tyrant” and try to control us a little as she felt she was losing her power because of her age. Understand that at this point in time, I was delivering public workshops and presentations to make a living, that I had presented 100s of session and thought that my speaking was clear and comprehensible. Except for my Mom. So we often repeated ourselves for the next 20 years…
So, it was always ME who never said the score loud enough often enough, even though I said it every time. He said I talked to the ground, I spoke behind me, etc. He would interrupt my service rhythm a few times a game, standing there with both arms up, telling me to yell the score again. Various playing partners, standing near him or receiving my serves, always heard it and never asked for it to be repeated. And he never challenged anyone else ever on this, to the best of my memory (only me.) And to the best of my recall, no one else in our group ever asked me to repeat the score during play over the last 6 months. (BT also says that this is HIS rule, even though this is the norm in the game worldwide.)
BT also recently started complaining about how slowly I walked from the net back to the line to receive his serve. When he served, I had just turned around, and if he had waited ONE SECOND, literally, I would have been set. But it was not about my speed of walking, it was another example of how he could “power” me about my game. Sharking.
Other players see it, and they tell me to just ignore it. But does anyone think this will get better on its own? I don’t.
So, the next time he stops my serve, I will walk up to the net to say it clearly to him, then walk back at my regular pace to the service line, compose myself and serve.
Is it worth the effort to confront a Petit Tyrant? I think that is your decision and you need to weigh the balance of consequences. Maybe it is, and maybe it is just not worth the effort and you can choose to suck it up and sabotage their efforts another way. The latter is a reality — sabotage is a French word arising from the tendency of French workers to throw their wooden shoes (sabots) into the machinery that was taking their jobs away, as I understand it. (History Here)
Thanks for reading. I did want to vent a little, but I also wanted to share some thoughts for those of you who feel you’ve been sharked. It IS generally a conscious decision on the part of your opponent. Good bosses and good co-workers do not engage in these kinds of behaviors, only the ones who feel that things are competitive and that they rise up if you sink a little.
Question for Reflection:
Are there any sharking or Petit Tyrant behaviors that YOU might look to mitigate in your workplace?
Keep things rolling out there and leave better impacts on your teams,
For the FUN of It!
Scott Simmerman Ph.D. CPF, CPT is still managing partner of PMC and collaborating with the team at PMC LLC,
but also sort of retired…
Scott is developer of the incredibly useful Square Wheels® tools and images
and the board game version of The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine
The new ONLINE, VIRTUAL version of Lost Dutchman is now being demonstrated (video here)
Scott has presented his concepts in 47 countries and collaborates with consultants and trainers worldwide.
You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can see his profile at LinkedIn
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