Like the hyenas out in the African plains, workplace hyenas give off communication signals before they attack. Fortunately, if you know what signals or hints to watch out for you can avoid becoming the next victim of a workplace hyena.
Workplace hyenas are predators like those in nature except they don’t always choose the weak and vulnerable as their prey.
Hyena Hint 1: Separating out a target prey from the herd is a classic hyena move, for those in the wild and those in the workplace. Unlike real hyenas, workplace hyenas don’t always go for the weakest member of the herd. Many times they go for the most skilled member of the herd to advance their hyena agenda. The point of this hyena move is that once the target is separated they become more vulnerable. Once the hyena has you separated they have you exactly where they want you. In the workplace, that means the rest of the team does not have transparency. If you’re the skilled expert, once you’ve been culled from the herd, the hyena has you on the run, in a defensive position and possibly manipulated into service of the hyena agenda. This manipulation is meant to convert you so you have to advance their position, opinion, or recommendation – whether you agree with it or not.
Watch out for updates that go to an entire team but when the difficult subjects are being debated, communications suddenly start going to one or two people for input or clarification.
Hyenas run prey down until they’re exhausted. Workplace hyenas wear you down with delays and distractions.
Hyena Hint 2: Another hyena move is to run prey down and wear them down. In nature, this is more sprint than marathon for the poor wildebeest that usually loses the race for life. In addition to raw speed, hyenas are so cunning they will launch a test chase to practice the kill. In addition to the learning, it tires out the herd and the individual targets. Workplace hyenas have additional ways to wear you down such as delays and distractions. Delays and distractions keep the project and the team stuck where it is, which is probably where workplace hyenas want you to be. Delays and distractions give them the time and position to be able to manipulate the situation to suit their agenda. Often, delays and distractions are a tool to cover up bigger problems such as mistakes, ethical issues or ineptitude. When workplace hyenas are constantly on the offensive with delays and distractions, then you are on the defensive, worn out and incapable of hurting them or their agendas.
Watch out for communications that have the team “look over here, so you don’t look there.” Also look for never-ending questions and clarifications that are constantly circling back to basic issues and unnecessarily extending the timelines. Look for white-knuckled grasp on a status quo, existing recommendation or way of doing things even when it doesn’t seem to make sense to the larger team.
Hyenas are social, cooperative hunters. Workplace hyenas coordinate attacks to eliminate threats to their agenda.
Hyena Hint 3: Hyenas are like wolves in that they are cooperative hunters. There may be nothing a lot more more eerie than hearing the howling cascade that indicates wolves are coordinating the moment they advance for the kill. Hyenas also coordinate using audible, visual and olfactory communication. They are famous for their laughing, although it’s probably not so funny if you’re the wildebeest. Workplace hyenas can operate as a coordinated clan, too. The hyena clan coordinates their attack because you represent a threat to the group, their collective ideas and status quo. The hyena clan believes they represent the majority while you represent the minority. They protect the group’s agenda by marginalizing you and anyone else like you on the team.
Watch out for communications that have a gang mentality, like a shooting gallery to blow holes in colleagues’ new ideas, opinions or recommendations. Keep an eye on communications that suggest you aren’t seeing the bigger picture because the clan understands the greater good better than you do.
More often than not, our colleagues aren’t acting like workplace hyenas on purpose.
Hyena behaviors can happen without the person knowing they are being toxic. Nobody intentionally sets out to be a culture killer. Sometimes our colleagues feel so strongly about their agenda that, when it’s threatened, they revert into hyena behavior. Just because they are nice people doesn’t mean you can treat the hyena behavior as if it isn’t dangerous. Workplace hyenas are no laughing matter. Know the communication signals of workplace hyenas so you don’t become their next meal.
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