Friday, 9 September 2011

Wolf and Sheep post 9/11

The world has changed since 9/11. As a society we are focused on notions of underlying threat in many aspects of our lives. Negative images and interaction founded on lack of trust and paranoia abound. As we arrived at the anniversary of 9/11, I was reminded of a common quote - ‘a wolf in sheeps clothing’ and how this might be applied in 2011.

Starting a new job can be a stressful experience. As a locum GP I change workplace locations every two to three weeks – by choice. It’s something I’ve been doing for about three years now and as a result, I’ve developed a keen interest in workplace profiling.

Many people are familiar with the first day scenario. It’s a seemingly endless array of unfamiliar names and faces. However, it’s also a great time to start gathering information. This is not about ‘playing games’ or ‘getting inside peoples heads’ – I think of it more as a protection mechanism. In reality, I’m trying to work out who is a potential threat and who is liable to make things difficult.

If you’re anything like me, you’d spend the initial few days at a workplace trying to uncover the ‘wolf in sheeps clothing.’ But who or what is the wolf exactly? The reputation of the wolf has been quite unfavorable in most work places and I think we need to take a closer look at how a wolf is classified. In Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, the wolf (played by Harvey Keitel) was a highly efficient individual who solved problems - lets label that a Type I wolf. Traditionally, however the wolf has far more sinister connotations of someone who is cunning, deceitful and ruthless, stopping at nothing to get what they want - a Type II wolf.

In much the same way that Type I diabetes is often misunderstood and confused with Type II diabetes - so too is the fate of the workplace wolf. Personally, I rather enjoy the Type I wolf in any workplace. They are usually competent as well as confident and able to provide valuable information - as long as you’re not competing for their job.

The Type II wolf on the other hand, can be quite challenging. The Type II wolf will often attempt to make a significant effort on day one - the first act, otherwise known as deceit. This is followed by a period of superficial support and simultaneous slandering - act two, cunning. Eventually, this leads to a systematic smear campaign and the final act of ruthlessness - attempted character assassination. Surprisingly, the entire show (acts one to three) can occur in a relatively short time frame (less than two weeks).

One of the few things that may put a stop to the show after the first act is early identification.  Most of the power of the Type II wolf lies in their ability to create discomfort or unease in others discreetly. So be patient and eventually they will reveal themselves - the lure of self promotion is far too great for a Type II wolf.

But again, - this is not a call for hypervigilance on your first day at a new job. Not every workplace contains a Type I or Type II wolf for that matter, so approach the situation with honesty, humility and a measured dose of caution. As our ex-prime minister decreed in 2002 - you should be ‘alert but not alarmed.’

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