Weasels are small, active predators, long and slender with short legs. They are present across the world. They have long slender bodies, which enable them to follow their prey into burrows. As is typical of small omnivores, weasels have a reputation for cleverness and guile. They are considered by many to be vermin.
The term ‘weasel words’ derives from the proposition that weasels suck eggs leaving them devoid of their contents. In the human context this refers to someone who has the appearance of being capable and having integrity, but in fact this is far from the truth – they are empty beings!
Weasels exist in organisations at every level. They are so prevalent that the chances are that you will work very closely with a weasel – especially if you are in the business world.
Let us look at some of the characteristics of a weasel when they work within an organisation.
- They are very good at organisational politics and using this to their own advantage
- They react badly to being challenged an/or being put in a position where they need to change. Beware of the attack of a weasel in this situation.
- They have the ability to sniff out others with power and influence over the boss and align themselves with them
- They spend most of their time looking towards pleasing the top of the organisation and not necessarily their customer or their staff.
- They read the boss well and know what to do to please them
- They adapt their focus to gain favour from whoever is their boss at any one time
- They do what the boss wants (which is not necessarily the right thing)
- They put a lot of energy into managing their image and reputation.
- They can be autocratic and uncaring to their staff, unless being otherwise will further their career.
- They do not really hold integrity. In making decisions they will wait to judge ‘which way the wind is blowing’ instead of making judgements based on their own values.
- They will be very effective at lying if this will further their own agenda.
- They may treat outside suppliers of the organisation on a transactional basis and expect servile behaviour – unless they want something, then this will temporarily change.
- The main focus of the weasel is the wellbeing and career success of the weasel – not anything else.
Identifying a weasel in business is sometimes very difficult, but dealing on business to business basis with an organisation run by weasels can be quite dangerous, so it is advisable to put some small weasel awareness tests into play before entering into a trading relationship.
Remember, a weasel is a corporate thief and will be trying to manoeuvre himself into a position where you are exposed.
Some behaviour that may be exhibited:
- A weasel may keep you waiting for an appointment and then provide an excuse
- When meeting a potential weasel, look for the eye contact. Weasels can typically have two extremes of eye contact. Either fleeing, or inappropriately intense.
- The weasel may be very charming to you. This will be done to gain your trust.
- A weasel may take phone call during your meeting with them – especially if it is from their boss. They may also close your meeting early if the boss asks to see him
- Look out for derogatory comments about others and flattery towards you. This may be intended to deceive.
- He may ask you questions for which he already knows the answer.
- Following a meeting he may fail to respond to emails telephone calls and or other attempts to communicate.
- Rather than a telephone, call, his main mode of communication may be by email.
- He may fail to meet agreed deadlines and take follow up actions.
- He may cancel and postpone follow up meetings
- He may constantly disappoint with their subsequent performance within the trading relationship – let you down, pay you late, etc – unless it is to their advantage.
- He may make unrealistic demands of the business relationship – wanting things for free.
- He may make promises for the future which never transpire.
- If challenged, the weasel may come back with very persuasive excuses in order to rebuild the relationship – if he sees this to be an advantage. Be very careful, this is manipulative behaviour.
Of course, many of the characteristics of the weasel described may not indicate weaselness, but just incompetence, fear and insecurity.
However, either way it is dangerous if the situation is not managed. The key weasel test is actually how they make you feel. Generally, if you feel that you are dealing with a weasel, then you probably are.
The most important part of the relationship with a weasel is to know what you are dealing with. You can then adjust your expectations accordingly. Like all animals, weasels can be trained to your advantage by knowing which buttons to press and how to go about it. We will consider this in a future article.
Lastly, I have sometimes referred to weasel in the male gender above. These characteristics equally apply to female weasels also.
It is also worth noting that weasels generally may not recognise themselves as such!