Psychology of Sharks and Seals

This activity enables you to look at your interpersonal style and at your style in relationship to the styles of others. You may find the activity most helpful if you first complete the activity and then read the discussion that follows. Once you have completed the discussion, return to the activity and reconsider your responses. Also, this will be a good time to consider your style in relationship to the styles of others.

Here focus is on your basic nature. It is important to get in touch with who you really are and to avoid responding in terms of how you would like to be or how you would like to be seen by others. In each of the five sets below, consider the descriptions of each personality type, get in touch with who you really are, and then circle either ‘A’ or ‘B,’ depending on which one most closely parallels your nature. It may help to think in terms of how you would respond or react during times of stress or tension. It is at these times when one’s real nature tends to come to the surface.

1–A: SHARKS Sharks are involved and decisive. They are very much into being individuals who are not part of the group and who definitely operate in their own interest. Being involved takes the form of being extremely alert, aware of what is going on, and prepared to act quickly and efficiently. Decisiveness is a major characteristic, with sharks being able to make a decision and act on it without hesitation or second guessing.

B: SEALS Seals are helpful and playful. They are definitely part of the group and social participation is a high priority for them. They like being helpful, doing things for and with others, and making things work out well for everyone. They also have an ability to be helpful in a fun way, with playfulness being one of their primary characteristics.

2–A: LIONS Lions are assertive and positive. They loudly make their presence known and are immediately recognized and are always attended to. Their assertiveness serves them well in terms of furthering their point of view, their ideas, and their view of the situation and how it should be. They are also positive, expect to succeed, assume that others will respond to their needs and interest, and take the attitude that they never lose but only sometimes need a little more time to win.

B: LAMBS Lambs are loyal and gentle. A lamb is the type who says she will do anything for you and really means it. A lamb’s loyalty causes her to go the last mile for anyone to whom the lamb is loyal. They are also recognizable by their gentleness, ability to go with the flow, and the certain knowledge that they will never become aggressive, abrasive, or menacing.

3– A: BEARS Bears are spontaneous and relaxed. Their spontaneity results in their being a lot of fun, easy to be around much of the time, and always ready to be part of the action and usually responsible for spontaneously initiating the action. Bears also appear to be quite relaxed, laid back, and always in control. They do have a tendency to go into hibernation if things get a little out of their control or are not quite the way they want them to be and also have a tendency to get a little carried away with what are sometimes bone–crushing bear hugs when they want to press their point, with those ‘hugs’ coming up fairly spontaneously and a little unpredictably.

B: BEAVERS Beavers are very responsible and open. They do what is expected, always follow through with their commitments, and are intent on taking care of the piece of the world that has been assigned to them. This responsibility combines with openness to make them very accepting, very up front and sharing, and willing to work with anyone under almost any circumstances. Their sense of responsibility does get a little rigid sometimes in terms of doing things the way they are supposed to be done whether that is exactly what the situation calls for or not. Their openness may occasionally be seen as gullibility and does have the tendency to make them vulnerable to those who are less scrupulous. Nonetheless, they do what they do very well, especially if it is not of concern that they seem to have virtually no capacity to do other than what they do.

4–A: TIGERS Tigers are energetic and attractive. They are real go–getters who enjoy taking on a challenge to which they can bring nearly boundless energy. They are also extremely attractive in terms of others being attracted to them. Their attractiveness draws a crowd to them quickly; and they have the good fortune of having the energy to deal with all of the attention. They are great at getting things started but sometimes may lack a little in the follow through or persistence department. It has also been pointed out that tigers are sexy which is not surprising since they are obviously attractive and do have the energy to ‘stay out all night and cat around:’ a good pastime for a tiger.

B: TURTLES Turtles are dependable and patient. They can be counted on in the short run and in the long run. This includes sticking to the path, persevering under difficult circumstances, and an ability to endure the gusty winds and bumpy roads inherent in the journey. Their patience really is a virtue of the first order, giving them the ability to wait until it all blows over or things clear up. They do have a tendency to crawl into their shells when the going gets tough or stress gets high; but they are well protected within the shell and will always be there when the time comes to start again. They have also been seen as extremely thorough and able to do a job, especially if it doesn’t matter how long it takes.

5–A: BUZZARDS Buzzards are flexible and supportive. They have the long view, the broad perspective, and are very good about cleaning up the messes of others. They are what has been described as troubleshooters and problem finders, although their problem solving is sometimes excessive and may seem like overkill. They are also supportive, since they do not need a goal and mission of their own. They can get involved sometimes without even being asked and will support which ever cause or side they happen to be on at the time. Nonetheless, it is important to emphasize the buzzard’s ability to adjust to almost any difficult or complex situation, his ability to find problems where there may not have been any that were obvious to any one else, and his willingness to work toward whatever end seems most appropriate and expedient at the time.

B: BEES Bees are consistent and accepting. Their constancy allows them to do the things they do in a regular and predictable way. They are easy to be around since their styles are so recognizable and definable. They are also accepting and seem not to mind changes in situations or circumstances, the ups and downs experienced by others with whom they associate, and the fact that the world is not always as others think it should always be. These positive qualities are only somewhat diminished by the bee’s tendency to ‘stick it to you’ when you might least expect it because the bee is so sweet and honey like that it is hard to get upset or annoyed with her, although things do get a little sticky from time to time.

(Note) It is really a jungle out there and is also important to understand the animals and to understand the animal group to which you belong. There is also the socialized civilized side of things, though. This is where consideration and tolerance come in. They are not of the nature of individuals but need to be learned over time and carefully cultivated. Using a 5–point scale with 5 representing very high, 4 representing high, 3 representing medium, 2 representing low, and 1 representing very low, how would you rate yourself in terms of being considerate with others in your family? Using the same rating scale, how would you rate yourself in terms of being tolerant with other people in your family? Can you give three examples of your being considerate and three of your being tolerant to support your rating?


If this activity is compared to the interpersonal style type activity, it will be seen that the sharks, lions, bears, tigers, and buzzards reflect the same elements or characteristics as were attributed to dictators and levitators. Further, seals, lambs, beavers, turtles, and bees reflect the same elements or characteristics as were attributed to facilitators and gravitators. This activity may, then, be understood in relationship to and as an extension of the earlier, interpersonal style type activity.

Ordinarily, individuals participating in the activity will tend to identify with group A: sharks–lions–bears–tigers–buzzards and with group B: seals–lambs–beavers–turtles–bees. The fact is that their day–to–day functioning may actually reflect this mixed and blended pattern. The tendency is, though, for them to move nearly exclusively toward the A group or the B group during times of stress, tension, conflict, confusion, or ambiguity. The tendency is to move into their comfort zones.

Group A individuals tend, by nature, to be more aggressive and individualistic, while members of group B tend to be more passive and socially oriented. Although individuals sometimes have difficulty recognizing this comfort zone tendency, others members of the family usually have no difficulty assigning each family member to one of the two groups.

Once the consultant has facilitated the client’s identifying the group in which she best fits, education begins to focus on the effect of socialization on his natural style and on the client’s ability to recognize and modify the style during times of stress, confusion, or interpersonal ambiguity. The activity becomes a measure of the extent to which the client is experiencing stress insofar as she will tend to go to the extremes within group A or the extremes within group B, moving in a direction consistent with her natural tendency. Understanding and recognizing this tendency is, then, the first step in developing more socialized, more effective style during times of stress.

Group A individuals learn to recognize their typical stress reactions in terms of the characteristics designating their group. They will find themselves becoming more intensely focused on and preoccupied with the situations and individuals with whom they are interacting. Their involvement becomes very intense and tends to exclude other interests and activities. At times, this may take on an almost obsessive quality. They also develop an increased need to be decisive, make something happen, and take charge of both the situation and of other people in the situation.

This group A tendency compounds in terms of being more forceful and assertive sometimes edging on aggressiveness. The individual’s level of spontaneity shifts to what is easily perceived by others as insensitivity and a lack of concern for their feelings and thoughts. The intense control experienced by the individual is intended to convey an attitude of relaxed positiveness and confidence. The underlying tension and anxiety, however, come through and are easily seen by others as the primary state of the individual. Group A people under extreme stress take on a driven quality with their normally energetic and attractive approach becoming overwhelming and, to some extent, overbearing. The usual responses they get from others to their flexibility and supportiveness are quickly replaced by a reciprocal anxiety and quality of apprehension. The group A person has become, from the point of view of others, unpredictable and potentially dangerous in socioemotional terms. Along with experiencing extreme stress, she becomes a stress carrier, quickly transferring her stress and tension to others.

Group B individuals in times of extreme stress begin to manifest that natural helpfulness becomes a need to do things for others and to be all things to all people. Their nervousness and apprehension are managed through seeming to take little seriously and seeming as if they think everyone wants to play and not really deal with the serious issues or concerns. In this sense, their attitude is sometimes perceived by others as somewhat childish and inappropriate.

Type B individuals also begin to find their security in being loyal to others without rational appraisal of the goals and direction inherent in this unquestioning loyalty. Their normal gentleness becomes passivity and increases their vulnerability. This is compounded by their openness that becomes excessive in the direction of self–disclosure and an absence of self–protection. Their sense of responsibility intensifies and increases to the point of becoming a self–imposed burden with compounds with an increased need to be seen as dependable which may result in their pushing themselves past the point of responsible participation. What is usually a very desirable quality of patience becomes an inability to act, developing a quality of socioemotional immobilization.

The result of these tendencies is a high level of ambiguity and uncertainty that results in increased anxiety and tension as a result of a perceived inability to consistently play their parts in the group. At this point, their usually appealing, accepting approach to others moves into the realm of fatalism and powerlessness and a sense of being defeated and unappreciated.

Whether extreme stress moves one toward the group A adaptation of the sharks or the group B adaptation of the seals, the effect is counterproductive for the individual. This is true whether the tendency is mild or more toward the extreme. In either event, the individual needs to move toward a socialized, interpersonal adaptation. With the support and coaching of the consultant, both the sharks and the seals learn to develop early awareness of and recognition of stress reactions and adaptational patterns in themselves. Once this recognition has occurred and has been accompanied by education directed to understanding the reaction pattern, consultation focuses in terms of more effective self–management and interpersonal participation.

Sharks will find that their stress levels reduce as they become more helpful and playful, loyalty–oriented and gentle, sensitive to their interpersonal responsibilities and more open with others, conscious of being there for others and being a dependable participant, developing a longer perspective with increased patience and more socioemotional consistency, and simply being more accepting of others, who they are, and what their needs and interests are. Sharks best manage stress reactions by emulating the strengths of the seals, with the seals achieving the same end through emulating the strengths of the sharks.