Anyone who's ever worked in an office knows there are things that totally suck.
The eternally singed bottom of the coffee pot; the supposedly ergonomic chair that actually doubles as a medieval torture device; Mondays. Then there are the Energy Vampires, who suck so hard, they can actually drain a team of its vitality and kill your company from within.
"An Energy Vampire is someone who sucks your energy dry," explains Dr. Judith Orloff, author of The Ecstasy of Surrender. "When you're around them you feel sick or angry or depressed."
I can remember one particular colleague of mine, let's call him Edward, who seemed to bring a Pig-Pen-like cloud of darkness around him to every meeting and conversation. Edward had an uncanny ability to stop a collegial, flowing idea session in its tracks with a poorly timed piece of negative feedback; whenever he approach my desk, it felt like someone had dimmed the lights as I was sucked into his powerful anti-charisma. We had lunch together only once, and I remember that what little I knew about his personal life always felt like too much.
Edward was an Energy Vampire and I was his occasional victim.
"HR needs to know about these people," Orloff says. "They can make a workplace fearful."
Orloff, a bestselling self-help author and Los Angeles-based MD whose work emphasizes intuition, says that nearly 90% of the patients she sees in her psychiatric practice come in with workplace-related issues. "They're at work 10 to 12 hours a day," she explains. "They're with their coworkers more than their spouses and if work is toxic, it will make you toxic."
There is a chance that you might be an Energy Vampire yourself. "We all can be whiners, we all can be control freaks," Orloff says. "Very mindfully notice it and be kind to yourself and change the pattern. If it's pointed out to you, don't be offended."
So, how do you spot these extreme Debbie Downers or curb your own energy sapping tendencies? Orloff has some suggestions:
Orloff notes that there are several different types of Energy Vampires you may encounter at work and in life.
The Drama Queen: "He or she wears you out with off-the-chart drama: Their boyfriend left them for the hundredth time; they think they have cancer; etc." Orloff's advice: "Keep everything very short. Be kind but short … Use 'I'm not interested' body language, turning away, crossing your legs. Don't feed drama. They get bored easily and move on."
The Victim: This person is always declaring, "Woe is me," Orloff says, and their victimhood can spread. "They can take a workplace down. 'Our business is going under; we're never gonna make it.' It can make a workplace impossible … Fear is like a virus that can make the workplace a terrible place to be." With Victims, you have to set very clear boundaries and try to turn their negativity around. Orloff suggests telling them, "I understand your feelings but we need to stay positive."
The Narcissist: This is often the hardest to deal with because they're more often than not your boss: "The only way to deal with a narcissistic boss is to frame [everything] for how it will help them … They lack empathy."
Simply refuse to offer up your neck. "They're usually not doing it on purpose," she says. "They have an energy leak inside them that can't be filled and they feed off of you." If your buttons are pushed, Orloff counsels, don't react. Give them nothing. "You won't come off rude, you're just not feeding them."
When confronted by negativity, your best bet is to go positive. "Get more into solutions," Orloff says. "Everybody can be an Energy Vampire. Everybody. If you're aware of it, you can change it."
As Orloff explains in her book, surrendering certain patterns, assumptions, and habits is essential to fostering better relationships and cultivating a happier life. In the workplace, she advises that you give up "old, non-constructive patterns for how to deal with people. Be prepared to let go of old ideas. Surrender the idea that you always have to be right."
"People think surrender won't work because they see it as weakness or defeat. Letting go of old habits is the most powerful thing you can do."
Think you might be the problem? Orloff's book also features a quiz to help you pinpoint your energy-sucking tendencies.
We’ve all got a little of energy vampire in us, especially when we’re stressed. So, cut yourself a break. It’s admirable to admit, "I think I’m emotionally draining people. What can I do?" You can’t be free without such honesty. Then you can change. These are some common indications that you’re becoming a drainer. Even saying yes to one indicates that you have some vampire tendencies.
- People avoid you or glaze over during a conversation
- You’re self-obsessed
- You’re often negative
- You gossip or bad-mouth people
- You’re critical, controlling
The solution is always to own up to where you’re emotionally stuck and change the related behavior. For instance, one patient in computer graphics kept complaining to his wife about how he always got stuck with boring projects at work. Instead of trying to improve the situation, he just kvetched. She started dreading those conversations and diplomatically mentioned it to him. This motivated him to address the issue with his supervisor, which got him more stimulating assignments. Similarly, whenever I slip into vampire mode, I try to examine and alter my behavior or else discuss the particulars with a friend or a therapist so I can change. Don’t hesitate to seek assistance when you’re stumped.
- Be calm, not emotionally reactive
- Avoid defensiveness—it makes you look weak
- Patiently hear someone out without interrupting or needing to have the last word
- Empathize with where people are coming from, even if you disagree with them
- Pick your battles, apologize when necessary
- Be drawn into drama
- React impulsively out of anxiety or anger so you say something you’ll regret
- Hold onto resentments or stay attached to being right
- Attempt to manage other people’s lives or become their therapist
- Shame people, especially in front of others
[Image: Flickr user Ramesh NG]