You work hard, and there’s never enough time in the day to get everything done, it seems. You do everything you can think of to prioritize, schedule time for important things and work efficiently. Whatever is within your control, you’ve mastered it. Often, you’d be able to get more done if it weren’t for that co-worker, too. You may be in an unfortunate situation to have regular contact with an “Energy Vampire.”
What is an Energy Vampire?
These are people who seem to get your attention at the most inopportune times. They draw you into a conversation that leaves you feeling exhausted. You’ve probably tried to graciously get away, but you feel trapped.
An energy vampire may interrupt you at every turn, be the purveyor of office gossip or take way too long to leave your desk because they have “one more thing” that is so important. You leave the interaction feeling depleted and off-kilter.
You can’t change other people, but you can take actions to get back control of your time. Here are practical steps you can take to minimize the distraction and keep your energy protected from this type of difficult co-worker.
Types of Energy Vampires at Work
First, you need to know is what you’re dealing with. Energy vampires come in many forms, but a few types are more common than others.
This person has a poor concept of personal boundaries. They aren’t aware of what’s appropriate to share at work and what isn’t. They lack an understanding of the context of your relationship.
Whether it’s deeply personal information (“I think my boyfriend is cheating on me”), or about a mutual co-worker’s food choices, you really aren’t interested. They take up unreasonable amounts of your time talking and seem to think you are closer friends than you assume (or want to be).
These individuals are highly attuned to rejection, so much so that they can’t seem to detach and move on when necessary. Whether you like it or not, you get sucked in and need to extract yourself from the situation.
What to do: Be kind, but short. Make sure you are clearly communicating. For instance “I don’t feel comfortable talking about so-and-so” or “This sounds important to you, but can we focus on A, B, and C?”. Complement your words with strong non-verbal signals too. Stand up and move towards closing your office door, start typing, or walk away.
This energy vampire is entitled to take up your time (obviously) because their agenda supersedes above all. They brag about accomplishments, drop names and downplay the contributions of others. They somehow manage to do all this in one brief encounter. They may even accuse you of being too sensitive or overly dramatic if you speak up to rebut their point. Personalities like these are tough to take, but not impossible to work with.
What to do: First, recognize that this behavior is an attempt to meet a need. In this case, it’s generally a desire to feel important and valued. The person may lack the self-awareness to meet their need more appropriately. Knowing this makes it much easier to remain emotionally detached, since there’s a good chance they will take a subtle shot at you, too.
Armed with that knowledge, you will be in a good position to assert yourself and get your point across. Include something that validates their need while also standing your ground. For example, “I think that’s a great idea but I’d also like to explore doing…” or “I’m glad we have clever people like you on the team. Thanks for your thoughts. I would like to go in this direction we initially discussed”. You will be amazed at how well this person responds to you in the future.
This person wants detailed instruction and reassurance on a regular basis. He or she really doesn’t want to let you down and doesn’t want to make any decisions that could jeopardize the success of your team or a project. Unfortunately, this behavior leads to learned helplessness. This type of energy vampire, while well-intentioned, may constantly ask questions or be fearful about taking action independently. As a consequence, they drag down productivity and your bandwidth along with it.
What to do: Answering every single question to get them to leave you alone will only make the problem worse. Curb the need to “fix” the situation each time The Dependent comes running to you with a supposed “emergency”. This person needs assurance they’re doing fine and are capable of making decisions, otherwise, they wouldn’t have that job, right?
Provide a snippet of positive feedback upfront, then coach the person to find their own solutions or creatively problem solve. Show appreciation when the task is complete. Kindness is also key. Reacting with frustration will only make matters worse.
You’ve heard all this before and tried it, but it’s not working. Or is it?
If you’ve tried these things and it didn’t stop, you might be a “slot machine” for that person, unfortunately. What do slot machines do? Reward you a little bit every now and then. How does this apply here? An energy vampire is used to being rewarded when people engage with them. If you tried these strategies and found the vampire coming back for more later despite your efforts, they’re hoping the next reward is just around the corner. The hardest part with all this is that you have to stick to the plan every time, without fail.
“But I did, and it got worse!” Guess what? That means it’s actually working. When a reward we’re used to getting doesn’t appear, we try harder until we get it again. This is called an “extinction burst” and if it happens, your message is sinking in. Hold on tight, it will dissipate.
Are YOU the Energy Vampire?
Could the energy vampire be you? If while reading this, you thought “This sounds uncomfortably like me” or “I think people are giving me those messages when I talk to them,” take solace. You have the advantage of awareness and can nip it in the bud yourself. Be proactive and rein in your interactions with others. In the process, you’ll learn more about what you can change within yourself.
Energy vampires at work don’t have to drain you or those around you. By taking these steps you’ll find interactions are easier, freeing up your time, mental and emotional energy along with it. Most importantly, with healthier boundaries, you can bring your best work to the table.