Is Your Coworker an Emotional Vampire?

31 Jul

Today’s guest post comes to us from Brandon Smith. Therapist, professor, consultant and radio host, Brandon brings an upbeat, witty approach to the challenges of workplace health and dysfunction. Brandon is the founder of theworkplacetherapist.com – a resource dedicated to eliminating dysfunction at work, improving workplace health and restoring optimism and focus in the workplace. Brandon also currently serves as faculty at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School where he teaches and researches on topics related to leadership, communication and healthy workplace dynamics.

vampireLarry was a mysterious colleague. “Charming and captivating” were words his coworkers used to describe first meeting Larry. Larry just seemed to emit a certain attractive quality. It would reel you in like a moth to a flame. But then something strange would happen. The more time spent with Larry, the more his coworkers would complain of feeling drained and exhausted. Larry became known for turning 30-minute “touch base” meetings into 2-3 hour marathons where he would talk, preach, reenact, dream, and generally suck up the energy in the room. Unfortunately, while Larry was feeding off of the energy in the room, his coworkers suffered. Larry would leave the meetings energized with an extra hop in his step while his coworkers crawled to the door, exhausted and drained from Larry’s endless one-way banter. Larry is part of a dangerous office breed: the emotional vampire.

How You Know You’ve Been Bitten

Emotional vampires are sneaky and subtle. They move in as charming colleagues. They are captivating, entertaining, and generally interesting. The problem is that their energy comes from the people around them. Whether they hijack meetings to dream about big ideas or they take over discussions to complain about their workload, their energy comes from being heard and reaffirmed. They suck mercilessly until they are fed, leaving shriveled colleagues in their wake. How do you know if you’ve been bitten? Three signs:

  1. The emotional vampire talks about him/herself relentlessly—They find ways to take what you are talking about and turn it to themselves. They listen very little and talk incessantly.
  2. The emotional vampire has no boundaries and no respect for others’ time—They grab you in the hallway, causing you to be late. They never ever end meetings on time.
  3. You feel exhausted after you spend time with them—They usually start off meetings semiflat and end meetings looking and acting “high.” Those in the meeting with the emotional vampire have the opposite experience. If you find yourself bringing coffee to meetings in anticipation of the energy drain you’ll likely experience, you may have an emotional vampire on your hands.

Your Garlic Strategy for Keeping Emotional Vampires at Bay

I’ve fought my fair share of emotional vampires in the workplace, and I have the fang marks to prove it. After barely escaping their clutches on more than one occasion, I’ve learned that there are certain things that you can do that emotional vampires despise. Consider the following strategies:

  • If possible, never meet with them in person—Emotional vampires have to meet in person in order to effectively drain other’s energy. For them, it is not a preference, it is a need. Refuse to meet with them in person and offer a phone call instead. You’ll see them squirm, protest, and revolt. It seems fangs can’t penetrate through phone lines very well.
  • Never answer your phone when they call—When emotional vampires call, never answer your phone. Force them to leave a message so you know what they want and call them back on your time. If you don’t, they’ll catch you off guard and derail your day.
  • Always open every conversation with a “hard stop”—Emotional vampires suck and suck and suck until you tell them to stop. Your best preemptive strategy is to open every interaction with an emotional vampire by announcing, “Unfortunately, I only have ten minutes to talk.” It forces them to get to the point and keeps them relatively in check. Note: Whatever “hard stop” you announce, just be aware that they will not adhere to it, so be sure to give yourself a buffer.
  • Be aggressive and take charge—Emotional vampires tend to prey on our professional courtesies and politeness. They take charge of conversations and quickly turn the topic of conversation to themselves and what they want to talk about. They do not like aggressive conversationalists. If you are the one asking the questions of them and if you keep redirecting them back to the agenda, you’ll soon see that they will begin to avoid you. You prevent them from getting what they want, and they don’t like that.

Emotional vampires leave shriveled hollow shells of colleagues in their wake. Stop them in their tracks with the strategies outlined above and they might just see the light. Then again, like most vampires, emotional vampires don’t care very much for the light and may just look for another home that is darker and less bright. Either way, you rid your workplace of those nasty pests.

Good luck, stay sharp, and keep your garlic handy.

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