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Protect Yourself from Workplace "Energy Vampires"

Our relationships at work are influenced by a give and take of energy. Some coworkers and colleagues inspire and energize us, while others suck the life right out of us. As a physician, I feel compelled to warn you that energy vampires bent on sapping your exuberance do indeed roam the workplace. I’ve seen their fang marks and the carnage they’ve wrought throughout my practice and in my workshops.

Unfortunately, most of us don’t know how to identify and deal with energy vampires, so we become their unwitting victims. The good news is that you can protect yourself. Here are descriptions of various workplace energy vampires and strategies for escaping their bites:

Vampire #1: The Sob Sister
If she’s talking, she's whining—and she loves a captive audience. She’s the coworker with the “poor me” attitude who’s more interested in complaining than in finding solutions to her problems.

How to Protect Yourself: Set clear boundaries. Limit the time you spend talking about her complaints. With a firm but kind attitude say, “I’m sorry, I can only talk for a few minutes today,” then go on with your work.

Vampire #2: The Drama Queen
This vampire has a flair for turning small incidents into off-the-chart dramas. My patient Sarah was exhausted when she hired a new employee who was always late for work. One week he had the flu and “almost died.” Next, his car was towed, again! After this employee left her office Sarah felt tired and used.

How to Protect Yourself: Drama queens don’t get mileage out of equanimity. Stay calm. Take a few deep breaths. This will help you avoid getting caught up in their histrionics. At work, set kind but firm limits. Say, "You must be here on time to keep your job. I'm sorry for all your mishaps, but work comes first."

Vampire #3: The Constant Talker or Joke Teller
He has no interest in your feelings; he’s only concerned with himself. Initially, he might seem entertaining, but when the talking doesn’t stop, your patience is tested. You wait for an opening to get a word in edgewise, but it never comes. Or he might physically move in so close he's practically breathing on you. You edge backward, but without missing a beat, he steps closer again. One patient said about such a coworker, “Whenever I see this man headed in my direction, my blood pressure starts to spike.”

How to Protect Yourself: Understand that these people don’t respond to nonverbal cues. You must assertively speak up and interrupt them. Listen for a few minutes, then politely say, “I’m a quiet person, so please excuse me for not talking a lot.” Hopefully this response will prove more constructive than “Keep quiet, you’re driving me crazy!” (which may be what you’re thinking).

Vampire #4. The Fixer Upper
This vampire is desperate for you to fix her endless problems, 24/7. She’s trying to use you as her own personal therapist. At lunch, she’ll make a bee-line to your desk, monopolizing your precious free time. Like a spider to her web, she lures you in with her neediness.

How to Protect Yourself: Do not accept the role of “rescuer.” Show empathy but resist offering solutions. Be supportive but tell her, “I’m confident you’ll find the right solution” or sensitively suggest that she seek a qualified professional for help.

Vampire #4: The Blamer
This vampire has a sneaky way of making you feel guilty or ineffectual for not getting things just right. Whenever my patient Marie, a book editor, sees her boss, she’s on guard; her boss always seem to have a negative comment to make, which is a constant energy drain for Marie.

How to Protect Yourself: Try this visualization. Whenever you encounter the negative person, imagine yourself surrounded by a cocoon of white light. Think of it as a protective covering that prevents you from being harmed. Tell yourself that you are safe and secure here. The cocoon filters out the negativity so that it can't deplete you.

Vampire #5: The “Go for the Jugular” Fiend
This type is vindictive. He ruthlessly cuts you down with no consideration for your feelings. He says things like, “Forget that job. It’s out of your league.” These jabs can be so hurtful that it’s hard to get them out of your head.

How To Protect Yourself: Eliminate these fiends from your life whenever possible. If the person happens to be your boss, visualize yourself at a distance from him. Tell yourself that you refuse to ingest the poisonous words he serves you. If you don’t want to change jobs, understand that he is a wounded person and that his meaness is more connected to himself than to you. Try not to take his words to heart.

This article was adapted from the book Positive Energy: Ten Extraordinary Prescriptions for Transforming Fatigue, Stress, and Fear into Vibrance, Strength, and Love.