A colleague and I were discussing how some people give you energy while others drain the life out of you. At work, these “energy vampires” come in several guises:

  • Whiners and complainers grumble about what’s wrong but don’t offer any suggestions for change
  • Needy people constantly seek your affirmation and attention
  • Blowhards and braggarts talk ad nauseam about their latest luxury trip or purchase
  • Weed eaters and painstakingly precise people take forever to get to their point (assuming there is one)

Unlike traditional vampires, silver bullets, garlic and stakes through the heart are not appropriate deterrents for energy vampires. And I’ve found there is no single, sure-fire method that will ward them off. Each one requires a different approach, depending on the root cause of their sucking behavior.

For the whiners, I thank them for bringing the problem to my attention. But I don’t let them off the hook that easily. “Come back to me when you have a solution and we can work on it,” I tell them. After getting that response a couple times, they’re less likely to complain.

For the needy people, I first determine whether I’ve given them the appropriate level of attention for the relationship. For example, with a valued business partner I discuss upfront my expectations about how much time is needed for the relationship to work. If the partner still seeks attention, I look for ways to address his needs that don’t require my time and presence. One partner valued being up to speed on new technology. By adding her name to the information technology department’s updates, she was satisfied.

If staff members are constantly knocking on my door, I make sure they know how and when I will give them feedback and assure them that if they veer off track I’ll let them know. If they still come to me for affirmation, I assume they aren’t busy enough and give them more work. An added benefit to giving people more work is that it tells them I have confidence in their ability.

When it comes to the blowhards, a reasonable assumption is that they have feelings of insecurity, because confident people don’t tend to brag. If the person only brags around me, he might find me intimidating; in this case, a little praising will help. But if he is an equal-opportunity blowhard, I offer direct but kind feedback.

I’ve found that technical people especially tend to wade too deeply into the weeds, whether the subject is vacation plans or a new invoicing system. For these people, I invoke the nutshell: “This sounds interesting,” I might say, “but I’m pressed for time. Can you nutshell it for me?” Of course, the need for a bathroom break is always available as a last resort.

If your boss is an energy vampire, you may have no choice but to offer up a little blood. But you should be able to manage it if your energy level is high enough and you aren’t stressed when you meet with her. With a little gentle nudging as described above, you may even be able to change your boss’s behavior.  Even vampires can take a hint.

You might wonder why you should deal with energy vampires at all. If you avoid them won’t they just shuffle back to their coffins, er, desks? Eventually, they might, but constantly avoiding them is no way to spend your time. After all, time is our most valuable resource and time wasted is lost forever. If you don’t deal with these vampires they can still drain your energy by making you stay on your guard, not to mention the emotional drain you experience just anticipating their behavior.

By dealing with energy vampires you may also help them return to the land of the living and become more productive and effective coworkers. And you might even win the undying gratitude of your colleagues because if you’re bothered by a vampire, no doubt others are as well. Instead of allowing a meeting to bog down when energy vampires begin sucking the productivity and positivity out of the room, offer constructive feedback. Many people, not just vampires, are unaware of their negative behaviors; addressing them in a caring way may help them become better coworkers who contribute to a team’s energy rather than deplete it.