Put a Stake Through the Heart of the Energy Vampire!
They wear no cape. They have no fangs. They don't speak with a Transylvanian accent. But with a flash of comments and an icy stare, a chill fills the room. Meetings stall. Team members feel less human. Who is doing this?
THE ENERGY VAMPIRE!
I've seen every classic Dracula movie since they began. Lon Chaney, Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee. Fangs and more fangs. And yet, I always marveled at why the victims didn't run away from these slow-moving denizens of the night. It would be so easy. Walk away. Or better still, find a nice, finely crafted pool cue and plunge it through their hearts. End of movie.
Energy vampires are those individuals who, inexplicably, have the power to enter a project team, a meeting, or virtually any gathering and drain the life force out of those in attendance. They express pure, dismal negativism and do their best to get others to wallow in misery with them. If the phrase "misery loves company" has a poster child, it's the energy vampire. Sadly, many people try to figure out why these creatures do what they do. It's not worth the time or the . . . er . . . energy. No one ever spent a lot of time trying to figure out why Bela Lugosi draped his cape across his face as he drew in near his victims. They only spent time figuring out ways to save the victims!
We should do likewise.
It's time to stop worrying about Dracula's feelings. He's hurt? I. don't. care. Really. Energy vampires have mastered the art of injury. They paint themselves as victims while reaching out and emotionally injuring others. Their joy is one of schadenfreude. (That's pleasure derived by someone from another person's misfortune, and in the energy vampire's case, they are the ones driving the misfortune.) Our job? Defang the vampire.
There are three critical steps that we can take to pull those fangs. 1) Be the positive force. 2) Isolate the vampire. 3) Attempt fang removal.
Be the Positive Force
When watching the Wizard of Oz, I have to confess I was never a big fan of Glinda, the Good Witch. She always seemed a bit saccharine to me. But having watched it as an adult, I've come to the realization that she was actually pretty darned tough. She stood up to the Wicked Witch, and she never lost her composure. She's actually a pretty decent role model. Despite the evil swirling around her, she kept the mood positive and light. She pointed to the hope and promise of the work at hand. She knew the simpler answers were often the very best answers. There's actually a good time to slide on the rose-colored glasses.
Glinda always seemed to know that tomorrow is another day, and the sun will come up. (Oh, wait . . . wrong movie.) The emphasis is on the hope and promise of a better day. We need to be the Glinda to their Dracula. We need to possess her same unquenchable positive force. And when the energy vampire starts arguing that the sun will never rise again it's a good time to point to a history of successes. Success is the garlic of the energy vampire experience.
Isolate the Vampire
If the energy vampire isn't slain by sunlight and garlic, consider locking him in his crypt. "Bob? You have a lot of important work to do. Tell you what. I'd like you to hang back and work on stuff while the rest of us slog through the meeting. I'll bring you up-to-date later. Glad to do it." Initially, most vampires enjoy the isolation. Eventually, though, they will figure out that you're starving them of their most prized asset -- the depression of others.
By the time they figure it out, however, it may be too late for them! Your team will have found more and more of the positive aspects of the project and be able to shine an even brighter light on the situation. In fact, starting each meeting or team gathering with a few what-went-right moments can serve to reinforce the positive aspects and make it even more difficult for the energy vampire to surface negative ideas.
Defang the Vampire
Such positive affirmations go a long way toward creating an aura around a project environment that's difficult to overcome. It becomes the place to be. Once there's a sense that a project or meeting or organization is going to be successful, the energy vampire's power is completely wiped out. At this point, the only way that they can find their way back into the fold is to participate in the positivity that's been engendered.
If they keep on trying, despite our best machinations, to drive the project into the sewers, we may want to consider the outcomes they seek. "Gee, Bob, if this all goes the way you want it to, where do we wind up?" They'll never admit they just want everyone to become gloomy about the project's prospects. They may even ultimately confess that they really don't know what they want. In some cases, we can bring the vampires back into the realm of humanity by affirming that we all just want a modicum of success.
As the Halloween holiday comes and goes, we get an annual opportunity to celebrate the vampire. And with the proper environment and a little careful guidance, there's the off chance we may even work him into a fang-free smile.
Carl Pritchard, PMP, PMI-RMP is the founder and principal of Pritchard Management Associates. He welcomes your comments, insights and suggestions at email@example.com. His black cats, "Boo" and "Magic" send their All-Hallow's Eve best.