My coworker is an emotional vampire

Larry 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 semi-flat 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’ve got 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 pre-emptive strategy is to open every interaction with an emotional vampire by announcing, “Unfortunately, I only have 10 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 pray 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.


The Workplace Therapist Featured on The Today Show

For more, read the entire My Coworker is Scary series.

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6 replies
  1. A Smith says:

    Good article, my problem with those kind of people is that they seem more “reaching” to your boss if you share the same one, second, it appears that people in general seem to like them

  2. M Campbell says:

    Absolutely the most hilarious workplace article ever! I’ve encountered these energy sucking beasts many times in my career. Heck, I’ve even hired them. Thank you for the wise words and the laugh.

  3. Brandon Smith says:

    My pleasure! I had a meeting with one of my vampire colleagues yesterday. Despite my repeated efforts at a phone call, he insisted on the face-to-face. I had to go to the gym prior just to charge up… of course the meeting ran 30 minutes over and we never accomplished what we were supposed to. Ugh… Thanks for your comment! I aim to please 🙂

  4. Sydney D. says:

    What do you do if the emotional vampire is the CEO and you’re a direct report? Any strategies for dealing with staff meetings and other required meetings?

  5. Brandon Smith says:

    When the emotional vampire is your boss (in this case the CEO), the entire strategy is to minimize your interactions with him/her. Since they are the boss, it makes it that much harder to get up and leave, so consider the following strategies to avoid “blood sucking”:

    1. Over communicate – send the boss plenty of update e-mails, leave voice mails with updates and even consider texting. This gives them less to talk to you about and hopefully makes you as less “juicy” target.

    2. Plan accordingly – assume that when you do meet with him / her face-to-face, they will not stick to the allotted time or topic for the meeting. I always give myself a 30 min. to 1 hour grace period after meetings with “senior vampires” because I know they are likely to go over our designated time.

    3. Try to choose the meeting time – proactively schedule to meet them when you know they have a hard stop immediately after your meeting. Take advantage of the fact that CEO’s will almost always have an administrative assistant who will likely interrupt the meeting when it is time for the CEO’s next meeting. Feel free to encourage the administrative assistant to do so under the guise of “I don’t want to take too much of his / her time and our conversations seem to always get carried away.”

    4. Keep yourself sane in required meetings – this is the trickiest part of your question. You will lose “points” if you get up in the middle of the meeting and declare you have to leave. The only real options you have here are to: a) upfront announce you have a hard stop because of an important customer meeting (or other appropriate business meeting the CEO would deem important), b) get a coworker to call you in the middle of the meeting with a fake emergency (like being rescued on a blind date), c) take a pad of paper and use it to write down what you want to be working on when you get back to your desk, organize your “to do’s”, etc… It will appear as though you are taking notes from the CEO meeting when you are really being productive. A tablet won’t do the trick. It needs to be an old-school pad of paper.

    Oh, and wearing garlic never hurts.

  6. Katie says:

    I know that this is an older article but I dealing with one of these vampires, but the issue is that we are a very small office of 8 people so it is hard to avoid the person and they are always “sucking and sucking” from you 🙂

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