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Once upon a time, there was a woman who sucked the life out of everyone she came in contact with. Both by complaining and whining, she could take the happiest of situations and turn it bleak and ugly.
Once upon another time there was a man who decided to air the gritty details of his divorce at work, repeating the same story to anyone who ventured within earshot.
Once upon a third time there was a person who would routinely discuss religion and politics at the office and would corner people to hear his opinions, unasked, upon multitudes of topics.
OK, they’re not fairy tales. All three types of vampires have existed in every place I have worked, leaving trails of negativity behind them. And there are other types of vampires as well, more subtle in their approach to sucking out your energy and happiness.
Vampires and Productivity
Vampires in the office mean hundreds of hours of lost productivity. If people aren’t getting sucked into conversations with the vampire where there is no out, they are avoiding running into the vampire. Even sitting in an open cube configuration with a vampire roaming and talking to others within earshot can suck your energy and productivity level down.
How To Spot the Office Vampire
All three obvious types of vampires are usually easy to spot. Their conversation will be a dead giveaway – outright complaints or pontificating.
Another type of subtle vampire will leave you with a feeling of unease. Gossips or one-uppers are examples of this type. Gossips “tattle” on other people, and if you give them ammunition, will do the same to you. One-uppers will top anything you say (for a fine example of this, see the Dilbert website…he has a great character “Topper” that appears from time to time).
What To Do About Vampires
Office vampires can’t be taken care of with garlic and wooden stakes. (Well, the garlic might keep them away, if you eat enough of it.) There are two effective ways to handle vampires: avoidance and distraction.
Avoidance is pretty much what it says. Avoid the people and/or conversations that suck your energy. If you see one coming in the hall, turn. If someone shows up in your cube, pretend to be frantically busy. One former co-worker used to keep unplugged headphones on all the time just so he could ignore people and claim he didn’t hear them/see them.
Headphones are actually great for this, too, if they are plugged in. For a truly toxic environment, constant music of pink noise can drown out conversations.
Distraction is useful when you cannot avoid contact. If you must work with the person on a project, practice dragging conversation back to work the minute it gets sidetracked. It doesn’t matter if you are abrupt at first, subtlety will come with practice.
Emergency distraction is an option too. One office I worked in the office manager and I had a signal – a single exclamation point via instant messenger meant we needed a phone call or cube visit immediately to get rid of a vampire. The person receiving the exclamation point would ask for the other’s physical presence somewhere else, away from the vampire.
Are You A Vampire?
One of the worst things about associating with vampires is the tendency of others to pick up the traits. Add one office gossip to a group of people, and soon all sorts of people will be gossiping. If you find yourself complaining, whining or gossiping, ask yourself if you are becoming a vampire.
By recognizing and limiting the behavior of office vampires you can help make the office a positive and productive place.
Photo by Janet 59