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11 Energy draining co-workers and how to deal with them

Alright, so we all know ‘that colleague’ who always interrupts you at the wrong moment . You’re finally in the zone… crushing all your to do’s for today, but here’s your co-worker who urgently needs your help… again. How do you stay productive, positive and motivated when you’re working together with energy drainers?

It’s always tempting not to do anything about it. When you get tired of someone’s behaviour, you usually just tend to let it go; take a deep breath and try to think of something else. But that’s not how your change the situation. It’s much better to do something about it right away.

How to deal with the 11 most commonly known energy drainers:

1. The sarcastic know-it-all

All their proposals seem to have a double meaning. “Wouldn’t it be great if lunch breaks didn’t last over an hour?”. They’re never the first ones to follow up on their proposal. But with their sarcastic tone they do expect that from you.

What to do: confront them with their implicit message. Make them aware that they say one thing, but you get the impression that they mean something else. Reply on the reaction that follows, so that you engage in a conversation about it.

2. The Nitpicker

This colleague has an abundance of arguments, bullet points and long presentations. However, most of the time it isn’t clear what his/her story is about at all. A meeting quickly ends up in a discussion of irrelevant details.

What to do: interrupt your colleague during his or her monologue. “Can I interrupt you for a second…”. Make some rules about the procedure of the meeting. For example, the time everyone gets to speak or how long each agenda item will be discussed. And most importantly, stick to these rules!

3. The Bureaucrat

This critic is first to speak out when something isn’t done by the book. Even worse, they judge your work at every chance they get. Bureaucrats always provide pushback and come across pretty cranky. They’re never critical towards themselves, but they’re a master of criticizing you.

What to do: make sure you’re well prepared for your meeting. A bureaucrat is very sensitive for good arguments. Also make clear that you’re intention is to come to the best solution, not your solution. Ask bureaucrats what they need in order to come to a compromise.

4. The Pessimist

They’re filled with negativity, are always complaining about work and love to gossip about colleagues. They have lots of expectations, but never express that expectation up front. That’s why they’re often disappointed in others. Yet they never confront others to do something about it.

What to do: try to let go of the direct cause of their disappointment (for instance a report you didn’t hand in) and start a conversation about the way you work together. “First I would like to talk to you about the way we work together.” Tell your colleague the things you don’t agree with and what you expect from him/her in the future. After their reaction, you can ask where the negativity is coming from. This way you can improve your collaboration in the long run.

5. The Rival

These colleagues want to WIN. More importantly, they want that someone else loses. They’re bad listeners and prefer to talk about themselves or their accomplishments. Rivals can really suck up with the boss and with people in their network that can help them forward. They’re always busy with the next high profile project or VIP client then they are with their daily work.

What to do: confront your colleague with the behaviour that involves you; like not listening. And clearly tell them you’re not okay with this. Then, put your own irritation aside for a second and ask your colleague why this new project or client is so important for them.

6. The Pushover

They always agree with everyone and everything. They’re attentive listeners but you barely know them as a person. You have no idea what they think or want. It takes them days to make a decision and even then they’re full of doubts and vague opinions.

What to do: ask them a lot of questions. And summarize their answers so that they feel heard. Then zoom in on their indecisiveness; “what do you need to make that decision?”, “what are your objections?” and “can I do something to help you get going?”.

7. The Victim

There’s always a dramatic excuse – ‘yes, but…’- for not making a deadline or missing an important meeting. They have no issue with disclosing very personal and sad stories as an explanation for not doing something.

What to do: don’t confront your colleague with his excuse, but with his ‘yes, but…’ behaviour. Point out that you expect that he provides a solution himself, instead of delegating his work. Make it clear that this happens too often and that it’s unacceptable. As a last resort you can pose a sanction: “if you don’t make the next deadline, I’ll inform your superior.”

8. The Joker

Everything is a joke to them. They know how to create a positive vibe with their fun personality. However, they are quick to delegate work and often fail to execute their own ideas and vision. They act like they’re in charge, but never take up the responsibility that goes with that.

What to do: compliment this colleague with the positive attitude she has within the team. But also tell her she delegates too much work to other people. And that you get the impression that she doesn’t dare to express and champion her own ideas. End with the question: “do you recognize this?”

10. The Idea tsunami

They pitch a tsunami of ideas with enthusiasm and commitment. But before they executed one idea, they’re already working on the next. Most of the time their plans have little to do with the goals and interests of others.

What to do: before you cut down all their ideas, listen closely if there’s maybe one idea that is useful to you. See if there are any common interests and which idea seems to serve this common ground best. Then, make a concrete agreement with clear demarcations. “Let’s state the conditions together, then you can colour it in yourself.”

11. The Pittbull

They never let go: it has to be done now and perfect. When something goes wrong, they explode and get carried away in their own emotion. They always say sorry afterwards, but make you feel like you’re walking on egg shells around them.

What to do: deescalate the situation. Distance yourself from the conversation. Literally, when this is really necessary. But also figuratively, by saying “Gosh, your reaction startles me, what’s happening to you here?”. Don’t get sucked back in discussing the content, even if this pittbull explodes in the beginning. Stick to discussing the collaboration: “what do you need so that we can move on?”.

12. The Procrastinator

Saying ‘yes’ but doing nothing. They often make a deep sigh and say ‘never mind’ or ‘it’s no use anyway’. By doing so, they avoid doing the work instead of just getting it done. They’re quick to say ‘yes’ to any requests, but often fail to deliver on them.

What to do: when stating deadlines is useless, try to spark the energy again. Find common ground, goals and interests. “Let’s finish this thing anyway, then we’ll be done in just a couple of hours. We’ll have a nice cold beer after that and catch up a little.”

Experiment with the possibilities

Naturally, there are many ways of dealing with energy draining colleagues. Every approach is dependent of the context where you are in. Even so, there is a central theme with these colleagues that you shouldn’t avoid.. you’re bothered by their behaviour.

Recognize your dissatisfaction or irritation in time, speak your mind about it and also ask if there’s something going on with your colleague. That way you can keep improving your cooperation.

How you do that, you can learn in our Positive Power and Influence® Programme.

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