Some people consistently make you want to crawl under a rock and hibernate. These people, as psychologist Albert J. Bernstein outlines in Emotional Vampires at Work: Dealing With Bosses and Coworkers Who Drain You Dry, come in five major types. Once you know how to spot them, you can stop them and get your career and company culture back on track.

Antisocials

 

Main traits:

  • Charming
  • Addicted to social excitement, freedom and stimulation, easily bored
  • Great at figuring out your hidden desires
  • Not held back by doubt or worry
  • Live life in the moment with a lack of internal direction
  • Cool under fire
  • Willing to dust off and start over
  • Are either bullies who intimidate or con artists who smoothly put one over on you
  • Don't consider morality or legality
  • Give the feeling of being on the edge

The culture they create:

Actions are often deceptive and manipulative, but those aspects are hidden. Secrecy dominates with nothing in writing. You're expected to show you're one of the group and follow questionable unspoken rules, even though no one explicitly tells you to do so.

Example:

John continuously makes promises to prospective investors he doesn't know he can keep, just to impress them and close the deal.

Your best defense:

Get specifics in writing, watch for threats or promises, and always ask what's in it for them or why they're telling you something.

Histrionics

 

Main traits:

  • Always putting on a show because they're hooked on attention and approval
  • Extrovert dramatics who live for their audience
  • Always play the good guy unless you lose interest; then they become the victim
  • Believe that if people are just motivated enough, problems will disappear; specialists in the can-do attitude that's often mistaken for ability
  • Create conflict by ignoring problems; if they do try to problem solve, they try to do so "by magic" instead of integrating conflicting forces
  • Hate details, focus on the big picture
  • Love to gossip and can't keep secrets
  • Communicate vaguely
  • Are either hams who play it up or passive-aggressive
  • Often respond to stress and problems by getting upset or getting sick
  • Either make you feel like your dreams are coming true or upset you with clear manipulation

The culture they create:

You're surrounded by "nice" people, but bad news and difficulties are brushed under the rug. Motivational rallies are the bread and butter of the agenda, common sense matters more than book sense and very little is defined or measured.

Example:

Janet pummels morale by failing to provide specifics subordinates need to do a good job. She brings in a motivational speaker, puts ambiguous aspirational posters everywhere and takes time to see her doctor just as the need for project direction reaches fever pitch.

Your best defense:

Tap into their desire to be better and treat them how they treat important people--really engage in conversation and show you're learning. Instead of setting up situations where they have to admit they're wrong, set up a new script for them to play and tell them what you'd like them to do.

Narcissists

 

Main traits

  • Will advertise their intelligence and talent and then ignore you once you notice
  • Competitive with a need to win
  • Will pay attention to you if you say you're as great as they are or have what they're after
  • Want to live out grandiose fantasies
  • Live under feeling of entitlement
  • Lack empathy and are ambivalent to others
  • Everything rides on the next shot all the time, with nothing ever enough
  • Are either superstars who will do whatever it takes to accomplish grandiose goals, or legends in their own minds, who won't do any work they don't like or see as beneath them
  • Leave you with grudging admiration or hatred for how they act better than you

The culture they create:

Alliances form and dissolve quickly, with politics and unwritten rules the name of the game. Information matters, but it's often fake and can't be trusted. Senior workers make all the decisions to set the tone and have elaborate systems that let them quickly absolve themselves of responsibility. Customer needs are seen as a pain, deals matter than what's produced and profit margin is priority #1.

Example:

Brian's won virtually every marketing award there is and doesn't hesitate to show them off in his office. He can't be bothered to do paperwork or be a mentor, though--his next round of seminars is much more important.

Your best defense:

For superstars, speak in brevity (think bullet points), use metaphors they understand and be consistent in what you say. Reiterate procedures so they have to be more direct about the change they want, and don't cover for them. For legends, give do or die situations with zero loopholes, but give them the resources they need to learn after, not before, they realize they need to know.

 

Obsessive-Compulsives

 

Main traits:

  • Hypervigilent perfectionists who think detail and control will keep them safe
  • Take a long time to make decisions or praise; indecision often manifests as not throwing anything away
  • Reliable
  • Follow letter of the law with rigid, black and white thinking; have trouble with ambiguity
  • Won't hurt you unless you mess with their sense of control
  • Can be perfectionists, who want to get people to do tasks perfectly, or puritans, who want to get people to live a perfect life

The culture they create:

Everyone tries to do everything instead of setting priorities and, therefore, is always overwhelmed. Tasks are boring and repetitive, output is small, the focus is on the process rather than the product and constant meetings do little to resolve petty conflicts. Still, everyone plays by the rules.

Example:

Eric sends email reminders on everything from staple use to the dress code. He almost always stays late to review information or add one more detail, and his files, while well organized, are bursting with might-need-it memos.

Your best defense:

Practice diplomacy at all times. Copy everyone on everything, ask for advice and input and give credit to the people you get it from. When you praise, found what you say in truth.

Paranoids

 

Main traits

 

  • Don't accept face value for anything; offer their own version of clarity and truth
  • Always looking for deviation from the concrete rules they live by, incredibly perceptive
  • Intolerant of ambiguity
  • Think everything connects to them in some way
  • Unpredictable
  • Often vindictive and slow to forgive
  • Bombasting
  • Don't trust, you have to reprove yourself often
  • Look down on outsiders
  • Often see themselves or their group as persecuted
  • Lure you with the promise of making a real difference

The culture they create:

Although there's a clear central belief system, transparency is lacking, ousted by an us-versus-them mentality. Should you dare to speak up, you risk banishment. Punishments are divvied out based on how the paranoid feels, not on the true effect a mistake has on the business.

Example:

Karen spends hours talking about how upper management is tying her hands with unnecessary regulations. She indirectly suggests that, if the people below her really want to get anything done, they'll find ways around those rules to do what she asks.

Your best defense:

Always ask yourself who benefits. Don't hide anything and, while you can give loyalty that's appropriate, don't bow when the paranoid insists you prove that loyalty.

A stake for all vampires

 

Bernstein maintains that, at their core, all emotional vampires are simply immature people who aren't necessarily aware of their own irrational needs. They function based on the fast part of the brain that handles emotions. Subsequently, although you might not change an emotional vampire, you can beat most of them simply by taking the time to think slowly and rationally about their behaviors and the situation. Keep your cool, avoid knee-jerk responses and keep your eye on your goals rather than what the emotional vampires want you to see.