An excerpt from our upcoming book Buddhism and the Nature of Work.
Earlier in this chapter, we spoke about theft. In Buddhism, there’s another kind of stealing - the stealing of time and energy from others. It’s called Astaya or Asteya. This is a person who is, essentially, an energy vampire.
• Unable to ‘read’ their audience
• Overly critical
• Overly negative
• To be chronically complaining
• To always exaggerate
• Unable to take ‘no’ for an answer
• To always find the worst in people or situations
• Resistant to letting others speak
They will go on and on, exhausting the topic and the patience of their audience, then start all over again with a different angle. It’s exhausting for the listener. Avoid being an energy vampire.
How to Handle the Energy Vampire
Let's start with the understanding that you're never going to have enough time to listen to the energy vampire. Whatever emotion, feeling, opinion or advice you offer up will be turned around and used to continue their narrative. You cannot solve their problems for them - indeed they will have a bottomless bag of problems.
Of course, you want to have compassion for them - you want to help relieve their suffering, but the fact is the very best you can do, is to get out of the encounter as fast as you can, without being rude or dismissive. Their problems are far too deep and your rope is far too short. Just because you want to help doesn't necessarily mean you can or should. Unless you're a psychotherapist and they're your client, you're very unlikely to do them any good.
You might start the encounter with a short but sweet interjection along the lines of, "Hey, Bill, I'd love to hear more about that, but I'm pressed for time. Give me the short version." Then you might express that you have every confidence in their ability to handle the situation, thank them for the chat and get moving. At some point you will have to interrupt them and it's better coming sooner rather than later.
Avoid dropping by their desk or work area for a chat. You'll only get sucked into their vortex and live to regret it. In fact, be proactive and avoid interacting with them for anything but the most necessary work-related reasons. If you make yourself available to them they will come back to you time and again.
You may have to put a buffer on your desire to help or offer advice—even when you know the advice you have would solve the problem. I don't mean to suggest you not give work-related advice or help—that may well be part of your job after all. I mean keep away from their emotional needs, family needs, friendship needs ... anything outside of work is best avoided.
Watch your body language. Energy vampires seem especially adept at cuing on how other people stand, lean in, nod, hold their hands or cock their head in order to get in the thin end of the wedge with their woes. Any sign of interest from you and they will use that as a gateway to unload their problems.
Don't 'take a lunch' with them unless it's a mission critical part of your work. If you do agree to a lunch meeting, keep it on a strict time line - thirty minutes, maybe an hour - and get directly to the topic that needs to be discussed. You'll have to control and direct or risk being controlled and directed by the energy vampire. Make sure the energy vampire is aware of the specific topics to be discussed and the needed takeaways or deliverables - and stick to the agenda. You may even have to a text or e-mail and agenda just so there is no misinterpretation of the purpose and timing of your meeting. If, as the meeting nears an end and the energy vampire starts talking about non work-related material, just cut them of with a, "OK. Looks like we've covered the ground we need to, so lets get out of here early. I still have a lot of work on my desk," or similar.
You may not be able to completely cut them out of your day - you may have to interact with them at work, after all - but you need to protect your emotional health and your precious time and limited energy. To that end, box them off, cut them short, curtail their intrusions - anything and everything to focus on your own work.
Don't talk about them behind their back. You don't need to 'warn' others about the energy vampire. They'll figure it out in their own time. Speak only of their good qualities, such as; the projects they've done, awards they received or other positive aspects they may possess. As with anyone else you work with or work for, you don't want to appear to be undermining them.
Above all avoid being an energy vampire yourself.