Have you ever arrived at a meeting feeling upbeat and excited and then, fifteen minutes later, been stuck in a corner with someone who has sucked all the life and joy out of you? It could be a colleague, a business associate, even a family member. Unfortunately, some people are just relentlessly negative and make everyone around them feel miserable, deflated, and depleted of energy – as if they have actually drunk your lifeblood.
The No Asshole Rule
There is another word for these vampires. In his brilliant 2010 book, The No Asshole Rule, Stanford psychology professor Robert Sutton called them, well, assholes. That’s his term for people who leave others feeling ‘demeaned, de-energized, disrespected, and oppressed.’ And without putting too fine a point on it, vampires are assholes. But I’m going to stick with my terminology because the damage done by these blood-suckers is not just emotional but also physical.
Relentlessly negative people trigger a physiological response: they make our hearts pound faster, our muscles tighten, our blood pressure rises, and our breath quicken. This is our so-called ‘fight or flight’ mechanism, which we evolved to help us deal with threats. Deeply rooted within our evolutionary past, a flood of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol increased our chances of survival when facing a saber-toothed tiger or similar menace. But when it comes to jealous, resentful or mean colleagues, workplace control freaks, and anyone else who sees life as a zero-sum game that you win by bringing others down, all those stress hormones just leave us exhausted and unhappy. Worse, the vampires seem to enjoy it.
Fight or flight?
In fact, since one of my hobbies is biohacking, I recently put this theory to the test. I scheduled a Zoom call with two ‘certified’ vampires and measured my bodily response. I sat in my home office, the camera showing only my face so the vampires could not see I was also hooked up to a blood pressure and pulse monitor and even a glucose monitor ready to prick my finger. During the 45 minute call, all these metrics went up significantly (though the blood glucose was slightly delayed). I needed no further proof. Vampires really deserve that name. They suck you dry!
So, what can we do about them? Fight or flight? If flight is an option, go for it. Life is too short to waste time on vampires. Avoid them as much as possible, and perhaps instigate a ‘no asshole rule’ in your organization as recommended by Professor Sutton. The New Zealand rugby team, for example, has a ‘no dickheads’ policy; there are apparently many names for these soul suckers.
But what happens when flight is not an option? Fight? You probably can’t get away with spearing them to death as you would have done with a saber-toothed tiger. But, for me, the strategy is super simple and effective. I simply strive to be so positive that negative people usually can’t stand being near me.
Be a Power Ranger!
And the really good news is that I don’t have to do it alone. Some people may be vampires who drain the energy from every single person in a room. But there are others who radiate joy and positive energy when they enter a room – sometimes even before they enter the room. Because just thinking about them makes us feel good. Let’s call them Power Rangers!
Like the live-action figures from the TV-series, our “everyday Power Rangers” possess superpowers. They trigger a biological response in our bodies. But instead of stress hormones, they promote the release of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, which make us feel uplifted, happy, and ready for anything. Bonus: Power Rangers are the Vampires’ garlic!
Power Rangers are the positive people in your life. They push you when you need pushing and cheer you up when you need cheering up. They encourage you to learn and grow. They simply support you in being the best version of yourself.
So, by all means, steer clear of any vampires in your life and make an effort to identify your Power Rangers. Keep them close and spend as much time with them as you can. Better still, be a Power Ranger yourself to your colleagues, family, and friends. It sure beats being undead.