We all know them, have worked with them, and at some point have probably been them: the lowest vibrations in the room, otherwise known as “energy vampires.” These people can suck inspiration, hope, enthusiasm, and peace right out of the room.
And they’re expensive. Negative energy in the workplace is a huge contributor to — and byproduct of — low productivity. Actively disengaged employees cost US employers between $483 billion and $605 billion each year in lost productivity, according to Gallup.
If you want a more personal way to measure the cost to you, think of a result you want to create; it may be a business result, relationship outcome, health improvement, financial goal, or anything else you care about making happen. Now consider the quality of energy and intention you (and your collaborators, if applicable) are putting into creating that outcome. What is the energy you’re bringing to the table? Is the quality of energy negative or positive? Are you clear on your intention and why you want to create the outcome? (This clarity of intention will affect the quality of energy you’re bringing.)
Positive energy might look like being present, focusing on what you want to create, intending and envisioning the end result, putting your attention on the outcome, making direct requests and moving forward productively, creating agreements with yourself and your team to stay on track, and bringing a healthy additive mindset to the table.
Negative energy, on the other hand, might manifest as complaining about the situation or people involved, focusing on what you don’t have (yet) and blaming others for not having it, confusion due to lack of clarity and intention, talking or thinking excessively about how hard the outcome is to achieve, being unkind to yourself because you’re “not good enough,” multitasking and being unintentional about your energy and actions, having a negative presence in the room as you work, and/or colluding with your peers about any of the above.
Any of the actions on the positive energy side will add clarity, value, inspiration, oomph, and momentum to the process of creating your outcomes. Any of the actions on the negative energy side will create contraction, distraction, and more negative reactions, costing you mental, emotional, physical, or energetic bandwidth and ultimately your great results.
I’m speaking here simply about the energetic, outcome, and morale costs. You can also figure out your specific financial costs based on what the outcome is worth to you. For example, if the desired outcome is to hire for a strong team and culture, the financial benefits of getting that hire right are unlimited (in terms of opportunity, collaboration, morale, and outcomes).
However, the costs of getting that hire wrong are also unlimited. Say you hire an employee with negative energy who makes bad decisions, treats others poorly, isn’t effective, and rubs others the wrong way. Not only does this employee cost you in terms of salary and benefits, but also in terms of morale, innovation, and productivity due to their interactions with the team. This bad hire is taking time, attention, and energy away from others, who are now focused on dealing with the bad hire instead of on the outcomes they need to achieve.
Left unaddressed, this bad hire will also cost you credibility, trust, and the respect of people who now see you tolerate bad behavior. That adds another level of energetic and financial costs. (See? We could do this all day.)
To wrap this up in a super simple way, let’s take the costs associated with a common event most of us experience every week: meetings. Estimate the average hourly cost of your employees in a team meeting. For simplicity’s sake, let’s say there are eight people and they each cost $100 an hour.
Now, multiply that by three hours (one hour in the meeting, plus two more hours for the wasted productivity before the meeting and lost productivity after the meeting as people complain about how terrible the meeting was).
Now, add it all up. You’ll find that negative energy is costing you $2,400 per meeting. If that meeting happens weekly (50 workweeks a year) and the negativity is a chronic issue, your weekly team meeting could be costing you $120,000 a year.
5 Ways to Raise the Lowest Vibration in the Room
Low engagement is caused by a lack of trust, connection, and presence — in other words, a failure to feel seen, valued, and championed. This is a fairly common epidemic in day-to-day organizational dynamics.
Our intentions, presence, and reactions set the tone in any meeting and are contagious. If you’re not present and intentional about how you choose to react, you can drain the room of creativity and bring everyone down with you. Below are five ways to help change this dynamic.
1. Awareness Is the First Step
Without awareness, we have suffering and struggle. With awareness, we have choice and influence. As a leader, you can choose to ignore the energy in the room, or you can notice it, hold space for it, meet it where it’s at, and shift it to a more positive state.
The minute you realize energy suck is happening — whether you are the lowest vibration in the room or you’re working with the lowest vibration in the room — you can make a choice. Recognizing the suck is happening gets you 70 percent of the way there; the remaining 30 percent is what you choose to do with it. This is also where your willingness to create change as a leader comes in.
2. Set the Tone to Shift Negative Energy
The ability to hold your space and not get sucked into drama — while staying compassionate and human — is a leadership skill. As leaders, we need to constantly work on our own skills to identify and address the negative energy in the room with care and accountability.
The best way to do this is to be intentional about, aware of, and responsible for the energy you bring into the room. Be present with yourself and those in the room. Help to better the interaction, even in small ways.
For example, if your colleague starts to complain, ask them about their request. If a team member doing a presentation starts to go down in flames, help them get back on track by asking them a question you know they can answer. If you notice the energy of your conversation starting to go into a negative spiral, shift the space by taking a breath, getting curious, expressing gratitude (even for the challenge at hand in the moment), and asking, “What’s the littlest thing we can do to set this in a better direction right now?”
Every moment is a moment to shift the conversation to something more positive, expansive, helpful, and productive. This requires you to be present, in tune, and willing to help things go right.
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3. Honor the Lowest Vibration in the Room, but Don’t Become It
The lowest vibration in the room — whether that be someone with a negative presence or a general feeling of malaise — can offer us wisdom if we stay present and intentional.
Years ago, I worked with a design team. In our work together, part of this team’s practice was to do energy and presence checks at the beginning of each meeting to see how everyone was doing. One at a time, everyone would give a number reflective of their energetic state, with 10 being “positive and contributory/couldn’t be better” and zero being “negative and detracting/couldn’t be worse.” The team also created engagement agreements as part of the culture. One of these agreements was, “It’s okay to be a four.” This team had learned there was wisdom in allowing people to be where they were.
In one meeting I facilitated, a man I’ll call George came in at a two. Because the team was able to recognize it, hold space, not get sucked into it, and get curious, they were able to use George’s low vibration for good.
Why was George at a two? This question opened up an important conversation about a product the team was working on. George saw issues with the product, but he wasn’t feeling listened to or acknowledged in his concerns. This had created tension for George, which in turn impacted the team’s collaborative efforts.
Not only did the conversation about George’s feelings create a tender team discussion about agreements, empathy, and some of the dynamics at play, but it also changed the trajectory of what the team had designed for the client. A bigger conversation about purpose (“Why are we designing this?”) and process (“How could we have caught this issue sooner, more efficiently, and with more care?”) opened up. Had the team ignored George, made him wrong for being a two, or matched his energy, they would have landed in a very different place.
4. Practice Self-Care to Manage Negative Energy When It Happens (Because It Will)
Self-care is key to holding your space when confronted with negative energy. It’s also an essential — and often overlooked — leadership skill.
It’s hard to lead well and make clear decisions when you’re exhausted, burned out, or not fully resourced. Your sleep, nutrition, exercise, hydration, environment, meditative practice, mindset, and well-being all contribute to your personal resources and leadership impact; prioritize and tend to them accordingly.
When we show up more conscious, present, and fully resourced, we are better able to notice when something is off, address it, and be more in service to those we love and lead. We model the leadership skill of self-care for others as an acceptable path.
5. Be Proactive
Proactively create agreements and processes to allow for and address negative energy in an accessible way.
Ask yourself and your team: What does it look like to operate as a high-vibe team? What do we need to put in place to set ourselves up for success? Can we be comfortable with our discomfort in naming when something feels off or we’re off and need support? This kind of discussion sets you and your team up for collective awareness.
When you notice negative energy, address it head-on. Hold your state. This will invite the lowest vibe to step up.
If that doesn’t work, take the initiative and get curious, with the intent of shifting the tone of the conversation. You can do this by addressing the negative energy gently: “George, you seem a bit off today. Are you okay?”
Finally, if you’re at a loss, take a breather, reconnect, and check in with the individual on how their overall energy is affecting the rest of the team: “George, are you aware of the impact you’re having in the room? Is that the impact you want to have? What can I do to help?” This will open up a new level of dialogue that can lead to positive change.
If negativity is a chronic problem or a team member is committed to staying the lowest vibration in the room, you have a different discussion on your hands. You’ll have to look at performance and, potentially, that person’s future on the team and inside the organization.
The most important thing in this dynamic — and the thing you can control — is your energy. Stay clear on your intention of service and moving things forward.
Anese Cavanaugh is the founder of the IEP Method and author of the forthcoming book, Contagious You: Unlock Your Power to Influence, Lead, and Create the Impact You Want.