Emotional Vampires is what I call people who have personality disorders, those strange psychological maladies that drive other people crazy.
Like real vampires, such people cloud minds. They look so good at first; good enough to get hired and promoted to positions of power. Once invited in, however, they can exploit employees and entire organizations to fill their own insatiable needs.
Vampires can use your own emotional responses to control you. The process is seldom conscious, but that makes it all the more insidious. If you don’t recognize them for what they are, and respond to them mindfully with thought instead of emotion, their bite can drain you or even turn you into a vampire yourself.
In this way they can create vampire cultures – entire organizations that take on the disordered personality of the person in charge.
Safety lies in knowing the vampires, and in knowing yourself. Your own attitudes toward work and authority can make you stronger or more vulnerable.
In this article, I’ll describe the vampire types that make the most difficult and dangerous bosses, and give you some suggestions about what you can do to protect yourself. In the next article in this series we will take a closer look at the attitudes that can keep you safe or put you in danger.
There are four types of emotional vampires:
- Is your boss a con-artist?
- Does he or she see nothing wrong with lying to achieve a goal?
- Does he or she have an anger problem?
- Is he or she an enthusiastic drinker, smoker, gambler, adrenaline junkie, or all of the above?
If so, your boss may be an Antisocial Emotional Vampire.
This doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t like parties. Your boss probably loves parties, also sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, playing fast and loose with other people’s money and any other form of excitement.
If your boss is an Antisocial, take this advice before you get taken in:
Ask for Time to Think
Antisocials are experts at using your own emotions to get you to do their will. Whether they persuade or intimidate, they expect you to react rather than think. Thinking takes time; always ask for it. In an emotional situation, your first reaction is not usually your best.
Think like a Detective
Pay attention to facts and evidence rather than promises or alibis. Look for motive. Antisocials are always after something. Take no communication at face value. Always ask yourself “Why is he or she telling me this?” Remember, the simplest explanation is usually correct.
Say No to Crime
Antisocial bosses may try to trick you into doing their dirty work. They rarely ask you directly to do things that are illegal or unethical. They corrupt you a little bit at a time by telling you it’s what everybody does, or implying that you’ll lose your job if you don’t cook the books.
- Does your boss love meetings even when nothing gets accomplished?
- Do his or her eyes glaze over when anyone talks about technical details?
- When asked for specifics, does he or she respond with vivid but vague clichés, buzzwords or sports metaphors?
- Does he or she think that most problems are caused by lack of motivation?
If so, your boss may be a Histrionic Emotional Vampire.
Histrionics are cheerful, enthusiastic and have great social skills, but when it comes to the day-to-day tasks involved in managing, they’re just not there.
Here are some suggestions that may help you to get your Histrionic boss to actually manage for a change:
Act like one of the popular kids you knew in high school
Even if you were a nerd, jock or a stoner, if you want a Histrionic to take you seriously, you have to act like you’re popular. Be friendly, outgoing and, most of all, positive. If you complain about anything, you’ll just be written off as having a bad attitude.
Ask for specific ideas about how to make good things better
Real management involves planning, setting priorities and resolving dilemmas. Histrionics are often afraid of being wrong or hurting someone’s feelings, so they have a hard time coming down firmly on one side of an issue or the other. They must be cajoled into taking a stand with sincere and often naïve-sounding questions. Don’t point out mistakes, ask for clarification.
- Does your boss act like an 18th century aristocrat?
- Does your boss play with his or her phone when other people are talking?
- Does he or she seem put upon when other people have needs?
- Does he or she claim to have an IQ over 130 (the highest score most tests can reliably measure)?
- Is he or she highly competitive, but a really poor loser?
If so, your boss may be a Narcissistic Emotional Vampire.
All Narcissists want is to live out their fantasy of being the smartest, most talented, all around best people in the world. What you want is totally irrelevant, unless they want something from you.
Here are some ideas that may keep you from being used like a disposable tissue:
The hierarchy of most organizations is full of Narcissists. If you have a problem with sucking up, they will have a problem with you.
Make Them Pay Up Front
Suck up, but never extend credit. Narcissists forget promises as soon as they get what they want.
Never Share Confidences
Narcissists don’t keep secrets or respect human frailties in others. Whatever you tell them may later be used against you.
Take Care of Business, Your Own
Narcissists will never give you anything because you deserve it. You will always have to ask, and probably keep asking.
- Is your boss a micro-managing control freak?
- Does he or she take pride in being a perfectionist?
- Does he or she always seem to point out what’s wrong rather than what’s right?
- Is he or she forever delaying decisions, hoping to get more information?
If so, your boss may be an Obsessive-Compulsive Emotional Vampire.
Obsessive-Compulsives are scared to death of mistakes. To protect themselves, they scrutinize the tiniest details so closely that they often completely miss the big picture.
You can calm an Obsessive-Compulsive boss by learning to be a Control Freak Whisperer. Here’s how:
Start by Not Calling Your Boss a Control Freak
To become a whisperer, you need to focus on your boss’s fear of mistakes rather than your irritation at being told what to do. Don’t let your inner teenager make your business decisions.
Use Reassurance, not Recrimination
Act like the overly-studious nerd that your boss once was. Always do your homework, paying attention to grammar and spelling. Take notes when your boss is lecturing, and turn in progress reports before he or she asks for them. If you are nerdy enough, your boss will go and micro-manage someone less responsible.
Photo is from the cover of Emotional Vampires at Work by Albert J. Bernstein, Ph.D. – All Rights Reserved
Guest Author Bio
Albert J. Bernstein, Ph.D
Albert J. Bernstein, Ph.D., lives in Portland, Oregon with his happy family. He has been practicing as a Clinical Psychologist, Speaker and Business Consultant for more than 40 years.
He prides himself on teaching people how to think like psychologists without having to talk like them. His books on dealing with difficult and dangerous people have been translated into more than twenty languages. The best known are Dinosaur Brains, and Emotional Vampires. His newest book Emotional Vampires at Work, published by McGraw-Hill in the spring of 2013 can teach you all you need to know to keep from being drained dry…
Blog / Website: http://www.albernstein.com