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  • Writer's pictureDavid Tong

Beware the Psychic Vampires!

Updated: Mar 23, 2021

I had an amusing catch-up with a friend recently. She owns a womenswear retail business and speaks passionately about her work, aiming to create a warm, special atmosphere in her store.

But there are some customers who, whether they buy anything or not, kill the mood and ruin her day – she calls them ‘psychic vampires’. They are aloof, indifferent, joyless.

We all know that ‘psychic vampires’ spook the workplace too. They drain the life out of teams, they lack enthusiasm, fail to commit and most importantly their negative energy spreads.

Leading a team is hard enough without being undermined by a colleague, and in my experience one of the most common coaching problems I get asked about is how to deal with a difficult team member.

Look at Yourself First

The place to start is to look at your own role in the relationship. This may seem an odd suggestion, but your behaviour and reactions are the things you have most control over. Is there anything that you are doing that could be causing the problem? Are you showing enough interest in their work? Are you being clear in setting out your expectations? Could you modify your management style to bring out the best in the other person?

Experiment and Differentiate

Try experimenting with new ways of interacting, recognising that people have different needs when it comes to management. There may be a need to respond in a way that better suits this individual. If in doubt, have a conversation with them and maybe you can find a solution together.

Aim to Understand

Another thing to look out for is an underlying motive or condition that may be driving their behaviour. Again, a conversation can be the best way to surface this, though people are unlikely to open up without a trusting relationship, so investing some time to build trust will pay-off. A calm, measured and empathetic tone is appropriate in these types of meeting.

Set Clear Expectations

If the poor attitude continues, then it can be appropriate to set goals and targets around the person’s contribution to team spirit and remind them that we all have a responsibility to make a positive impact to the work culture.

Keep Calm, Stay Strong

If there is anger or cynicism in how the person is responding, then it is important to keep your emotions under control and remain respectful. It is also important that you are able to articulate your perspective on the situation and explain how their behaviour falls short. At this stage it is worth keeping a diary of the meetings you hold and make notes on their performance, perhaps also sounding out others they interact with. Beyond this, if the relationship is broken, you will need to involve your HR representatives in a disciplinary process.

Get Help

If you need help on the disciplinary process, which I haven’t covered here, connect with Justine Brown at JustGlobalHR on 07806 227915 who is a specialist HR advisor and consultant.

If you want to read further on this subject the classic text on the science of human interactions is ‘Games People Play’ by Eric Berne. This will provide much food for thought and a framework to think afresh about workplace relationships.

For anything else on this topic give me a call on 07768 822298 or write to me at

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