Dealing With An Uncomfortable Coworker

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Dear Laura
I work in a large office and am having trouble with a coworker “T”. This person sits near me and is constantly complaining, negative and needy. They don’t have any other friends in the office, so when “T” gravitates towards me I am at a loss as to what to do. I have recently been able to make the connection that I actually feel physically drained by this person from our interactions. Since I cannot avoid “T” entirely, what can I do to protect myself from feeling so depleted by their constant neediness and negativity?

Dear J.,

The person you described is actually a type of “energy vampire”–because left to their own insatiable needs, these individuals will inadvertently suck every last drop of energy and enthusiasm from those around them. They are here to teach the rest of us important lessons about boundaries. Typically, someone like this has no bottom to their need, and has no idea that they are draining the life out of the rest of us.

Reclaim your space there with some empowering cleansing rituals. Get a spray bottle and fill it with water and 3-5 drops of a nice essential oil like lavender and equal drops of rubbing alcohol (which disperses the oil.) Spray it to change the vibe when you first get there, throughout the day, after your break, and post encounters. If others in the office protest to the use of scents, use some flower essences which have no odor (like Dr. Bach’s Walnut, Crab Apple and Chestnut Bud essences) to cleanse the air.

Another approach would be to try and speak with them. If you find it impossible to be lovingly direct, or even kiddingly direct ( “Whoa T! You are sucking the life out of me!” said laughingly as you get back to work), then have a few pat phrases that you repeat over and over again as you keep busy, like “hi T, sorry, I don’t have time to help you, I have some projects that must get out. ” Or, you can just be completely silent, without nodding your head, and engaging. When they pause to ask you why you are so quiet, or why you aren’t available for them you can calmly say “It’s just that sometimes I don’t think you really want to hear a solution, you just seem to like rehashing the problems. And I am making a conscious choice to stay solution oriented.” None of this need be said with anger. Understanding is a mighty tool. They are unwittingly offering you the opportunity to exercise and grow your own boundaries. And remember, “no one can take advantage of you without your permission.”