We all know them, have worked with them, and at some point, have probably been them -- “the lowest vibration in the room" guy/gal, or “energy vampire.”
This person can suck inspiration, hope, enthusiasm and, at its most basic, peace, right out of the room. And it's expensive. Consider the cost of negative energy at your next meeting. Negative energy in the workplace costs us time, money, resources, hope, enthusiasm, creativity, morale, peace and connection. It is a huge contributor to -- and byproduct of -- low productivity in the workplace.
Actively disengaged employees cost the US between $483 billion and $605 billion each year in lost productivity, according to Gallup’s most recent State of the American Workplace.
It doesn't take long to understand how this affects overall morale by taking the team off course, making meetings miserable or sinking the energy in the room. If you want a more personal way to measure the cost to you, take the average hourly cost of your employees in a team meeting (i.e. eight people at $100/hour). Then multiply that by three hours -- one hour in the meeting and two hours for lost productivity before and after the meeting, plus time spent complaining about how terrible that meeting was.
You’ll find that negative energy is costing you $2,400. If that meeting happens weekly, and this is a chronic issue, your weekly team meeting could be costing you $120,000 each year.
Low engagement is caused by a lack of trust, connection and presence, a failure to feel seen, valued and championed, and by not feeling heard. This is a fairly common epidemic in the day-to-day of contagious organizational dynamics. Whether it’s a team meeting, a one-on-one with your direct report (or your boss), or just a run in with a co-worker, our intentions, presence and reactions set the tone and are contagious.
If you are not present and intentional about how you choose to react, it can drain the room of creativity, and cause others to match the lowest energy in the room -- bringing everyone down. Worse, it can spread to others in the room, on the team or across the organization. Below are five areas of focus to help shift 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 we can choose to ignore it, match it, judge it or muscle through, or we 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 it’s happening -- whether you are the lowest vibration in the room, or you’re working with or managing the lowest vibration in the room -- you are in a state of choice. Recognizing this gets you 70% of the way there. The remaining 30% is what you choose to do with it and where your willingness to create change as a leader comes in.
2. Set the tone to shift negative energy
The ability to “hold our space” and not get sucked into drama while staying compassionate and human is a leadership skill. As leaders, we need to constantly be working on our skill sets to identify and address the negative energy in the room with care and accountability.
The best way to do that is to be intentional, aware and responsible for the energy we bring into the room. Be present with yourself and others, and act in service of helping to better an interaction, even in the smallest ways. You'll foster stronger leadership presence and influence to set the tone and shift the energy as needed.
3. Honor the lowest vibration in the room, but don’t become it
The lowest vibration in the room can offer us wisdom if we stay present and intentional with it. 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 make everyone feel present and check in with how they were doing. One way they did this was by creating “engagement agreements” as part of their culture.
One of these agreements was “It’s okay to be a '4.'” This agreement spoke to being “the lowest energy in the room” and making it OK. Why? Because this team had learned that if they allowed people to be where they were, there was often wisdom in it.
I did this in a meeting I facilitated. A man I’ll call George, came in at a "2." Because the team was able to recognize it, hold space, not get sucked into it and get curious, they were able to use it for good. Why was George at a "2"?
This opened up an important conversation about a product they were working on that George saw issues with, but he wasn’t feeling heard. Not only did this conversation create a tender team discussion about agreements, empathy and some of the dynamics at play, it also changed the trajectory of what they designed for the client. The conversation also opened up a bigger discussion about purpose (why were they designing this?) and process (how could they have caught this issue sooner, more efficiently and with more care?).
Had the team ignored George, tried to “work around him,” made him feel wrong for being at "2" or matched him (sinking the whole session), they would have landed in a different place.
4. Practice self-care to manage negative energy when it happens (because it will)
How do you hold your space when you are confronted with negative energy? 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 harder to lead well and make clear decisions when we’re exhausted, burned out or not fully resourced. Your sleep, nutrition, exercise, hydration, environment, meditative practices, breaks, 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, make decisions about it and be more in service of those we love and lead. We also 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 a way that feels accessible to 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?
- What kind of preparation or self-care can we commit to?
- Can we be comfortable with our discomfort in naming when something feels off, or we’re off and need support?
- Do we want to integrate things like “energy and presence checks” at the beginning of our meetings? If so, can we have an agreement that a “4” is fine (and that we can get curious about it, learn from it and also be responsible for bringing a “4” and shifting as it serves)?
This kind of discussion sets you and your team up with a collective awareness and practices to support thriving together and addressing negative energy when it shows up.
Use this three-step process the next time you notice negative energy:
First, notice the negative energy, but don’t become it. 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 OK?”
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? This is my experience ... 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 this is a chronic problem, or a team member is committed to staying the “lowest vibe in the room,” you have a different discussion on your hands -- one that looks at performance and potentially their future on the team and inside the organization. The most important thing in this dynamic -- and what you have control of -- is your energy and that you stay clear on your intention of service and moving things forward.
We are all humans with a range of energy and emotion and our own ways of navigating the world. Part of our leadership journey is to learn how to navigate complex situations in a way that adds value while allowing us to stay present, honor others, remain authentic and contribute to creating positive impact in our lives and organizations.
If you want to inspire change within your organization, be the example. These steps will set you and your team on a path to changing the dynamics in the room, and shifting that negative energy to something more positive together.
Anese Cavanaugh is an author, speaker and advisor to global organizations, and founder of the IEP Method (Intentional Energetic Presence), a framework for helping people create positive impact. She is the author of "Contagious You: Unlock Your Power to Influence, Lead, and Create the Impact You Want."