Are You an “Energizer” or a “De-Energizer” at Work?

I’m re-posting this quiz, because I’ve been thinking a lot about this issue lately.

I read Cross and Perker’s The Hidden Power of Social Networks: Understanding How Work Really Gets Done in Organizations, and I was riveted by their discussion of energy. This caught my eye, because my father is always emphasizing the importance of energy, whether at work or at play — especially at work. (For other excellent advice my father and mother gave me, look here.)

Cross and Parker argue that energy is a key factor in understanding who is effective at work, and why. When they analyzed networks of co-workers, knowing whether someone was considered an “energizer” and a “de-energizer” shed a great deal of light on how networks worked, and how productive various people managed to be. Their discussion is complex, but here are some highlights.

About energizers:
– those who energized others are much higher performers
– energizers are more likely to be heard and to see their ideas acted upon
– people are more willing to engage with energizers: to give them undivided attention, to devote discretionary time to them, to respond to them, and to want to work with them
– energizers are quick to point out potential problems, but always in service of reaching a goal
– energizers listen to others and value others’ ideas, concerns, and contributions
– energizers don’t posture or conspire in alliances or cliques
– energizers articulate a compelling vision, but not one so grand that it feels frustratingly out of reach
– energizers show integrity: they follow through on their promises, deliver bad news or point out problems when appropriate, and deal fairly with others
– Key point: “Note that energizers are not entertainers, or even necessarily very charismatic or intense. Rather, they bring themselves fully into an interaction.” In a nutshell, energizers help move the ball forward.

About de-energizers:
– people go to great lengths to avoid dealing with de-energizers
– when bypassed, de-energerizers tend to persist in unhelpful responses; they feel ignored, so they behave in ways that make people avoid them all the more, instead of finding ways to engage constructively [note: this is an important clue about how to deal productively with de-energizers: make sure they know that you hear their point of view]
– de-energizers tend to see nothing but roadblocks
– de-energizers, especially those with great expertise, tend to shut out others’ views

So, are you an energizer or a de-energizer? Here are eight questions, adapted from Cross and Parker:

1. Do you take a sincere interest in other people?

2. Do you follow through on your commitments?

3. Do you engage in self-serving machinations, or do you work in service of a goal larger than yourself?

4. Do you see possibilities, or only problems?

5. Are you able to disagree with someone without attacking that person personally? (Note: excessive agreement is also de-energizing.)

6. Do you give people your full attention? It turns out people are far more aware of a lack of attentiveness than you might think. Um, I can see you looking at your phone!

7. Are you flexible enough in your methods so that others can contribute, or do you demand that others adapt to you?

8. Do you exercise your expertise without bulldozing over other people?

What do you think? Does this category of “energy” make sense in terms of your own work experience? For me, it rings absolutely true. And I completely agree that a person can be very soft-spoken and even languid in behavior, and yet terrifically energizing, because of the contribution that person is making toward reaching a goal.

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  • Leanne Sowul

    It sounds like extroverts would have a much easier time being perceived as an energizer at work, based on this definition. As a classic introvert AND a goal-oriented person who is willing to compromise, I think I would be perceived as an energizer in my small group meetings, where I feel comfortable. But I’m much quieter in large group settings, not because I don’t want to contribute, but because my introvert tendencies hold me back- sometimes I’m so uncomfortable that my tongue literally feels tied. (I’m reading Susan Cain’s book “Quiet,” and it immediately made a connection when I read this post.)

    • Cindy

      You sound just like me! I really like the author’s point that energizers are not necessarily charismatic. That’s what Susan Cain says too – that western culture needs to value introverts who lead and contribute quietly.

  • rubyratt

    Wow. This really rings a bell for me! I am an energizer to the max and I work with a deenergizer. I get frustrated almost daily because of her inability to see the “big picture”. Rather than contribute to growth she continually makes ” safe” excuses, and I constantly feel like I’m babysitting. She’s a smart girl and good at her job but is not very productive or motivated. I lost a lot of sleep last night because of her deenergizing mentality and as an energizer I get frustrated knowing I can’t change the drive of one who just doesn’t have it. I don’t believe this can be taught. You either have it or you don’t. I see it all the time!

  • molly

    I am definitely more of an energizer than a deenergizer, but given my work, I tend to work fairly independently and I actually wish I had more energizer energy:) In looking at the description and questions, I have worked with some bonafide energizers in my time, and I truly admire their energy and presence. I do think they have a certain charisma, actually, that comes from the full engagement they bring to work and projects, even if they aren’t the sort of people who might fit that description outside work. Yes — avoid the deenergizers like the plague. They literally do deplete your own energy level! Nothing seems to get accomplished with these (fairly narcissistic) people except for their own self-centered interests, perhaps, and mind muddling for other people.

  • peninith1

    My reaction to this quiz is that I bet DE-energizers just won’t recognize themselves from these statements. One of the things that makes such people such a drain is that they truly are not aware of their own behaviors.

    As one (actually well-loved, but exasperating) boss said to me when I said: “I don’t like it when you yell at me, Sir!” “I AINT YELLIN’! I NEVER YELL.”

  • Erin Mackellar

    Wonderful question! I don’t think many people really give much
    thought to the way they act at work.
    Well I guess those that don’t really like their jobs or careers. Reading through the eight questions I tried
    hard to answer honestly. Due in part I didn’t want to find out that I was a “de-energizer”. But once through the questions (answered
    honestly) I happy to know my heart is in the right place and I do try and
    energize my co-workers. I work in a
    Special Needs school, in many different rolls.
    I was encouraged to gain more leadership skills. So in my pursuit I read a book “First Break
    All the Rules” by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman. This book changed my life. Not only professional but also
    personally. The Authors talk about 12
    questions that supervisors should ask their employees to see how well they supervise.
    I use these 12 questions all the time
    and now with the eight questions on “energizer and de-energizer”, I think my
    tool box for work just got stronger.
    Working with other is an art it takes practice and time. Patience doesn’t hurt either!

  • Anne

    This makes sens to me. I recognise myself partly as a de energizer. At least after Christmas it has felt like every single task requires at huge effort. I think its because I have no beent motivated enough for my work. I wondering if a de energizer can turn into an energizer? I hope so.

  • Chantel Adams

    About the ending– I just finished the book and I made a note at the end: The best part of the entire book. My favorite kinds of books are the ones that leave me smiling and wanting more on the last page. To happiness!

    • gretchenrubin

      Thanks so much! I’m happy to hear it struck a chord with you.

  • Meg Clare

    I am a very low extravert, on the MB scale I am at 3 on the E side of the chart, I tend to speak my thots but find that in a group I’ll sit back and only speak when I have something to contribute. I am an energizer, these questions reinforce my thinking that I don’t have to be bouncing off the walls to positively respond, encourage others.

  • I’ve been a student of happiness and relationships for the last six months…. after several years of ignoring it in favor of “trickle down success” from business. I can totally relate to the energizer discussion. It’s such an amazing phenomenon when people “light up” or “suck the life out of” a room. I’m sure it can be a learned skill – to add to the energy of your environment. But I suspect it is an uphill battle to get an energy suck to recognize it and turn it around.

  • Great food for thought. I know I want to be an energizer, and am most of the time, but I seldom try to make de-energizers feel heard. In fact, I do just what your article says, try to avoid them. All of us at work know who they are, so we tolerate their input, but now, I’m going to look for ways to try to energize them, instead of ignore them.

  • HEHink

    Wholeheartedly agree that someone can radiate a “quiet energy,” in the way they fully engage and move things forward – whether in a simple conversation, problem solving, or generating new ideas. I also believe the opposite, that someone with a more extroverted style can be a de-energizer. I have witnessed people like this who may have wonderful ideas, but they throw them all out at you without having thought them through, or they move on too quickly from one idea to the next, or they are so excited about their own ideas that they don’t listen to others’ questions or insights. Then they wonder why no one else has the “energy” to move forward with them! I have found it helpful at these times to do as the authors’ suggest, and kindly stop people like this in their tracks by identifying something positive and doable in what they are saying, and trying to move forward with it, as in, “I like that…maybe we could try it this way?” Often the response from this type of de-energizer is “Yes! That’s even better!” because they are so excited to have one of their ideas accepted and acted upon.

  • Linda Charlton

    I was a BIG de-energizer. I recognized it immediately. Sad to say, I am now retired and will never be able to correct those negative perceptions of me held by co-workers. I was loud, opinionated, nasty and I could go on and on. Now that I don’t have the stress of the job, I can see these flaws with such clarity. I am changing this now, day by day, after reading The Happiness Project.

  • Ward von Groen

    You’re not even scratching the surface, you’re merely stating that people that are hard to deal with are pretty hard to be around. So what? What are the conclusions you want us to draw from this? How can we deal with these kinds of people?

    My personality type is ENTP and given a boring/repetitive situation I will just sit there and stare at people. Menial work de-energizes me. I really don’t think there’s such as thing as a de-energizer, just awful managers allocating workloads to the wrong people.

  • Dan Belford

    Thank you for a great article and to be honest sometimes I can be both as it is easy to slip into a de-energize pattern… something to be aware of

  • carol

    4. Do you see possibilities, or only problems?

    I am an Energizer! It makes me feel good to say yes to almost every question on this quiz. I answered yes to 7 out of 8 questions. I am a problem solver with an easy personality. I did freeze on question 4.

    4. Do you see possibilities, or only problems?

    I am mostly an optimistic person, but when I’m not this is a huge…well..problem. I wrote this question down on my white board so I can reflect on it and really examine how I face this scenario. If I tend to see problems then I hope to change that into seeing possibilities instead.