Do Some People Energize You While Others Drain You?

Surprising research on relational energy.

Posted Nov 27, 2018

 Eric McGregor/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)
Source: Eric McGregor/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

Do you feel energized around some people and drained around others?  It’s not your imagination. Research has shown that “relational energy” can affect our attitude, motivation, vitality, and physical health (Owens, Baker, Sumpter,& Cameron, 2016).

For optimal health, we need not only adequate sleep, exercise, and nutrition but also a better understanding of how we’re affected by the company we keep.

Research in positive psychology has shown that social relationships are integral to a full and flourishing life (Myers, 1999), but this doesn’t mean just any relationship. It would be a lot healthier to interact with your dog or cat than a narcissistic relative or borderline boss.

Research has shown how interacting with some people can increase our enthusiasm, stamina, and effectiveness while spending time with others can do just the opposite (Bertera, 2005; Owens et al, 2016).

Studies have revealed that positive social interaction can support our health and increase our life expectancy by strengthening our cardiovascular, immune, and neuroendocrine systems (Heaphy & Dutton, 2008). Research conducted with 650 employees in a range of organizations found that people identified as “energizers” significantly increased the morale, engagement, and job performance in those around them (Heaphy & Dutton, 2008).

What makes the difference between energizing and draining people? University of Michigan leadership researcher Kim Cameron has found that energizers are authentic, upbeat, and supportive. They relate to others with empathy, are reliable, dependable, and optimistic, and look for solutions instead of dwelling on problems. They are team players. Acknowledging other people’s contributions and expressing gratitude, they help the people around them flourish (Cameron,2013).

By contrast, draining people aggrandize themselves and devalue others. Everything revolves around them. They lack empathy and their interactions are superficial. Self-centered and rigid, they spend their time talking about themselves and are intent on getting their own way. These people cannot be trusted to follow through with their commitments. They focus on the negative, complain about problems, and are quick to criticize others when things go wrong (Cameron, 2013).

Does this sound like anyone you know? As research has shown, spending too much time around someone like this is not only unpleasant. It can undermine your health and well-being (Bertera, 2005).

What can you do to reduce your exposure to energy drains and increase the energizing interactions in your life?


Bertera, E. M. (2005). Mental health in US adults: The role of positive social support and social negativity in personal relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 22(1), 33-48.

Cameron, K. (2013). Practicing positive leadership: Tools and techniques that create extraordinary results. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Heaphy, E. D., & Dutton, J. E. (2008). Positive social interactions and the human body at work: Linking positive organizations and physiology. Academy of Management Review, 33, 137-163.

Myers, D. G. (1999). Close relationships and quality of life. In D. Kahneman, E. Diener, & N. Schwarz, (eds.).Well-being: Foundations of hedonic psychology (pp. 374-391). New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.

Owens, B. P., Baker, W. E., Sumpter, D. M., & Cameron, K. S. (2016). Relational energy at work: Implications for job engagement and job performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 101 35-49.