Are you an “upper” or a “downer” to others?

Drake Editorial Team

Whether you affect people positively or negatively doesn’t only determine what people think of you and their willingness to help you. It also profoundly influences how valuable you are to your employer—and therefore, your “Employability Quotient.”

This comes from the research conducted by the University of Virginia’s Dr. Rob Cross and his associates in the U.S.

It’s Not Necessarily What’s in Your Head, It’s What’s in Your HeartWhen Dr. Cross and his team began studying collaboration and information flow in organizations, they discovered it wasn’t intellectual factors that determined who the “go to” people were in an organization. It wasn’t a person’s subject matter expertise, access to knowledge bases, or years of experience that determined whether people sought their advice, listened to their ideas, and wanted to collaborate with them.

To their surprise, they discovered that the number one factor determining an individual’s overall productivity was whether they were a…

…De-Energizer or an Energizer.

In other words, people who uplifted others, who encouraged others to explore possibilities, who truly listened, and who showed respect for different points of view.

…These people made things happen.

Colleagues came to them for advice. When they needed help, others were eager to assist. When they had a new idea, people listened.

Conversely, co-workers avoided De-energizers whenever possible. People didn’t want to hear what De-Energizers had to say and would find creative “work arounds” to avoid them.

Nothing Else Comes Close

Dr. Cross’s research revealed that whether people were considered to be Energizers or De-Energizers was four times stronger of a predictor of their productivity than the next closest factor. Four times!

Therefore, if you’re interested in maximizing your effectiveness—not to mention your employability—it will pay to reflect on whether you are perceived as an Energizer or a De-Energizer.

Characteristics of EnergizersIn his writings, Dr. Cross identifies the core behaviour of both groups.


  1. Communicate a compelling vision when advocating an idea.
  2. Create opportunities for others to make meaningful contributions.
  3. Actively engage others when discussing issues.
  4. Facilitate progress toward a goal, without forcing their preconceived agenda or bogging others down in unproductive meanderings and time wasting meetings.


Characteristics of De-Energizers
On the other hand, De-Energizers: 

  1. Constantly air negative viewpoints.
  2. Fail to listen to others.
  3. Favor their own solutions.
  4. Do not keep commitments.

When asked what makes someone a De-Energizer, interviewees repeatedly talked about how:

De-energizers “drained the energy of the other co-workers and groups, stifled creativity and hindered progress on initiatives.”

Given that employee energy is the fuel that powers productivity, and makes courage and determination possible, De-Energizers cost their employers dearly.

While De-Energizers sucked the life out of those they dealt with, Energizers had a very different effect on their colleagues—and ultimately on the effectiveness of their organization:

“To a person, (our interviewees) indicated that energizing interactions enabled them to see new possibilities by integrating different expertise or perspectives. Energizing interactions helped overcome natural disconnects between people with different backgrounds and expertise by creating the social space—the mutual respect, confidence and openness—that enabled possibilities to emerge.”

“In terms of implementation, energizers excel at attracting others to an initiative and convincing them to act on their ideas. The energizer’s ability to enthuse helps them get discretionary effort—and more of it—from those around them.”

It’s More Important than Ever to be an EnergizerGiven the challenging times we face, we all need to do our part to uplift each other. This is not a time to be petty, whiny, or nitpicky. It is not a time to expect others to bear the burden of our bad moods or put up with our disrespectful behaviour. If you are an individual contributor and not a manager, this is not the time to say “It’s up to management to improve morale.”

Each employee can have an effect on morale—whether positive or negative—based on whether he or she engages in Energizing or De-Energizing behaviour. At this point in history, each employee MUST do their part.

Are You More of an Energizer or A De-Energizer?To find out, answer the following questions in this simple self-assessment. While Dr. Rob Cross’s original self-assessment consists of 8 questions, I took the liberty of modifying some of his questions and adding a few more:

  1. Do you make an effort to build relationships as a regular practice—getting to know your peers, colleagues from other departments, improving communication, etc?
  2. Do you keep your commitments (and if you drop the ball, do you apologize)?
  3. Do you address tough issues without blaming or judging, and do you take responsibility for your part of any problems?
  4. When you disagree with someone, do you focus your discussion on the merits of their idea, rather than personally attacking them by questioning their judgment or intelligence, or expressing disapproval?
  5. Are you “present” and engaged in conversations and meetings, rather than distracted or multitasking?
  6. Are you open to other points of view or is your goal to show why you are right (or smarter)?
  7. Do you use your expertise and intellect to facilitate discovery when discussing challenging topics, rather than to steamroll the other person into accepting your point of view?
  8. Do you look for opportunities to catch people doing things right, rather than point out their mistakes or minor slip-ups?
  9. In meetings, do you track conversations so your contribution is relevant and useful, rather than allow yourself to go off on tangents, despite their lack of relevance or importance to others?
  10. Do you use humour to lighten the mood rather than as a weapon to put others down?
  11. Do you offer help to others rather than focus primarily on how others can help you achieve your objectives?

How to Put This to Use

  1. Notice your reaction to the people you interact with over the next week. Observe whether they’re an “upper” or a “downer” and then examine what they did to create that effect. Ask yourself “Do I do these things?”
  2. Pay attention to what comes out of your mouth. Ask yourself “Is it primarily negative or positive?”

a. Negative = Focusing on what’s wrong, things you can’t change, why things won’t work, gossip, others’ mistakes, etc. 

b. Positive = Focusing on the positive aspects of the current situation, hidden opportunities, ideas for making improvements, contributions people have made, how helpful someone has been to you, etc.


   3. Notice if you focus on things you can’t do anything about, or on those things you can control or influence. When we focus on                things we can’t do anything about, it brings us down. Engaging others in conversations about things you can’t control brings                      everybody down. It fosters helplessness and a victim mentality. Focusing on, and taking responsibility for, things you can do                      something about fosters a winner’s attitude.

   4. When people bring up ideas or discuss challenging situations, practice keeping an open mind and focus your attention on                    possibilities.

By Doing This, You Win, and Everybody WinsBy practicing becoming even more of an Energizer, you will not only be contributing to your success and “Employability Quotient”, you will also be doing what you can to improve morale, teamwork, and overall ‘esprit de corps’ in your organization. By becoming more of an Energizer, you will become an informal leader in your organization, regardless of your title and position. Your presence and way of being will inspire others to become their best selves and increase the odds they too will act as an Energizer.

David Lee is the founder and principal of http://www.humannatureatwork.com. He’s an internationally recognized authority on organizational and managerial practices that optimize employee performance, morale, and engagement. He is also the author of Managing Employee Stress and Safety, as well as almost 100 articles and book chapters. You can download more of his articles at http://www.humannatureatwork.com or contact him at [email protected]


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