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The People Factor: It’s All About Energy

by | Collaboration

Editor’s Note: Today’s brilliant feature is a guest article by Sarah Kathleen Peck of It Starts With.

Ever been at a party and felt like you were completely exhausted? That you couldn’t stand to keep your eyes open for another minute, even though it was supposed to be an amazing party?

Likewise, have you ever stayed up almost all night, focused and driven, surrounded by brilliant people and creative ideas?

Energy comes in limited quantities. It is finite, it waxes and wanes, and it grows or diminishes based on what you are doing and who you are surrounded with. What dictates our energy? How do we capture these spaces that help us be amazing, and remove the events and things that deplete our energy?

There are people, places and things that make me feel like I’m building my energy stores, that rejuvenate me, and help me to do my best work. Likewise, there are also people and places that zap my energy; that leave me exhausted; that make me feel as though I’ve waste my time and my energy – and my day – without getting anything useful done.

While brainstorming in a coffee shop with a dear friend, we both asked each other how to deal with these different personality types as they come into our lives. People are exceptional – they are our number one resource – but not all people are helpful at any given project or time.

How do you make decisions about how you spend your time – and who you hang out with? And more importantly, how do you say no to people and things that zap your energy reserves?

Together, we made a map of the different types of people in our lives, and agreed that we would consciously try to say no to hanging out with people that didn’t help us in our long-term goals – or in our energy management.

This system isn’t just about eliminating “Negative Nancys” and “Debbie Downers” (although every effort should be made to reduce their presence in your life).

Understanding how people affect you means that you can do a better job matching what you need at any given moment to what your energy requires. Sometimes I don’t need to be around excited people. Sometimes I just need another balanced philosopher to do and create my best work.

And sometimes I need to be more judicious about reducing the time I spend with people who don’t match my energy.

On the energy spectrum, here are the ranges of personality types – from high, positive energy, to balanced and stable individuals, to strong negative energy.

Do you identify with any of the following energy personality types? How do you bring these different personas into your world? And do you pay attention to how people make you feel?

The Positives

  • Buzzers. These are my excited electrons. People who are so thrilled to be around other people and in the world, talking with them is like getting a burst of inspiration. When I wake up in the morning, a phone call with them is better than coffee. They are my muses, my inspirations, my creatives. Like coffee, however, I can’t drink it nonstop each day – so they are better in quantifiable bursts.
  • Happys. Generally positive, seem to be happy almost all the time. People you would skip with, laugh with, enjoy being with. I have lots of these in my life. They aren’t as physically excited as the Buzzers, but they are generally happy and have a positive attitude about most things.
  • Wonder Listeners. People who can hear what you are saying without you saying it; who seem to listen to you with both their bodies and their ears, and who exude a positive radiance without necessarily saying or doing anything, are your Wonder Listeners. After hanging out with one of these, I leave feeling happy, excited, and inspired.
  • Coaches and Mentors. These are people who seem to have endless stores of hope and inspiration designed just for you. People who are genuinely interested in what you have to offer and how you are doing. The coaches and mentors are usually a check-in, once a week or once a month, and they offer their advice and wisdom to you in their interactions.

The Middle Balance (Balancers and Grounders)

  • Quiet Stabilizers. People who are refreshing, rejuvenating, and inspiring without being showy or ostentatious. Someone you can sit quietly in a park with, without talking very much, and leave happier. These people don’t toot their own horn, and likely don’t know how cool they are. Yet being around them is satiating, relaxing, restorative.
  • Feedbacks. People who tell you what you need to hear, not necessarily what you want to hear. These people can be mistakenly labeled as negatives, but they still have your best interests in heart and are actually looking out for you in the long run. Keep them around, but note the times when you aren’t up for receiving feedback and need encouragement instead – and seek them out when you need smart advice.
  • The Strugglers and Changers. There are people who are struggling, working towards change, and are sometimes frustrated or caught in-betweens. They are on their way towards becoming the person they want to be, and conversations with them are raw, open, inspiring, hard, and generally variable.These are my strongest friends, the people who open my eyes and listen to my shared experiences as well. We learn well together. To note, however, sometimes I don’t have enough energy to devote to these conversations, and it’s best to say No and save the date for another, more energetic time.


  • The Repetitives and Non-Changers. People who are stuck in a problem that you’ve listened to for years. Their complaints are the same, over and over again, and they don’t bring anything new to the table. Each time, it feels like you’re stuck in déjà-vu, because you’re still talking about how to deal with their terrible relationships, bad work situation, or general malaise. To deal with these types, tell them, politely and firmly, that you don’t want to talk about their ____ problem anymore. “I appreciate all the struggles you are having with your job situation, but I’d like to not talk about that anymore. I know you are working hard on it. Let’s focus and talk about new things when we meet.”
  • The Fakes. There are people who masquerade as positives – the words they use are cheery, they tell you what they think you want to hear; they quote inspirational things and bits. But the substance is not there. And, more importantly, you are not rejuvenated by the words or the ideas in the way you are around Quiet Wonders or Listeners or Buzzers. Some people are obviously fake; others not so obviously. At the end of the day, what’s most important is how you respond when you’re around them.
  • Negative Influences. There are people who are wonderful, interesting, bright, and creative. And yet, for some reason, I am negatively influenced when I am around them. It’s not that they themselves are bad people – it’s that I make bad choices when I’m around them. For some reason or another, hanging out with them is not conducive to my success. These are the trickiest people to identify, because there’s nothing about them that’s bad or easy to rationalize avoiding. It’s how they influence you that tells you about whether or not it’s a good person to have in your life.
  • Toxic. These are the people who make you feel like shutting down when you’re around them. The people that drain you, that zap your energy, that are filled with negativity and cutting remarks. Most of us quickly eliminate these people from our lives after just a few interactions. They are easy to spot and identify. If you still have them around, ask yourself why? What do you benefit from being with a toxic person?

In each of these scenarios, the most important thing is how each of these personality types make you feel.

It’s not about whether or not the person is a good or bad person – it’s about whether or not they are the right energy type for you.

It’s important to note that not all people can fit neatly into each of these categories – often the dynamic relationships we have with others changes depending on who is interacting and what the objectives are. Sometimes my friends are Buzzing-happy, and other times they are balanced-stabilizers.

Defining these personalities – and how you feel when you’re around different types of energy – has helped me in understanding why I leave feeling out of sorts from some interaction. In turn, it helps me decide what to do – and who I choose to spend time with – in the future.

Relationships matter. Pay attention to how the people around you are making you feel.

Which is your favorite personality type to be around?


Image credit: The author, Sarah Kathleen Peck

Sarah Kathleen Peck

Sarah Kathleen Peck

Sarah is the founder of Landscape Urbanism and writes a blog about design, business, psychology and strategy at Her work overlaps in the space between architecture, design, technology and business – during the day she works as a Communications Specialist for an international landscape architecture firm, SWA Group, in Sausalito CA.

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  1. Esther van der Wal

    I like this approach and also try consciously to steer away from some people and stay close to others. Depending on my mood or which day you ask me, I can identify with different personalities on the list. My favorite person to spend time with would probably be a wonder listener, and sometimes a struggler/changer so I can be a coach/mentor to them (and vice versa) :-)

  2. Mindy

    Thanks, Sarah, I really enjoyed this! I’ve been thinking a lot about the creative relationships in my life and this is a helpful way of looking at those relationships to see if I have balance. 

    My best friends definitely fall into the Quiet Stabilizer category, probably because I’m a bit overly enthusiastic about everything. They help me stay calm, I help them get excited about their accomplishments.

  3. Abbie Davies

    Sarah Peck…. you are so smart!

  4. FJR

    I am trying to figure out where another kind of repetitive fits. I find it really annoying and draining to listen to someone who constantly repeats himself, even if it isn’t about some problem he is a dealing with. The “one trick pony,” is it called?

    My favorites are the “wonder listeners” and the “feedbacks”. Among the feedbacks, I am not including those who give feedback without understanding the content or context.

  5. PauloMatsui

    Great article. Inspiring as always. And the first one on Google’s result. Thank you, Sarah.

  6. vijay_bhatia

    I loved this write up. We, being “primates” are hard wired to pick up emotions, threat perceptions etc from others or affected by others energies. This article will help classify people in my life in this way.
    Off late, I have explored meditation and philosophy of “being with One self”. That has lowered my susceptibility to be affected by others. After all, others are not in my control, and at best I can make choices on who I will be around, but developing an emotional shield/protection makes sense too.

  7. Dannan

    Great article. I find myself as a “struggler and changer” drifting toward being a “negative influencer” and I’m not sure why–I think of myself as a very positive person but sometimes feel like I create a Negative Vibe going just by walking in the room–it’s weird. I feel that a lot of my creativity comes from the way I see the world, so what’s the best way to genuinely shift from being a negative to a positive influence without also shifting my personality into something fake.

  8. Jenn

    How do you deal with negatives at work (in a small library environment)?

    • Mel

      Get them to tidy the self help section ;)

  9. Aaaasa

    This is very accurate. The issue I am weak with is forgiveness. It comes to easy for me n I know that it is counterproductive in my goals. But my empathy gets in the way n and I can’t seem to overcome it.

  10. Joost

    It is better to stay in your flock and in your comfort zone:) And it is good to learn, when you are ready to learn.

  11. pony

    Why did I spend a year with toxic sleeping in my own bed? Is that the kind of love I thought i deserved? 5 months out, I am so much happier without him. Just yesterday I had a pizza dinner with hand-selected friends and today I was the woman who I have wanted to be for so long.

  12. Needafreind

    I have friend who is extremely self righteous, she has always known my troubles when I was struggling with unemployment and a bad relationship and she has never ever offered a bit of help. I am the one who tell her about my problems and she is the one who can’t stop bragging just how good her life is and her exotic vacations when I tell her that I am struggling to make ends meet. I am not sure who is sucking whom, but I feel extremely drained when I am around her. Please reply what do I do about this friend. Keep or toss?

    • B

      If your friend is not helping you and she is not support for you, then it would be better to find a friend you can rely on. Just one remark, have you ever asked your friend for a help? If yes, and she refused to help you, it´s obvious that she is only using you for having better feelings, because you are struggling and not having such good live as her. And maybe you are inspired by your friend and you would like to have the same life, but on the other hand nothing is changing. Think about how your ideal friend should be like and find one! Good luck!

  13. Roshan

    Dude, you are a genius. lol Enjoyed the read!

  14. Erin

    I am definitely a Struggler/Changer. I’ve got a lot of Repetitives and Non-Changers in my life.

  15. Picnicl .

    “It’s not about whether or not the person is a good or bad person – it’s about whether or not they are the right energy type for you.”

    And that’s exactly the reason why the world economy is in a mess! No-one caring about whether someone is truly good- just whether they manage to get good material things!
    The price will be paid- old age does not promise them the relief of nobility that some previous generations protected by loving families afforded them. They made their own capitalist bed and they deserve to lie in it.

    I guess that we think that no-one is truly good nowadays. The permissive society practicised by societies that never properly had the temperament, the goodness and the lack of hypocrisy to actually make the most of it, is like putting a train driver in charge of an aeroplane and trusting that all will be well.

  16. Mon

    I’m different things to different people, sometimes I’m the buzzer. Sometimes I’m the repetitive :( sometimes I’m inspiring and sometimes I’m the fake. You play different roles with different friends. Sometimes you just go into the mould that they have in their head of you. But you shouldn’t do that, get out of the awkward box you are in and be whoever you want to be

  17. Mon

    Sarah.. you are so smart! Just stumbled across this article and it’s great!

  18. Mary Mathews, LCSWR

    I wrote a blog on this same theme this week! I edited it to include a quote and a link from your great article. There is great power of choosing who we associate with more consciously. Emotional contagion is real (for better and worse!) There is an old Siamese Saying: When you are among the swans, you become a swan….

  19. Michael Stoneslinger

    Ahh, thank you so much for this well written and thorough article! I have been trying to find outside perspective on my current struggle with cutting out my friends from my life as I have been shifting gears massively over the past couple years and they seem to be content “treading water”… I became aware of the classic “you’re the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with” but almost every outside perspective regarding this concept talks about ditching “toxic” friends or “how to recognize bad friends”… and my current close circle is filled with amazing, loving, talented, compassionate people…but they don’t relate to my goals, struggles and ambitions at all anymore…

    I found one guy named Tai Lopez on youtube go against the grain a little by saying, “not all your friends need to be rich” if that’s your goal — many people have a destiny that has nothing to do with money, for example (like Dr. Martin Luther King or Gandhi for prominent examples). So for a while I loosened up on the resistance I felt towards them… but the nagging, deep gut feeling has persisted that its time to gain space and “move on” from these people. If they naturally are inspired ON THEIR OWN and later on feel the same ambition to serve others and achieve massive success then perhaps there will be something there again.

    I probably won’t discuss “my needs” with them. I think its just a matter of continuing to distance myself as I have been over the past couple months. Your article finally shed the exact perspective I was looking for: we’re just not compatible energy… I am very grateful.


  20. Sebastian Helm

    The basic idea undermining this article, how to use people, just evokes disgust in myself. But good we have categories for our creative ressource people breed so we know which dose of “friend” we might take in today. A little bit of a buzzer for breakfast but I skip the happy part at lunch cos I want to be productive today. What a giant load of crap.


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