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Why Venting at Work is So Dangerous

Sharon likes to vent. She works in a high-pressure job where deadlines are critical, and quality is imperative. And yet, it seems that her managers are determined to confound her progress at every turn.

This drives Sharon nuts.

And she likes to vent about it. She vents to her employees. She vents to her friends and family. She lets everyone know how annoyed she is. Everyone that is, but the managers making her life difficult.

The company where Kyle works is launching a major product… someday. Someday soon. Senior management has been assuring him and his coworkers of that for months now. And yet, no launch.

This drives Kyle nuts.

And just like Sharon, he likes to vent about it. A lot. And the more he does it, the more he wants to do it. It’s even better if the people he’s complaining to join in. It’s gotten to the point where instead of coming up with ideas and solutions for getting to launch, all anyone talks about is how bad the company is, how terrible the managers are and how that new product is never going to happen.

Sharon and Kyle, love to vent. So do I. Admit it, you do too. It’s like scratching an itch until it bleeds. You know it’s not solving anything, and is in fact making things worse, but in the moment, it just feels so damn good.

But it’s not good. It’s not good for your organization, and more importantly, it’s not good for you.

Venting is what’s known in the world of neuroscience as a negative emotional attractor. Negative attractors feel good because they give us a boost of energy. The problem is, rather than being a positive, rejuvenating energy, it’s a stressful energy. And that means it activates our sympathetic nervous system – the biological mechanism that’s associated with fight our flight response.

Stress hormones are released. And when that happens, we become cognitively, perceptually and emotionally impaired. We shut down. And from this place, learning and innovating become impossible. Solutions aren’t found. More venting happens. More stress hormones are released.

So yeah, venting feels good in the moment, but over time we pay a terrible price for it both professionally and physically.

So stop with the venting.

But if you must…

Keep it brief. And most importantly, do it with humor. Humor connects us to our inner truth as well as to those around us. Laughter activates the parasympathetic nervous system, calming us and helping us to see clearly.

Or as Dolly Parton said in Steel Magnolias, “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.”

As with most things, Dolly got that right.

And so can you.

Vent a little, have a laugh, then get to work on solutions.

There’s a good chance that will mean you have to practice managing up – as in having difficult, purposeful conversations with the people above you.

That’s a hard thing to do, but you can do it.

Stay tuned. We’ll cover that in a future post.

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