Should you be Venting at Work?

May 1st, 2012 by DWM Magazine

All of us have “complained” to a coworker at one point or another and I’m certainly no exception as it sometimes helps cope with that helpless feeling of how do we deal with a stressful situation or person. When frustrations rise and there seems to be no safe place to release them, pulling a coworker friend at work aside and talking about the latest disfunction of an individual or the latest management “great idea” can release some of the stress. But is it productive? Damaging or worse–destructive?

I’ve noticed in my sales group that whenever morale is low and employee behavior is on the crazy side, there tends to be a lot of “venting” going on. People take out their frustrations by whining, complaining or even making harsh comments about other coworkers. Not the team we all hope to have!

On the one hand, it is easy to think what is wrong with this kind of behavior. I know personally that when I’m feeling frustrated, talking to a trusted coworker about my feelings can be the best way to move on and let it go. There is something soothing about full disclosure of your feelings. That is why so many conversations between coworker begin with the statement “I just need to vent for a few minutes.” Or, “I need to get this off my chest.”

“Get it off my chest.” Our frustrations can weigh heavily on us. Unchecked, they can impact our productivity, our happiness and our coworker relationships. So what is wrong with whining, venting, or complaining?

Here are some concerns with these behaviors:

When we complain at work, we are not working. Even beyond that, it is possible to create a culture of frustration in an organization. When “venting” becomes an accepted form of communication, it can multiply – further damaging productive time and negatively impacting morale.

When we complain to a coworker about a topic of frustration, the act usually doesn’t involve any thoughts of reducing the source of that frustration. We feel temporary relief, but the underlying causes don’t change and are not resolved. Energy spent on complaining is usually wasted energy with little to no solution for the future.

Whining, venting and complaining often involves personal attacks on people inside our organizations. It would be foolish to believe that we can call that annoying coworker a “boo who boy” (for example) in the course of a venting session, and then expect those kinds of statements to go unnoticed. When relationships at work are damaged, we become less effective in our teams. Trust goes down, and we spent more time assessing each other’s motives than we do making positive work environments.

If whining, complaining and venting are harmful, how can we manage our teams to reduce those behaviors? Setting a good example starts with refusing to engage in these behaviors yourself. If you need a friend to listen to you vent about work frustrations, find a friend who is unconnected to your job. Keep it isolated. Additionally, if you are with someone and they begin to vent, remove yourself from the situation. Don’t let yourself be part of this behavior, simply walk away to get back to a productive contribution to the team or organization.

If complaining, whining, and venting are not good ways to create positive action, what is?

A good way to address these frustrations at work is to teach your employees how to communicate clearly and honestly about their needs. This can be achieved by creating a culture where effective communication behaviors including productive feedback methods have been encouraged.

If you are in a situation where whining seems out of control, a good technique is to “clear the air” by collecting employee opinions in an open way. Telling employees to “stop whining” isn’t usually effective. Telling them that you’ll be asking them what needs to be better and then acting on that feedback the best you can remove any justification they may feel for whining or complaining. I am hearing you and responding to the situation or concern if it is valid!

A simple email to each asking them individually how they feel about the team, the workload and overall the morale is a great way to open up the conversation on an individual level. Be prepared for those direct comments about “so and so is not pulling their weight or I am completely overwhelmed and overworked.” Human nature at work! Observe for yourself now that attention has been brought to the proposed weak team member or concern, is it true? Did you miss something or is simply posturing by the individual to elevate themselves artificially.

Your goal should be to create a culture within your team where if someone begins to whine that the other team members respond with a version of the following: “So, if that is bugging you – what can we do about it together? Make a recommendation for fixing it or be quiet, but in any case we are not going to listen to you complain unconstructively when we all have work do to!”

It takes time, but creating this kind of culture is possible. Many organizations already have it.

1. Walk the Talk – clean up your own behavior.

2. Clear the Air – if things are bad, address the major issues now.

3. Build Communication Skills – give your team the tools to succeed.

4. Monitor and continue to model good behavior.

Make a commitment to not talk about other people when they are not in the room. Note where you usually “vent” at work, and think about how you can start to remove yourself from those conversations. At the end of the week, make some notes about what this was like, and what you noticed.

Our industry is a stressful place to be right now with added pressures to maintain market share and maintain margins to cover those ever increasing overhead burden costs. Let’s be sure we all stay on the same team by being considerate and respectful of one another. We are all in it together, let’s act like it.

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