Is There a Safe Way to Vent?
How can you avoid the toxic ways in which venting is expressed in the workplace? How do we help our workplace communities avoid addressing those big feelings at work, where they are then expressed out to loved ones, those with less power, or stored inside their bodies?
In the early nineties when I was first studying conflict, I remember the word venting used as a strategy to deal with conflict in an unhealthy way. Now that still can be true. We can let off steam, literally. We can deal with the energy that our body produces when we are feeling angry, hurt, shamed or frustrated. Our natural inclination will be to hurt someone back who has harmed us twice as hard.
Common strategies for toxic venting now include social media engagement. Private groups on Facebook, WhatsApp, WeChat and Discord can be used to "express that creative energy" in a way that harms reputation, alienates and increases mistrust in the workplace. Even if no one in the workplace learns about the group chats (and in my experience they are often made public, both with or without intent) this sideline venting always comes back to the workplace.
How can you avoid the toxic ways in which venting is expressed in the workplace? Or worse - how do we help our workplace communities avoid addressing those big feelings at work, where they are then expressed out to loved ones, those with less power, or stored inside their bodies?
We need safe spaces to let out our big feelings.
There needs to be an established Rules of Engagement for Venting in your workplace. Put it all out iin the open. What are the safe ways you allow your teams and workplaces to vent? Here are 3 ideas to help you get started:
Vent in small numbers. Find your team of trusted advisors. One or two people in your workplace would be ideal. The people you choose should be people who can help you problem solve strategies to repair harm, who can help you rehearse you strategies and most importantly people who can see multiple sides of the story. It is not helpful to you or your growth to only have all of the members of your trusted advisors support and amplify your hurt feeling.
Keep the distance as close as possible. Face to face is ideal but not always practical. A video conference with all three team members video on would be the second choice. Group chats or texts should only be an emergency or rare occasion. The bigger the feeling, the more important it will be to be present, listen to the whole body and have the experience of being seen when you are feeling vulnerable. Showing up is hard and we are getting less and less practice, but it is critical in our social emotional development, in the building of our resilience and in the practice of learning how to be good human beings.
Allow opportunities for rehearsal. Healthy venting is hard work, Allow opportunities for communities to connect and practice. Have leadership model the practice. This is a life skill and we are all beginners so the way to get better is to practice and allow room for growth, error and repeat.