Solution-Focused Venting

Rather than letting complaining become a toxin to both you and your agency, the following principles will actually allow venting to be constructive, forward-looking, and emotionally healthy.

In Part I of this series on what appears to be a pronounced taste for complaining, or “venting,” about frustrations among law enforcement officers (An LEOs Prerogative to Vent), we looked at both the causes and consequences of unfettered venting.  This month we’ll build off that groundwork laid by discussing key components to exercising the type of venting that allows you to preserve one of law enforcement’s more dubious, if occasionally fun, traditions.  We called it “the policeman’s prerogative to bitch” last month (in honor of a quote I still cannot attribute properly but if anyone can, please enlighten me), and you all know what we mean, but rather than letting complaining become a toxin to both you and your agency, the following principles will actually allow venting to be constructive, forward-looking, and emotionally healthy.

Venting is OK- sometimes – but not as your primary or sole communication mode

I should have known I was in for it when told who I’d be partnered with for the overtime assignment and all the detectives on the detail either snickered or expressed faux sympathy (“You poor, poor bastard…”).  “What?” I asked, only to be told, “Oh, you’ll see.”

And boy, did I ever.  What should have been four easy hours of roaming festival grounds, chatting and joking with concertgoers, and answering silly questions from lightly dressed, lightly inebriated women, all at time and a half, turned into the Bataan Death Bitch of “Detective Dirge.”  By Day 3 (okay, maybe it was about 90 minutes in but it felt like 3 days) I was homicidal.    

We all know a Detective Dirge, or Sergeant Sadsack, whose sole contribution to any conversation is a recitation of injustices visited on them by their superiors, subordinates, city council, citizens, etc etc…  Every conversation, no matter how it starts or the topic where it’s organically going, is steered back to their favorite vent. 

We all know that guy.  Let’s take care not to BE that guy.

Venting must always have a bigger “end purpose”

Whether it is to blow off steam, empathize with another going through a hard time or some injustice, solicit input or consensus from others, or to rally the troops toward change, venting must always serve a bigger ‘end purpose.”  Even if it is to blow off steam or offer empathy, and the end purpose is nothing larger than that, then venting has a purpose to serve.  But that end purpose has to have an end itself; once reached and accomplished, be done with it.

But if the venting has yet a larger purpose – to rally others toward making change (or possibly just driving yourself toward some change) or to find consensus or feedback about an issue – then the venting portion needs to end and the next stage to begin unless you want to stay stuck.  Most revolutions die of inertia brought on by an inability to move past the “talk, talk, talk” phase. 

Channel your venting energies   

To move past the “talk, talk, talk” phase previously mentioned, start structuring your thoughts into a plan to illuminate problems and become solution-focused.  Maybe your particular issue is very personal, such as career stagnation or an interpersonal conflict with another in the department:

The bile taste rose up again in the back of Jill’s throat as she read over her semiannual evaluation from Sgt Kinneally; “inconsistent work product,”  “average patrol officer, at best,” “needs significant improvement in current role before further career opportunities should be considered.”  No matter how many stellar reviews she got from other supervisors over the years, no matter all the glowing “attagirls!” from the dicks for her investigative skills, and no matter all the commendations she’d received over her career, nothing would matter until Kinneally accepted her.  He was the lieutenant’s best friend and closest advisor, after all, and he’d hated her since he first had to supervise “a broad?!?  On my squad?  You gotta be kidding me, right?” eighteen years ago. 

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