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.

Jill may believe there’s no recourse.  She may feel venting is her only outlet and intend to do a lot of it to release the stress of Kinneally’s slights.  Or she may take a different tack and plot a strategy to confront – professionally, of course – Kinneally’s perceptions.

What if she were to enlist the assistance of another, more supportive supervisor or peer?  What if she were to appeal the review through formal channels, or write a rebuttal before signing off on it?  What if she were to ask for a transfer to a different shift or supervisor, if feasible?  There are any number of recourses she could employ - and they may not necessarily be successful, but merely venting isn’t going to change things – but they might be.  They may put Kinneally on notice and change or question his behavior.  They could shine a light on him with his bosses; and sometimes the bosses are not as blind to shortcomings as they may seem. 

Sometimes moving forward with a strategy is surprisingly productive.

Seek and use “change coalitions” to foster progress

These might include police unions, specific organizations or committees within your department or government, an employee ombudsman program, or similar. 

Many departments will even solicit employees across the ranks to take part in steering committees when they see the need to effect change department wide, under the idea that a coalition of different backgrounds will bring diversity of thought and opinion to the table.  If used correctly, these groups can be highly effective and give voice to a wide range of employees throughout a department.

Plus, if you step up to take part on them they offer you five distinct advantages:

  • First, no matter your rank or position in the organization, you can bring your experience, opinion, and expertise to the table in what is generally a small but powerful group that will have the ear of the traditional powers-that-be;
  • Second, you can raise your own visibility within the organization through face time and networking with formal and informal leaders and power structure;
  • Third, the face time and networking can extend your credibility and influence beyond the group and outward into the greater organization;
  • Fourth, even if you fail to accomplish all, or even any, of your original goals you can still be on the side of those who do, and sometimes the solution to unproductive venting is merely getting a concerned audience to hear you in the first place; and
  • Fifth, You will have the opportunity to have your voice and complaints weighed against the opinion and expertise of others who also have a stake in making positive change.  Sometimes informed listeners can support your ideas, concerns, and beefs, while other times they confront and correct errors in your thinking.  Both are good.

Get control of negative thoughts ASAP in order to control them

According to University of Chicago psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, once a negative thought begins we have only 60 seconds to get it under control.  Once the thought goes past 60 seconds it turns into an anxiety.  The source of so much of our venting comes from anxiety of some sort, and the fact it increases greatly when we feel we’re not being heard compounds it.  The venting is from frustration, sure, but isn’t it really from unresolved frustration?

Get control of negative thoughts – those thoughts that tell you nothing can ever change, that you really have no power or options, the Eeyore mantra of, “We’re all doomed” – fast, before they take root and sprout.  Start being solution focused immediately.

Leave your beefs at work

No matter what happens at work, develop the habit of leaving work worries at the door when you leave for home.  Taking them home affords you no relief, burdens your family and friends with problems they have even less power over than you, and provides no emotional delineation between your “on-duty” and “off-duty” selves.  Of course your family and friends want to listen and support you, and you should honor them and their willingness with your trust and openness, but do so sparingly.  Abuse the privilege and you might find yourself seeing less and less of them as they unconsciously flee. 

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