An Alternative to Venting

Is your organization one that embraces a culture of support, recognition, appreciation, and cheering each other’s accomplishments? Building such an organization would likely go far toward changing cultures of negativity that permeate many departments...


This is the third and final installment in our series on “venting.”  If you have not yet read Parts I and II, please see “A LEOs Prerogative to Vent” and “Solution-Focused Venting.”

“Venting” is, as we’ve discussed so far in this series, is a normal part of the police life.  That cops like to gripe – about the job, crooks, victims, bosses, politicians, judges, lawyers, their equipment, the media, the public… you get the picture – is likely no surprise to anyone reading this.  But, as we’ve also discussed, venting is not always a harmless outlet; if excessive or uncontrolled, it can actually harm rather than help individual, group, and organizational morale, lead to increased stress and possibly even depression or burnout, and become the end result of frustration rather than a means to an end. 

In “Solution-Focused Venting” we began exploring ways to make venting less about “blowing off steam” – a temporary fix with possible long-term negative consequences – and more about becoming the first step toward actually finding solutions for the things that drive you to vent.  We ended the article with a promise to return with one simple, if easily overlooked, step in solution-focused venting. 

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It’s certainly true that if you’re around somebody that’s giving you many compliments, you start giving people compliments yourself.  If you’re around people who are more positive in general, you get more positive.  On the other hand, when you’re unhappy and you’re bitching all the time, you’re not just affecting yourself, you’re affecting other people, too, and you’re also teaching them how to act or not act.

-           Ed Diener, PhD (Professor of Psychology – emeritus, University of Illinois), quoted in Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zone Way.

Think about this part of Diener’s quote:  “…when you’re unhappy and you’re bitching all the time… you’re affecting other people too, and… teaching them how to act or not act.”  Does this happen where you work?  Are your words, or the words of others around you, defining the acceptable culture of your organization?  And is that culture the kind that promotes or destroys morale?

Then think about the first part of his quote, that of giving compliments and being positive and the contagious effect of being positive.  Are your words or the words of others around you the kind that build up others instead of ignoring those things they do deserving of recognition and praise?  Unfortunately, it common to ignore the positive in favor of that about which we can complain, or take for granted the good people do while focusing on their shortcomings.  It’s even worse if we feel slighted; when compliments for a job well done, creative policing, or going above and beyond are in short supply, becoming the one to start passing them out to others may not feel natural. 

It may not feel natural anyway.  As we’ve traveled and provided training to police officers and supervisors, particularly our class Police Morale for Supervisors:  It IS Your Problem, corresponded with cops because of our articles, and studied the phenomena of low morale in policing, it seems LE is a profession where too often the focus inordinately falls on suspicions and petty jealousies among the ranks instead of looking for ways to support and build each other up.  Of course, this isn’t universal and may not describe you or your organization but it may.  Does it sound at all familiar?

The final step of solution-focused venting is not really a part of the venting process.  It is, however, an important step in changing your mindset from one of constant complaint to positive thought.  To some extent, it’s a huge shift in the way a lot of officers and agencies do business.  Simply put, the final step is making a decision to engage in more positive thought processes, with the physical manifestation of that to be changing the content of your conversation from negative (complaining, etc) to positive (speaking complimentarily, etc). 

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