It’s going to happen sooner or later: The stresses and annoyances of work will build up inside you to the point that you just can’t hold it in any longer—so you erupt in a string of complaints to any co-worker who will listen.
Venting isn’t uncommon—in fact, in the typical workplace, I’d say it’s almost inevitable. Take me for example: I absolutely love my job and the people I work with. But I got to a point earlier this year where I was having venting sessions almost daily with my co-workers. Frustrations happen, and venting is an easy way to blow off steam.
But just because it happens doesn’t mean it’s OK. Constantly venting can spread negativity and bring your colleagues down—not to mention that it can be disruptive and annoying to the rest of your team.
So if it’s going to happen, make it happen the right way. Here’s how.
1. Minimize Your Impact
Take a minute to think about how you’d like others to think of you at work. Do you want to be seen as competent? Intelligent? Creative? A leader?
Whatever your desired professional reputation may be, I’m willing to bet it doesn’t include being known as a complainer. But that’s exactly what can happen when you constantly vent to anyone who comes within a five-foot radius of your cubicle.
You also don’t want your negativity to spread throughout your team, inspiring others to find the same (and additional) things to complain about.
So if you’re going to vent, strive to do it with as little impact as possible. Don’t do it often, and don’t do it to the same people every time—or in the middle of your open office, where everyone on your team can hear your grievances.
Or, create physical limitations for yourself. One of my co-workers and I, for instance, recently made a pact that we would only vent to one another if one of us physically walked over to the other person’s office and we talked behind the closed door. First, this makes sure no one else overhears the venting. Second, it really makes me think twice about each of my complaints—does this certain annoyance really warrant a trip to her office, where I’ll be distracting her from her work, just so I can vent? Often, I’ll find it doesn’t.
2. Spend Just as Much Time Coming Up With Solutions
You can vent all you want, but nothing is actually going to get better unless you also come up with solutions. Unfortunately, that’s not often a core aspect of venting—most of the time, you complain to blow off steam, without any intention of figuring out how to fix the problem.
So, whenever you find yourself venting to a colleague, vow to spend the same amount of time (or more) trying to determine how you can make that particular issue less frustrating.
For example, if you just spent a solid 10 minutes venting to your co-worker about how your colleagues in the finance department never return your emails, think about how you could contribute to the resolution—by calling instead of emailing, by making your requests in person, or perhaps simply by writing better, more effective emails (here are some tips).
By doing this, you get to express your feelings—but you also help create solutions.
3. Write it Down
I recently read an article about keeping a stress journal—and it made so much sense. By writing down what, specifically, is frustrating you, you can better understand and start to anticipate the things that trigger your stress and ultimately better avoid or conquer them. Plus, after writing them down, a lot of stressors seem much less significant and much more manageable.
The same theory can be applied to all those things that are seriously bugging you about your job. So you hate that awful Monday morning meeting, where the leader is unprepared, everyone is tired, and you don’t get anything accomplished? Write it down. As you reflect on your words, you may realize it’s not as big of a deal as you thought—after all, it’s only a half-hour out of your entire day and gives you a chance to catch up with your colleagues after the weekend.
Or, maybe it sparks an idea for an easy way to make the meeting a little better—like a quick pre-meeting coffee run. Your co-workers (who didn’t have to hear your complaints) will thank you.
4. Balance the Negative With the Positive
It’s incredibly easy to pinpoint things to complain about. There’s always someone who’s making your life harder, who can’t seem to finish his or her part of a project on time, or who constantly asks for help doing the same task, week after week.
But force yourself to keep the negativity in check by also noticing—and verbalizing—the positive in your workplace.
If you simply challenge yourself to be a little more observant, you’ll notice plenty of good things that are happening around you: your co-worker who nailed his presentation at the board meeting, the excellent draft your colleague wrote (which made your editing job a whole lot easier), or the training you attended that was actually really helpful—and not at all a waste of your afternoon.
Notice these things, compliment these people directly, and talk about these good things in front of your boss and co-workers. Yes, you can still vent when necessary. But if you’re going to vent about the bad, frustrating, and annoying things in your office, you should also strive to be just as verbal about all the good in your office, too.
With the right balance and a few self-checks, you can maintain the right to complain (occasionally)—but you can also do it in a way that doesn’t disrupt the rest of your team. And you’ll probably notice a difference in yourself, too.