So, let’s say you have had a frustrating day. Things just did not go per your plan. You had a disagreement with someone; you bottled up how you felt inside. And so, before heading home, you decided to stop by a colleague’s desk. Or maybe you called a friend. To let off some steam. To get it all off your chest. To vent.
I am sure that many of you can relate to this. Being upset. And then venting.
Unloading your frustrations can make you feel better at that moment. It can also be rather therapeutic. But, you should be careful to not make it a habit. A lot of research today suggests that constant venting doesn’t necessarily make you less angry or less stressed out. It could in fact fuel more anger and make you vent even more, not to mention the effect on your relationships.
Drawing from this, my message this week focuses on the perils of constant venting.
What really is the problem with continually venting?
It is perfectly fine, on occasion, to be upset. And to show it. It is most certainly healthier than being in denial about the way you feel. So there is nothing wrong with venting in itself. But if it is all that you choose to do, then it may be limiting.
Think about it. What really happens? You get it off your chest and you feel lighter. But that’s just the problem. It is just momentary relief. It makes you think the worst is over. But the truth is that you haven’t really started addressing the issue at hand.
Studies are showing, surprisingly enough, that continual venting actually makes you more angry. That the more you rake up emotions, the more you are reminded of what makes you angry. It starts a vicious cycle that leaves you wallowing in these feelings of anger and frustration. A negative reinforcement of sorts. You can read more about some of the research on this and the changing thoughts in this blog post by David McRaney: http://youarenotsosmart.com/2010/08/11/catharsis/
It isn’t easy on the person who is listening either, more so if you do this often. It takes a toll on your relationships. Hearing someone upset repeatedly can be difficult to manage. Especially if it doesn’t seem to lead anywhere. And if you end up venting to the person who has caused you to be upset, then that can get tricky.
Venting casts you as the victim. This is counter-productive, because it prevents you from having a balanced point of view. You become self-righteous and defensive. If not checked, it could even turn into an excuse to not confront the real problem at hand.
And lead to more venting. So, if you find yourself making a habit of it, irrespective of the magnitude of the issue, it is time to give it some serious thought. What you’re really doing is almost rewarding yourself for feeling an upsetting, angry emotion with an equally upsetting, angry reaction.
Bottom line, the problem with venting is that it isn’t the solution. Don’t confuse it with being an end in itself. And while it is okay to have a good cry sometimes, you should try to follow it up with figuring out a solution to what upset you in the first place. In an earlier message, I had shared this TED talk by Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi (http://www.ted.com/talks/kailash_satyarthi_how_to_make_peace_get_angry) where he talks about channeling anger for change. How to not get swayed by self-indulgent anger, but rather use that to find a solution. Do watch it, if you haven’t already.
What to do when you need to vent
It could be your boss making too many demands. Your team not stepping up. A difficult client with changing expectations. Your vendor not delivering on promises. A project that falls through. Maybe you had a run in with your partner. You could be finding it tough to come to an understanding with your teenager. Maybe it’s a little bit of everything. You need to vent.
Here are a few tips on what to do to keep it in check:
- Find the right confidante – When you’re venting, you’re upset and vulnerable. You’re probably not filtering what you say. So you need to find someone you really trust and who you can confide in. Importantly, someone with a balanced point of view. Someone who will not judge you and will help put things in perspective.
- Clear your head – Take time off. Count to 10. Give yoga or deep breathing a try. Go for a run. Listen to music. Pen down how you feel; writing can be quite therapeutic. Basically, calm yourself down enough to not be overwhelmed by the problem.
- Do something that makes you happy – Something that you just can’t associate with being angry; something that makes you smile.
- Don’t go online – Today, it is really easy to reach for your phone and Facebook or Tweet about how you feel. Or type away at that email and send it out. You don’t need to wait for an audience. It is speedy and handy. But remember, that you won’t be able to pull it back once you’ve calmed down.
- Don’t vent to the person who has upset you– This can only cause more harm than good. Stay away till you have a more balanced perspective.
- Look for a solution – Shift from just pouring your heart out to looking for probable solutions. Once you’re calmer, try to distance yourself from the hurt and look at the situation objectively. Can you see the other points of view?
If you are the confidante
Do you ask the person to calm down? Say that it will get better? That it isn’t worth the frustration? Do you just listen quietly? Do you encourage this conversation? Do you offer advice? Do you do all of it?
While there isn’t really a one size fits all solution, here are some suggestions on how to approach these conversations:
- Let the person talk.That was the point in reaching out to you.
- Once the conversation has begun, try to shape it by asking questionslike ‘What are you most frustrated about?’ and ‘What has made you the most angry?’. The problem with just venting is that it doesn’t offer much perspective. Probing helps focus the conversation.
- Listen without interrupting; maybe ask for more details
- Try to figure out where this is coming from.‘Why do you think this is happening?’ If the person hasn’t had a chance to think through some of these answers, now would be a good time to encourage it.
- Pinpoint the cause for worry. ‘What are you really worried about?’ The frustration and anger usually comes from a real worry. And that is what needs to be solved for.
- Once you figure out what the worry is, you can start looking for possible solutions. Guide the conversation, so that the person is coming up with the solutions. Doing so can be a big confidence boost. It also makes it more likely for them to be followed through on.
So think about giving some of these suggestions a try the next time you are really frustrated.
Don’t let yourself be consumed by the venting. It will only make you exhausted, more angry and vulnerable. Push beyond it.
Be honest with yourself and confront the problem. Don’t hide your real worry away behind the shouting and the rude emails. It is really a choice. Only you can make this shift.
And you need to be part of the solution. Managing the way you react when you are upset can go a long way in impacting your relationships and making you stronger and happier.