As I was eating dinner one night, I heard a loud noise – it was similar to a small explosion. I looked quickly around the house to see what happened. I saw nothing out of the ordinary so I finished eating. Then, while I was cleaning up, it dawned on me – I forgot to take the potatoes out of the oven. And worse yet – they exploded leaving an undesirable mess for me to clean up. Why did the potatoes explode? Well, I realized that the potatoes exploded because I forgot to provide them with an outlet to let the steam out that builds up inside of them as they cook. You know…you’re supposed to poke a hole in potatoes before you put them in the oven. I usually just stab mine with a fork.
Anyways, all of this leads me to talk about the human need to vent. Just as potatoes explode when they can’t vent so do people in one way or another. Yes, it’s human nature and it’s a healthy thing to vent our frustrations, concerns, disappointments, and etc.
There’s no doubt about it – people need to vent. But how we vent, especially in a work situation, is most important.
During my programs we talk extensively about constructive and destructive communication patterns. Venting can be both, destructive and constructive, depending on how and why it is done.
Let’s take a look at how venting is destructive. Venting is destructive when one employee has a conflict with another employee and instead of working things out with each other they consistently tell a third party about what’s going on and about how awful their co-worker is. Then the third party (perhaps a co-worker, supervisor, or yes, even a parent) listens repeatedly about what’s going on. Eventually the third party may inquire about the latest happenings. Now other employees and even the children may hear what’s going on. This is a very destructive way to vent because it creates a series of destructive communication patterns and keeps many people stuck in the negativity created solely by these two people who are in conflict. And let’s not forget that this type of venting is GOSSIP.
You may also witness similar destructive venting situations that arise from co-workers being disappointed by one another or frustrated from feeling like they always have to do more than their fair share of the work. Or a supervisor, who is frustrated with her employee and in turn, vents to a co-worker.
Venting in the workplace is also destructive when employees consistently bring their personal problems from home to work. An employee may need to vent about their boyfriend or problems with a family member. There are situations when it may be acceptable to talk about a personal problem at work – but for the most part it is destructive to vent about personal issues at work.
Can the need to vent be minimized? Absolutely! This is good news – right? As employees build the skills to help them work out issues directly the need to vent will decrease. Problems will be resolved. Issues will be discussed directly with the parties who need to be involved. (Skills that they may need to build include conflict resolution, self-confidence, and professionalism.)
Here’s how to vent constructively. If you need to vent, don’t deny your need. People who deny the need to vent often engage in other destructive behaviors. Some people hold everything inside until they explode – just like my potatoes. And just like my potatoes it’s not a pretty mess to clean up, especially if the explosion happens in the presence of children or parents. The most constructive way to vent is to journal about what’s going on. Journaling is simply writing down your frustrations, etc. Journaling helps take a load off your mind and transfers it on to a piece of paper. It’s a great tool. Journaling also helps you come up with solutions and move forward.
After you journal about a situation, you may find that you’re now emotionally ready to talk things out in a calm, professional manner. This is important. Venting sessions at work should be a rarity not a normal part of the day. However, brainstorming for solutions with co-workers is different than venting and it’s a positive and productive activity to engage in.
Other tools that people have used include writing a letter to that person and never mailing it. A comedian I once interviewed, Sandra Baker, said she writes her frustrations down on a piece of toilet paper and then flushes it. Some people exercise it out while others utilize a punching bag.
Another tool is to utilize a support group outside of work so you can vent to someone who does not know the person you are venting about. This type of venting does not damage your team and provides an outlet for your steam. Remember venting alone does not solve the problem, conflict, or frustration you’re facing but when done constructively, venting can help you to get beyond the emotional stuff and focus on facts, benefits, and most important solutions. The main thing is to vent in a constructive way so you don’t let a lot of negative thoughts get in your way of having a positive and productive day.
Difficult people have been described in my seminars as mean, rude, inconsiderate, selfish, controlling, unresponsive, unapproachable, and insincere. Books written about difficult people describe and analyze them in at least a dozen categories. It gets so confusing to know how to interact with difficult people in the most positive and constructive manner.
My objective is to help you understand difficult people and provide you with some very simple techniques that you can implement when dealing with them so that your life can become more productive and less stressful.
Why are people difficult? There are many reasons, but the one most dominating characteristic that I’ve found within difficult people is fear. They feel fear and therefore react by trying to control others.
Have you ever felt fear and reacted in a difficult way? Recently my computer crashed. I did not have any data backed up. I was upset with myself, with the manufacturer of my computer (it was less than one year old!), and with everyone who asked the question – did you back up your data? Additionally, it seemed that every technician I spoke with told me something different about the possibilities of restoring my data. I was fearful that I would not retrieve my data, so I became less than pleasant to deal with. The good news is I was able to retrieve most of my data. But in the interim, I was a difficult person.
What about people who are always difficult? There are people who seem to be difficult constantly. There’s one question we need to ask ourselves – Is this difficult person someone whom I have to deal with? For example, last year I did business with a person who was very gruff. I was her client. When I first visited her office, even her dog looked stressed. This should have been a sign! Recently I decided to give it one more try, and things were even worse. This time she actually swore at me. That was all I needed to end the relationship. I decided that I did not have to deal with this person. It’s crazy to think that I would actually pay someone to abuse me! Are there any difficult people in your life whom you don’t have to deal with?
So what about those difficult people who we have to deal with? Think about the relationships that are worth transforming from difficult to pleasant. Perhaps a co-worker or relative fits the description. Some of my clients tell me that they can fill two sides of a sheet of paper with names of people who are difficult. So where do we go from here?
The good news is that there are many strategies you can implement to transform these relationships.
Strategy #1 – React to difficult people unemotionally. Do not take difficult encounters personally! When someone is projecting his/her anger, frustration, or controlling ways onto you, remember that although it may seem like a personal attack, it has nothing to do with you. It does have everything to do with the difficult person. React unemotionally, let the person vent frustrations, and truly listen. This will help you keep a clear mind and a positive attitude.
Strategy #2 – Focus on facts, benefits, and most importantly, solutions. Understand what the person is saying and view things from his/her perspective. Don’t feel pressured to say you’re right, or I agree. Simply say I understand why you feel this way – and propose a solution; or ask, what can we do to solve this problem – whichever is most appropriate for your specific situation. This will increase your confidence in dealing with difficult people and begin the process of transforming the relationship from difficult to pleasant. Difficult people need to feel you’re on their side. This doesn’t mean you agree with them or that you play into their negativity. This means that you would like to work together to develop a solution. There’s a big difference.
Strategy #3 – Confront difficult people and fears directly. One of the toughest things about dealing with difficult people is dealing with your own fears about the difficult encounters. Your own negative thoughts can be an excruciating way of torturing yourself. Negative thoughts will cause you to procrastinate for hours and feel a ton of stress. Fill your mind with positive affirmations (It’s worth it, etc.) Listen to upbeat, mood-lifting music prior to your encounter. Be prepared to communicate openly with difficult people, address their fears, and propose ways to resolve them. Don’t play into negative gossip about the difficult person – instead simply walk away. Please keep in mind that venting and brainstorming for solutions is different from gossiping. Gossiping is complaining without taking action. Gossiping is destructive and leaves you with no solutions. Once you establish open communication with difficult people and address their fears, they will begin to trust you and feel that you are on their side. This is a tremendous turning point.
Strategy #4 – Use the power of graciousness. Graciousness is simply a kindness of spirit. In order to transform difficult relationships, we need to project kindness. I understand this can be tough. At this point, it will help you to keep your priorities in mind. Additionally, think of the benefits you’ll gain as a result of your efforts. Don’t pick difficult people apart and complain. Simply take corrective action, and focus on the positives. Thank difficult people verbally or through a hand written note for anything you possibly can, including advice, a response you’ve been waiting for, their interest, etc. This is a powerful strategy. It reinforces the desired behavior. If you’re offered advice, don’t debate why it won’t work simply say, Thank You I’ll keep that in mind. This reduces the stress that you’ll feel. Additionally, it takes away the tension and negative energy that usually accompanies these encounters. Remember, it’s not about being right – it is about transforming a relationship.
Relationships with difficult people can be transformed from difficult to pleasant. The strategies I’ve introduced are simple, but the follow through can be tough. It’s up to you to answer the question –Is it worth it? I’ve had much success when I’ve implemented the above strategies, and I know that they will work for you. Simply open your mind to the possibility that difficult relationships can be transformed, follow through on the above strategies, and always remain optimistic. Get ready to experience the joy that new positive and productive relationships will bring you!