Venting your frustration about your job can feel good in the moment. “Ugh!” and “Arghh!” you say to anyone within earshot.
But complaining at work and rehashing coworker drama does not actually make us feel good, psychology research has found. When you vocalize your frustration, it does not release you from your bad mood —it extends it. You thought you were just harmlessly blowing off steam, but the toxicity blows back in your face. Employees who complained about work made their bad moods worse, one study on employees’ diary entries found. Employees’ bad moods lasted up to 24 hours if they gossiped or vented about work drama. These complainers not only felt worse the next day at work, their work suffered too. They showed lower engagement and energy levels.
So what can you do in the heat of the moment? Instead of venting just to vent, a new article in Harvard Business Review shows us how we can channel the energy behind a complaint into productive action:
Instead of complaining, address the complaint
To stop ourselves from complaining just to complain, we need to address the source of the complaint. Complaining is wasting time and energy that you could be using to solve your problem, business leader Peter Bregman argues in HBR.
“Complaining is a violent move to inaction. It replaces the need to act,” he writes. “Let complaining — and the feeling that leads to complaining — be the red flag that it should be: something wrong is happening and you are probably not powerless to do something about it.”
When you are venting about work, you are painting yourself as a powerless victim of circumstance. To address a complaint, you first need to recognize your agency as an employee to make a difference. That’s how you redirect your anger and frustration into something useful. Feel the energy that’s riling you up and locate its source. Did someone yell in a meeting? Did your boss just take credit for your work?
Then take your grievance to a person who can change what went wrong, whether that’s the employee who yelled or the frustrating boss. You tell these colleagues not only how their action makes you feel, but how it is impacting your work.
“Decide what you can do to draw a boundary, ask someone to shift their behavior, or otherwise improve the situation,” Bregman recommends. “More than once I have seen someone gain the respect of everyone in the room because they were courageous enough to be direct — caringly, compassionately, and truthfully.”
The key to this advice is not letting yourself stew in frustration for days on end. When something complaint-worthy happens, address it quickly and directly to nip the bad energy in the bud. Thoughtfully addressing a complaint takes more courage than complaining with your coworker at the bar, but the payoff of your peace of mind will be worth it.