Communicating Negativity: Don't Vent To Your Team

geyser with rainbow tl;dr: vent your frustrations with positivity.

It is the privilege of the report to Vent. A good Vent gets your frustrations out in the open, and helps you feel better for having shared what’s on your mind. As a manager, when you feel a vent coming, you have to let it happen; no interruptions, no attempts to “solve” the problem. Just let them speak. After they’re finished is the time to start gently probing about whether there is a problem to be solved here, or just a need to be heard.

When you’re in a position of leadership, however, your mood is more contagious. A Vent commonly relates to a problem that the venter hasn’t managed to solve. Knowing your manager has a problem they can’t solve can breed uncertainty - yes I know they’re human, but does it help me to be reminded of that? What am I meant to do with this information? Even worse, what if the thing they are venting about is a problem that I want to bring to them? If they can’t solve it either, where does that leave me?

For me, as a manager your prime directive at work is to enable the people you manage to do their best work. Everything you do should be geared towards achieving that goal, either directly or indirectly. You are their support, you are the person they can come to when they need help solving a problem. Anything that shakes that confidence is negatively impacting your prime directive.

What does this mean? Well, what it definitely doesn’t mean is that as a manager you need to be perfect. It’s healthy, if not imperative, to regularly remind your reports that you are human. You have a personality, you make mistakes, but importantly, you do your best to stay positive and overcome your challenges. Express your frustrations with your reports, but be careful of how you phrase it; be calm, be considerate, and make sure you can convey a clear plan of how you intend to resolve it, particularly if it’s a frustration shared by the report you are talking to!

Don’t get me wrong, this is hard to do. It’s tiring being the one who stays calm and finds a way through the problem, and it’s particularly hard on the days when it all feels like too big a problem to face today. But how would you feel if you went to your manager with a problem, and they responded, crestfallen, saying “I know, I hate it too”. Would you feel encouraged by that? When it happened to me, it made me feel better temporarily, but ultimately this response had a significant impact on my decision to leave.

So what does this mean? If you feel the need to vent rising, save it for your manager :)