We all have bad days at work. We all have people we don’t like working with. We all have things we don’t like to do. We all have ideas we think are stupid but we have to follow through with plan anyway.
And sometimes these things all converge together on the same day, time and place.
That happened to me once. And, in frustration, I vented to a co-worker friend who was on the project with me. Then I had a cupcake, a cup of coffee and got back to work. I was over my grouchy, negative self so I resumed being cooperative, productive me!
The next day, I arrived to find an email from another department manager saying she’d heard I had some concerns about the project and that her door was open if I wanted to go over anything with her. Apparently, my co-worker friend decided to send this email about our conversation, without asking or including me.
I confronted my co-worker friend about it. She said she was trying to help me voice my concerns and that I shouldn’t have said anything to her if I didn’t want her to do something about it.
Well, she was partly right — because I agreed that I shouldn’t have said anything to her! And that was the last time I vented to or within earshot of her about anything.
As managers and leaders, people come to us all the time with their frustrations. After the person is done telling their tale of woe, one of the first things I always ask is “what do you want me to do with this information?” It sometimes makes people more frustrated. I guess people think because I am HR that I automatically know what to do. Well, I don’t. And even when I know, it doesn’t mean what I think is what you think or want or need. So I ask — and you should, too, before you go investigating, intervening and interceding on someone else’s behalf.
Because venting and voicing are not the same thing.
- Venting is releasing feeling and/or opinion.
- Voicing is acting to uphold a standard.
- Venting is passive, Voicing is active.
- Voicing speaks, Venting responds.
- When people vent, it’s usually to someone on their same level because 1) they know that person can relate to their frustration and 2) they know that person has no authority to change or fix the problem.
- When people voice, it’s usually to someone with authority because they want something done about the problem.
I am not talking about major issues like harassment, discrimination, theft, safety hazards, etc. Those are bells that cannot be unrung! When someone notifies you of an issue in one of those areas, you have a duty to act by notifying someone in authority (if you’re not in charge) or immediately addressing the issue (if you are in charge). Failure to act makes you just as bad — if not worse — as if you’d committed the act yourself.
However, with less severe issues, it can be hard to know what to do — or if you should do anything at all.
And the answer is simple: Yes, you should do something. You should ask the person what they want you to do. Because when it comes to venting vs voicing, the decision on what to do lies with the person doing the talking.
Help people to find their voice when they need it — but don’t speak for them and don’t speak behind their backs. Otherwise, you’ll become apart of the problem, not the solution.