5 Tips for Venting About Work at Work

Often the only people who can relate to job frustrations are other coworkers. But how you voice your frustrations is important.   

The way Sally sips her coffee on virtual meetings chills your spine. The marketing department delayed the website relaunch…again. And for the past month, it seems like your manager has been overly critical of everything you do. All of it is driving you crazy. 

Everyone has something about their job that frustrates them, but venting to your spouse or a friend only goes so far. “Sometimes the only people who can really relate to what you are going through at work are colleagues,” says Brian Bloom, Korn Ferry’s vice president of global benefits. In fact, open, honest, communication is one of the foundations to building an inclusive culture. That includes venting. Studies show that sharing grievances can lead to better collaboration and communication and drive productivity.

That doesn’t mean you should walk the halls or fill internal messaging channels with an endless stream of complaints, however. Bloom says how you voice your frustrations is just as important as what you are venting about. There’s a thin line between healthy venting and being seen as a negative influence. 

Here are some tips from our experts for how to vent about work at work. 

Vent up, not down.

In the movie “Saving Private Ryan,” Tom Hanks’ character, Captain Miller, explains to Private Reiben, played by Edward Burns, that gripes go up, not down. “I don’t gripe to you,” Captain Miller says. “You gripe to me, I gripe to my superior officers, and so on, and so on.” That’s how it works in the corporate world as well, says Jacob Zabkowicz, vice president and general manager of Korn Ferry’s Global Recruitment Process Outsourcing practice. “You don’t want to become known as the office gossip or a complainer by your peers,” he says. 

Before you start venting to your boss, however, make sure they are amenable to hearing you out. As Zabkowicz notes, not all bosses want to hear complaints, and some will use venting against you. “Make sure that you have the kind of relationship with your boss where they are happy to lend an ear,” he says. 

Talk to mentors.

Companies are increasingly pairing young talent with mentors and sponsors to help guide their careers and navigate the ins and outs of the organization. These are the perfect people to vent to—listening to you is part of their role. But mentors can’t help you if they don’t know what is bothering you, says Zabkowicz. They can listen to your frustrations and provide perspective on what can be done to change the situation within the role or organization.

Just be prepared to potentially hear some uncomfortable truths. Mentors, if they are honest about the circumstances, could suggest switching jobs, or even careers, after hearing the complaints. “You may realize you don’t have the tolerance for what comes with the job or company,” Zabkowicz says.

Show a business need.

Yes, the fact that the 15-year-old customer management program crashes every other time you use it is incredibly frustrating. But experts say it’s not particularly healthy to just complain about it.

Instead,​ focus on how solving the problem, be it technological or something else, could meet a business need. “Understanding how what you are venting about impacts the business is key to the reaction you get,” Bloom says. 

In the case of the crashing software, illustrate how upgrading frees up several minutes per hour, minutes that can be used closing sales or speaking with customers. Suggestions that could improve performance, efficiency, and return on investment will always get more traction than simple complaints.

Be specific, not insulting.

It may be one particular individual’s particular meeting habits or performance that grinds your gears, but Bloom says don’t vent about any single person. Instead, talk to your boss about how the team’s performance is adversely affected. Frame the discussion around how you and other team members are picking up a lot of extra work to meet deadlines, or discuss the aspects of the project that aren’t meeting expectations. That way you get your point across without singling anyone out or coming across as something other than a team player, says Bloom.

Stay calm.

Venting is a form of catharsis, a release of bottled-up emotions. The problem is that when people finally get something off their chest, the issue can get lost amid stress and emotion. Before letting it all out, so to speak, experts suggest trying to calm down. Take a walk, for instance, or sit and breathe deeply for 10 minutes. Other techniques that experts suggest include writing down your complaints or speaking them into the voice notes on your smartphone, waiting an hour, and then revisiting them. “The goal of venting is not to cause more strife,” says Zabkowicz.