Is This Your Brain on Venting?

So it turns out that venting is bad for your brain.  Is nothing sacred? I like to complain once in a while; unload all of my jabs and retorts in a long diatribe on how I’ve been wronged by a coworker or whomever.  Just ask my husband.  I’m really good at rehashing every dirty detail.  But you know what? You are embedding your neuro-pathways with bad messages.  You are reinforcing the way you see the world and entrenching a poor mindset. This-is-Your-Brain-on-Venting

During the Results Based Coaching training by the NeuroLeadership Group, the facilitator, Paul McGinniss said “Venting is like pouring gasoline on the problem”.  That’s a powerful metaphor.  If you think about it, aren’t you just reliving the emotional roller coaster and rehashing the same problem.  In David Rock‘s book, Quiet Leadership, he writes, “Unfortunately, drama is a place where many people in organizations are stuck and find it hard to get out of on their own”. You’re in a closed loop and running over the same territory.  This will not help you take a step forward or start building new connections.  You will not find solutions while venting.  

So here are some ideas on how to move off the venting loop and onto a more solutions based focus:          

1. Empathy.  Respond to the complaint with empathy.  This is a key principle from DDI, “listen and respond with empathy.”  The minute you label the feeling someone is conveying to you, let them know your heard them and that it’s time to move on.  “I hear you are frustrated because you didn’t get the raise you wanted” or “I understand you’re disappointed because your boss didn’t use your idea”.  End of loop.  The complainer has been heard.  To move on – Use Empathy.

2. Example.  Set the example.  If you sit around pissing and moaning all day, so will your coworkers, family members and friends.  So stop.  If you must complain that there is a thunderstorm in the middle of your outdoor wedding; say you are upset with the weather and move on.  Dwelling on it isn’t going to change the weather.  Be the optimist and set the example.

3. Ideas. Ask for some ideas.  Become solution focused.  So when your coworker is angry at their boss because she didn’t include him on the safety committee, ask “What do you want to do about that?”  If you are dealing with a chronic whiner, they will end the conversation and seek out other chronic whiners.  If they are willing to look for solutions; you have just helped them move on to new pathways.  You’ve helped break the loop.  Help people find some new ideas.

4. New club.  This might mean joining a new club.  The complainers club is enormous and omnipresent in the world of work.  You might need to hang out with a more optimistic bunch and the pickings might be slim.  The glass half full folks are probably smiling and approachable.  The half empty folks are gossiping and driving the bus over all their co-workers when their back is turned.  You know if they talk about everyone else, they are talking about you.  Stay away and join a new club

5. Silence.  When folks start their complaining and look for reassurance, keep silent.  Complainers aren’t really happy unless you are chiming in with agreement.  Don’t add fuel to the fire.  Let them build their own fires and walk away.  If you aren’t willing to be sucked into their drama, they will find someone else who is more willing.  According to an article by Melinda Zetlin called Listening to Complainers is Bad for Your Brain, “Research shows that exposure to 30 minutes or more of negativity–including viewing such material on TV–actually peels away neurons in the brain’s hippocampus.”  That’s the part of your brain you need for problem solving,” Trevor Blake says. “Basically, it turns your brain to mush.” Keep silent and walk away.

6. Bite. You’re going to need to bite your tongue.  If you start down the road of complaining, take a different direction.  So what if your team just lost?  It happens.  Don’t complain about the blind ref or the guy who cheated, try “gee wasn’t the weather just great” or “we had really good seats”.  Take the high road.  Over time, you’ll start having folks in your club.  People are attracted to optimism.  They might just want to build some of their brain cells with you.  Share the wealth and bite your tongue on negativity.

This post was difficult to write because my husband is likely to hold me accountable for this information.  I hope I can live up to his expectations and look forward to giving up my venting and to start building those brain cells.

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