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March 2015

Tough to brakeTo Vent or not To Vent

I spoke to a group of industrial psychologists recently, and I was not the only speaker at that meeting. The gentleman who spoke after me addressed the topic of venting and whether it helped or hurt in a business environment. When I heard about the subject of his talk I was very interested in hearing him. I am always interested in things and subjects that touch on conflict; what gives rise to it, how it affects the parties, and how people deal with it. So when the speaker began to talk about venting he had my attention.

The crux of his speech was that venting can be an effective tool but it carries a couple of important caveats. Hi Ho here is someone who I agree with…or maybe not. He built an argument that venting can be beneficial if done in the right way. He approached it from the point of view of the person who does the venting and made the following points:

  1. A person thinking about venting should spend time thinking/meditating on what he/she wants to vent about.
  2. If a person is going to vent, that person has to be calm and focused before speaking.
  3. He also suggested that a person thinking about venting needed to also prepare by practicing and he suggested that a person should write down his/her thoughts.
  4. He then suggest that the person who wants to vent should, after thinking about it and practicing it, should tell the other person that he/she intends to vent, and that the other person is someone he/she trusts.

At this point I was underwhelmed by what I heard. He clearly has a different view form mine when it comes to venting. I was in danger of tuning him out and counting the minutes until I could make my escape, and then the light came on. I was forgetting the audience. They may work in private industry or have a public service position that interfaces with private industry, but they were all psychologists. There was no doubt in my mind they had all studied Dr. Freud’s theory that yelling, screaming, and shouting can be therapeutic when done in a proper environment. Freud had a lot to say about environment and the concept of Catharsis. When I realized he was speaking about venting from a psychologist’s view of Catharsis, I stopped thinking that Tweety Bird had escaped from his cage.

From the perspective of mediation, venting has to be expected, and I can assure my readership that it is never rehearsed. At the risk of stating the obvious, the mediator has to be prepared for emotions to rock the boat; sometimes in fairly dramatic ways. A mediator cannot be caught at a disadvantage when one side or the other moves from simply being loud to venting frustrations and letting it all out. I have several techniques that I use to maintain control over the mediation process, but in applying these techniques, I work to make sure that the parties stay focused on the mediation process, the issues, and not the individuals.

Food for Thought:  A good manager doesn’t try to eliminate conflict; he tries to keep it form wasting the energies of his people. If you’re the boss and your people fight you openly when they think that you are wrong – – that is healthy. (Robert Townsend)

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