What’s the difference between venting and complaining?

One of the responsibilities that comes with adulthood is to contain your emotions. Four-year-olds are unable to do this. When a temper-tantrum comes on, they erupt. They aren’t capable of taking into account how their actions and feelings impact those around them. Their emotions run their life. So when a forty-year-old acts like this, we call them immature.

Containing feelings is not the same as suppressing them.

Containing them means having clear boundaries so you can attend to your emotions in a constructive way. Venting is contained, which means it has a beginning and an end. Venting is done in “contained” space, like an office behind closed doors or in a coffee shop away from the office. At the end of venting, you reach for a constructive solution that makes the situation better.

Like garbage, emotions need to be put in a container. Once in a container, they can be turned into fertilizer and used for good. Spewing garbage all over the workplace would obviously contaminate the environment. So why do it with emotions?

Complaining is non-contained emotional expression. It leaks into the things we say. It surrounds the water cooler and cafeteria conversations. It taints relationships and can build an entire culture of finger pointing that regresses into an adolescent mind-set rather than an accountable one.

Complaining is a defence against the courage to change, while venting addresses the issues and inspires you take action.

Even though we’re all guilty of it, let’s stop complaining and start courageously facing our life.

How To Fix An Accountability Problem

It’s frustrating when the people we work with don’t meet our expectations.
While it’s easy to blame others, people fail to perform as expected for three reasons:

  1. Communication.
    People are not clear about expectation(s). Make sure you have communicated clearly what you expect and how you will measure results. Be sure to include both operational and attitudinal expectations (how you expect people to act in alignment with your values).
  2. Capacity.
    People don’t have the competencies or adequate resources to ensure that expectations are met. Make sure you’ve made it safe to talk about it with your team and to work together to ensure that they have the capability and resources to meet your expectations.
  3. Commitment.
    People choose not to perform as expected. Be sure you have done everything you can to find out why the commitment is absent:

    • a. Is it a poor fit? Is there a better place in the organization for them or is there a better way to define their work?
    • b. Is there something going on their life that is temporarily distracting them and draining their energy? What support might they need? (Notice if their lack of commitment is out of character or if its been a long-term pattern).
    • c. Have you been clear enough and tough enough to follow through? Set your people up for success, and then ensure that you have the right people on the team.

What are the stories that run your life?

What are the stories that run your life?

After reading Dain Dunston’s thought-provoking book, Being Essential: Seven Questions for Living and Leading with Radical Self-Awareness, I was intrigued by the notion that our stories can unconsciously drive our lives. So we best be sure that we know what these narratives are and that they are true for the context we are currently living.

At four years old, I was incubated in an oxygen tent with a poliovirus infection. It created significant trauma, as I didn’t see my parents for weeks. In those days no visitors were allowed. I remember lying there alone crying myself to sleep, wondering if they would ever return.

After I went home, my arms and legs were very weak, so my father, a gymnast, coached me on the parallel bars and tumbling mat in our basement each day to help rebuild my strength.

And when I was bullied and teased at school, attributed, at least in part, to the residue of a weakened body, my dad would say, “Don’t pray for the world to get easier, pray for you to get stronger.”

The result of years of passionate dedication was a track scholarship at university. I credit my ability to overcome adversity through discipline and focused work to my father’s patient and persistent support and love. My commitment and the results that followed increased my confidence as I went on to build a successful speaking and consulting business.

However, in the process, I unconsciously created a story that my worth is dependent on what I can prove to the world I can overcome and achieve.

While the story served a vital purpose at the time, it eventually exceeded its function and led to unbridled ambition and eventual workaholism, tension, neglected relationships, a life out of balance, and burnout.

As I find my security from within, the narrative is now shifting from proving myself to expressing myself, from uncontrolled obsession to meaningful, focused contribution in my work.

The journey was enhanced by Dain’s insights. I recommend his book to those committed to living an authentic life with greater self-awareness.


Journalling – How To Get Going And Keep Going

Journalling – How To Get Going And Keep Going

Connection to others is critical in good leadership and starts with connection to yourself. Journalling is a great tool for self-connection.

Here are some guidelines to get you going and keep you going:

  1. Buy a nice journal. I love a good leather-covered one I can feel proud to write in.
  2. Have a regular time to write – in the morning, at the end of the day, or, for example, every Sunday morning as you reflect on the past seven days and the week ahead. I like to spend five minutes journalling when I first come in the office, before I turn on my computer. It helps me connect to myself before the barrage of the world’s demands start hitting me.
  3. Experiment with structure. Sometimes journalling is a brain dump, a process I learned from Julia Cameron. Her journalling method is three pages of stream-of-consciousness writing. Other times I use a structure of a) How am I feeling? (Including wins in the past 24 hours, lessons learned, and glitches); b) How will I show up today? c) What am I grateful for?
  4. Write less than you think you “should.” Like exercise, it’s better to have small consistent successes than big failures. Two or three sentences is great while you’re getting into the habit.
  5. Don’t show it to anyone. You aren’t writing to impress anyone. It won’t be graded. It is only for you.
  6. Don’t sweat it if journalling doesn’t work for you. It isn’t for everyone. There are lots of other tools for connecting with yourself.

12 Habits of Genuine People

Travis Bradberry recently published a Forbes article titled, 12 Habits of Genuine People. He builds a good case for the value of being genuine, then outlines the hallmarks of genuine people: “they don’t pass judgement … they’re generous … they treat everyone with respect … they aren’t motivated by material things … that aren’t driven by ego … they aren’t hypocrites.”

While these compelling virtues undoubtedly point towards authenticity, the article inspired me to think more deeply about my research and understanding of what it means to be authentic. If one holds these qualities of authenticity as the gold standard of a genuine life, we may unintentionally fall into a trap of attempting to live up to an ideal that’s humanly impossible, then become, paradoxically, inauthentic. Is anyone truly virtuous enough to be immune to hypocrisy, judgement, disrespect, the desire for material things, or ego?

If we are honest, can anyone possibly adhere to these qualities every day? And is falling short of sainthood the same as being inauthentic? And are we perpetuating a culture of complaint when our leaders fall short of these expectations?

What if, instead of being ingenuous, falling short of this near perfect standard of genuine meant being human. Being human doesn’t mean lowering our standards or becoming complacent. We can always improve. Authenticity is a commitment to staying real in our progress.

When it comes to authenticity, the notion of sincerity comes to light. The word sincere is derived from the Latin sine meaning without, and cera, meaning wax. Dishonest sculptors in ancient Rome and Greece would cover flaws in their work with wax to deceive the viewer; therefore, a sculpture “without wax” would mean honesty in its imperfection.
Authenticity, like sincerity, is honesty in its imperfection. We don’t have to hide from or be ashamed of our cracks. In the words of Leonard Cohen, “that’s how the light gets in.”

Rather than creating an illusion of perfection, being authentic means embracing our humanity. It means a commitment to bring our hypocrisy, insecurities, judgements, materialism, and ego into the light of awareness, and notice their impact so we can create safe, honest, accountable, more fully human workplaces.

Why do we discount people’s feelings – and what can we do about it?

Why do we discount people’s feelings – and what can we do about it?

Have you ever been told to:

  • “Calm down”
  • “Don’t worry”
  • “Relax”
  • “Don’t be so intense”
  • “Just let it go”

Rarely do these responses change the emotions or the actions that are intended. In fact, they usually result in making things worse. Most people are primed to be punished for being emotional at work, but it also happens in our personal relationships. Emotional invalidation can be hurtful. So how do we deal with it – authentically.

Let’s first understand why we attempt to quash, refute, or undermine emotions. There are potentially several reasons, but it mostly occurs when we aren’t comfortable with our own emotions or we feel responsible to “fix” the feelings of others in order to feel competent, safe, or secure when we are around a highly charged person. Usually people don’t want to cause the harm they are unintentionally invalidate another’s emotions.

So… what are some strategies for dealing with highly intense, emotional people in your life, and, if you are an intense person, what are some tactics for dealing with people who invalidate your emotions.

Dealing with emotional responses:

  1. Appreciate emotions. Value feelings. Without emotions you wouldn’t have the energy, passion, or creativity that are required for a healthy, thriving workplace or life.
  2. Put your oxygen mask on. If you find yourself in front of an upset person, take some deep breaths and remind yourself that you don’t have to fix this, that the emotions will, that being fully present is enough, and that you respect yourself enough to not tolerate disrespectful comments.
  3. Invite the other person to talk – with empathy. You can say nothing or say something like, “I want to listen right now.”
  4. Check if they are ready to move forward. Once you see a decrease in emotion, you can begin to move toward problem solving or simply appreciating the time you have spent holding the space for another

Dealing with emotional invalidation:

  1. Don’t take it personally. I know this is way easier said than done, but you have to realize that people who shut emotions down are doing so because of their own fears.
  2. Be sure you aren’t putting your feeling in the driver seat. If you emotions are taking over your actions, your performance, and your results, then there is legitimacy in wanting to have you shut them down.
  3. Have a conversation with the people who are impacted by your emotions – before you are activated – about respectful ground rules for handling highly emotionally charged situations.
  4. Don’t be disrespected. Don’t allow yourself to be diminished for who you are – under any circumstance. Stay true to yourself, appreciate the constructive emotions that surface in your relationships, and focus on expected results.