Monday, June 19, 2017

Venting Doesn't Extinguish Anger, It Feeds It


It was a blast to join Jon Harper recently as a guest on his terrific podcast, My Bad. Of course, the show is all about owning a mistake you've made as an educator and reflecting on what you learned from it. It's a great concept because many of us working in schools think we need to be perfect. That's never going to happen. We just need to be authentic and striving to get better.

I shared about how I used to get so frustrated by students, parents, other teachers, administrators, etc. You name it. I got frustrated and let it be known. I didn't share my blaming and complaining far and wide, but with a small group of people it was common for me to just vent. And I thought that was perfectly healthy. It actually felt good. I looked forward to letting out all that frustration.

But I've learned that venting actually isn't helpful. In fact, it can cause more angry, aggressive behaviors. In his outstanding book, Originals, Adam Grant shares a behavioral study designed by psychologist Brad Bushman. It demonstrates how venting impacts our psyche.
Participants were asked to write an essay about whether they were against abortion or pro-choice. They then received some harsh written feedback from a peer with the opposite view, who rated their essays as disorganized, unoriginal, poorly written, unclear, unpersuasive, and low in quality, adding, "This is one of the worst essays I have read!"
The angry recipients were then randomly assigned to one of three responses, venting, distraction, or control. The members of the venting group were allowed to hit a punching bag as hard as they wanted for as long as they liked, while thinking about the jerk who criticized their essays and looking at his picture. The distraction group hit the punching bag but was instructed to think about becoming physically fit, and was shown a photo of someone exercising. In the control group, there was no punching bag; participants sat quietly for two minutes while the computer was being fixed. Which group would become most aggressive toward the peer who insulted them?
To find out, Bushman gave each of the groups the chance to blast their essay's critic with noise, letting them determine the volume and duration of the sonic blasts.
The venting group was the most aggressive. They slammed the critic with more intense noise, and held the button down longer, than the distraction and control groups. One participant got so angry after thinking about the insulting feedback that hitting the punching bad wasn't enough: he punched a hole in the wall of the lab.
Venting doesn't extinguish the flame of anger; it feeds it. When we vent our anger, we put the lead foot on the gas pedal of the go system, attacking the target who enraged us.
Working as an educator is a stressful job. There are many, many things we can choose to be frustrated about in a typical day. As a result, it is very tempting to vent to our friends, our colleagues, our spouse, or some other listening ear. But it's not a healthy response. It's better to do nothing than to vent.

But anger doesn't have to be harmful. Emotions are not good or bad inherently. They are only good or bad depending how we act on them. Anger can actually be a source of energy for taking positive action, solving problems, and making something better. Anger can motivate us to do something to improve a situation.

Blaming and complaining are completely ineffective. They just compound frustration and only have negative consequences, for us and others. Venting is blowing off steam without doing anything to correct the root problem.

Instead of venting, do something to create change.

But what about those situations you can't do anything about? There are some things that frustrate us that are completely out of our hands. We have no opportunity for influence. Now I would caution that these instances are rarer than most people perceive. We sometimes like to pass the buck and tell ourselves there is nothing we can do. Usually, there is some possible way to help or try to make something better. We just have to stop avoiding the things that frustrate us and step forward with solutions.

But if the situation is beyond us, it is still better to do nothing than to vent. 

Consider these questions when you are frustrated. What's bothering you? What would you like to do about it? What would be a helpful response? What's your next step? How can you be part of the solution?

I want to challenge all educators to stop venting and start doing. Be problem solvers. I'm trying to give up my venting ways. Complaining doesn't help me or anyone else in the long run. Let's all make it a point to give up on venting.

If you want to here my entire conversation with Jon, I've shared it with you below.


Question: How do you handle your frustrations? Are you ready to go beyond venting and help make the world a better place? Respond below or on Twitter or Facebook. I'd love to hear from you.


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