Ranting Responsibly

By Neal Eisenstein, MBA

To get through the day, managers reconcile a cauldron of emotions about frustrating events.  These events typically involve direct reports or their next level down. When your people fail to communicate or follow through on commitments, frustrations build.  In these moments, we tend to over share or vent in ways that risk making things worse or clearly sap our available energy. While it may feel a bit better when we unload, whom we do it with and how we do it, matters.

Here are some dos and don’ts to help compartmentalize some of these emotions.

  • Don’t send snarky emails. Yes, you’re pissed and annoyed, but sending an angry, edgy email just makes the situation worse.  It will likely raise their anxiety level and diminish confidence. Better to use this as a learning moment through coaching and an open, timely discussion.  Sending harsh email just makes things worse.  Good to write it, bad to send it.
  • Choose your audience, wisely. Even though you trust some of your talent more then others, don’t share frustrations about one of your directs with another.  Playing favorites might feel like a safe haven in the moment but sets up a tricky dynamic that misses the point of the breakdown and what you need to do about it.  First, this behavior tends to transfer some of your stress and frustration onto your direct report.  Second, it sets up an awkward triangulation risk that makes the boss seem unwilling or reluctant to address directly.  Instead, unload to trusted friends or the significant other outside of work.
  • Take a walk. Your rant will not fix the person or the situation.  No amount of complaining, threatening or unloading will serve your ultimate purpose which is to make your people stronger so that you can rely on the to lead effectively across the board.
  • Recognize when it’s time to stop ranting and start fixing. Clarifying expectations and addressing breakdowns comes with the job. If you’re giving too much energy to spinning and not prioritizing the conversation that truly matters then there’s probably some work to be done on your end.  Not being sure about how to address a problem doesn’t mean you wait too long. These conversations tend to be pushed to review time and this always diminishes the manager in the end.
  • Look in the mirror. When we experience breakdowns in expectations, it’s a head shaker, no doubt.  However, you can stay mindful about what’s in your control and the most productive way to address it.  Typically, the best way is to reframe these moments as learning opportunities.  Ask questions.  Manage the judger inside you and stay curious with others.  Yes, things happen but it’s how you address it that can make all the difference.  It’s easy to point the finger at others.  Often times, we’re not bringing ourselves fully to helping our people grow, reminding them of your expectations and their impact and accountability.  Sometimes we forget the basics and fall into our own ranting traps that prevent us from seeing the bigger picture.

As managers, we have power over others and it’s easy to fall victim to spending too much time internalizing or avoiding and not enough time moving frustrations into the light through dialogue.  Our responsibility is to lead in a balanced state and stay mindful about distractions that move us to unproductive extremes.  Ranting, like anything else, can easily be taken to the extreme if we’re not careful.



Neal can assist you in learning to rant more productively.  Contact him for a complimentary consult.