On a recent train ride my husband struck up a conversation with a fellow passenger who was a banker. They talked about the work they do and their families. When my husband mentioned that I am an executive coach the banker smiled and said, “I had a coach last year. I miss my coach so much!” He went on to explain how he had worked with an executive coach as part of a leadership development program and had had the opportunity to continue his coaching for almost a year. “I could tell my coach anything,” he said. “It was great to have someone I could talk to unfiltered and not worry about how it might be perceived. Coaching was my relief valve.”

We all need a relief valve – that place or that person we can go to to vent, blow off steam, say whatever we need to say, ask the stupid question, talk through a tough situation, or just whine and complain for a while. Having a non-judgmental sounding board can help you to sort through an issue, express your fears, be safely inappropriate if necessary, and ultimately move toward a positive outcome.

Most of us can think of the person we worked with who wore their stress on their sleeve (and on their face), who was known for having temper tantrums, or for blowing up in front of everyone and then trying to repair the damage later. And most of us don’t want to be that person. Yet the stress and constant pressures that many of us feel at work can build, and we need a relief valve to help us avoid getting so worked up at work (or at home) that we do something that hurts our relationships, our reputation, and our work.

If you find yourself in need of a way to release some steam when you get worked up at work, here are a few ideas to consider:

  1. Find an ally – Having someone in your workplace that you trust to have your back gives you a confidante to rely on when you need to vent. Of course, don’t abuse the privilege. Instead of barging into their office, closing the door behind you, and going on a rant, reach out to your ally and find out when they can spare a few moments for you. And be sure to return the favor when they need it too. Having these private no-holds-barred conversations with your allies also gives you the opportunity to talk through a workable resolution and a positive outcome so that you can move forward.
  2. Close your door – Sometimes one of the first, and most powerful, things you can do is to give yourself space. While we applaud the “open door” policy that many leaders strive for, there are times to close your door so that you can be as emotional as you may need to be for a few minutes, and then regroup and go on. If you don’t have a door to close, consider a quick trip to the restroom, or the next suggestion.
  3. Go for a stroll – Getting away from the stressors can break your emotional knee-jerk response, and give you breathing room. Get up, get out, and get moving, so that you can clear your head, regroup, and get yourself back on the right path.
  4. Build your external network – Your workplace may be too “political” or you may not have a trusted ally to go to when you need to relieve the pressures of your job. Finding external allies can also be a great way to share your frustrations in a safe and productive way. There are even formal “mastermind” groups that offer a confidential space for hearing from other leaders and sharing the things you can’t say at work. Making connections in professional organizations can connect you with people who may have very similar experience and challenges. You’ll realize you are not alone in grappling with some of the situations you are facing.
  5. Get active – Physical exercise is a top stress reliever. Whether it’s kick-boxing to turn up the intensity and get your frustrations out or yoga to calm and center yourself, exercise replenishes positive energy and prepares you to face whatever comes your way.
  6. Journal – Spending time in self-reflection can help you see things you’re not seeing and be open to different perspectives. It can also simply release the tension and pressure you’re feeling. As someone who routinely journals, I find that writing out my thoughts and feelings helps me to get in the flow and move toward positive action.
  7. Agree on venting time – There’s a time to vent, and a time to move on. If you’re only venting, over and over, you are keeping yourself stuck, and if you’re never venting and jumping instead immediately to solutions, you are potentially keeping toxicity inside, which will get in the way of your moving forward. Agree on a reasonable time to vent and vent and vent, and then on a stopping point when you’ll say, “So now, what do I want to do about this?”
  8. Get a coach – As the person on the train learned, working with an executive coach is an ideal way to productively and positively address the things that frustrate you at work. By having a safe and confidential place to discuss your concerns, you can reflect on the situation and develop positive coping mechanisms and approaches that can last a lifetime.

If you work every day, at some point you will face situations that get you worked up and feeling under pressure. It’s impossible to avoid, but knowing you have a relief valve at the ready can help you to productively deal with difficult challenges, frustrating people, or unpleasant surprises. Identifying the relievers that work best for you and help you to get back on track keeps you moving in the right direction.

What are your relief valves?
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If you enjoyed this post, you can read more like it in our book, The Power of Thoughtful Leadership: 101 Minutes To Being the Leader You Want To Be, available on Amazon.

For help in finding ways to productively and safely blow off steam, contact Robyn at rmcleod@chatsworthconsulting.com.

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