Let's take a look at another special type of conversation that will come up...
Okay, someone needs to vent. Whether it’s important or trivial, it’s guaranteed that your employees will get upset from time to time. Someone shows up at your door, you see him walking in the halls with that look on his face, or another team member alerts you that he seems to be distressed about something. Eventually, that someone will arrive in your office for a chat. The next few minutes will determine whether he gets past the problem and back to work, or if he stews on it—maybe even gets others incited and diverted from their own work.
Sometimes, the item of displeasure is something you can fully control, and sometimes it isn’t. Even if you don’t have the power to actually handle the issue, the way in which you handle the conversation can go a long way towards returning the employee to a more positive state of mind. It is crucial to allow him to vent without interruption. (Wow, somehow the "Shutting Up" thing keeps coming back around.) Follow the Seven Mississippi rule—you might stretch it to 10 or 12 to ensure that he’s gotten everything possible off his chest. Remember that he might only be scratching the surface with the first salvo. Wait for it. It will come. If you try to calm someone down before he’s adequately vented all his frustrations, he won’t hear you. And he won’t be ready to proceed with a productive discussion.
Remember: if you solve something that wasn’t the real problem to begin with, you’ve wasted everyone’s time.
Many times, merely the act of venting will be very cleansing, and your disgruntled employee will feel re-gruntled again. Back to work. But sometimes he’ll require a response from you. Once you are confident that all the issues have been presented, you can begin having a productive discussion about the situation. Because you allowed the employee to speak freely and fully, chances are he’ll be willing to hear what you have to say now. Still, stay alert to the possibility that there is still more information buried deeper, and your guy might not have gotten it all out in the first couple of shots. File that knowledge away in your own memory, and use it to adapt your style in future interactions with this person.
Finally, if some sort of legitimate problem emerges, and there’s an actionable item for you to take on: by all means, do it! Seize the opportunity to turn a venting session into a positive outcome. Something will improve in the workplace, and your employee will be pleased with you. He’ll also be likely to pass his observations on to his fellow workers, further gaining you trust and respect.