I recently called up Jean Stafford, an executive coach in Washington, D.C., to ask a simple question: Who is it safe to complain to?
Complaining can have benefits, if not always psychologically, then at least for the levity of heart that comes from someone else knowing what an idiot that dude is. But when it comes to work-related issues, Stafford wouldn’t recommend downing Chardonnay at a happy hour and venting about your boss to sympathetic colleagues. Sometimes we “misinterpret someone’s friendly behavior to mean that person is a friend,” she said. Complaints about that one guy on your team, the struggles you’re having finishing that project—that information could be used to undermine you later.
Some people, after all, thrive on office politics. “They know everybody. They know everything about everybody,” Stafford said. “If things aren’t exciting enough, they’ll pull a pin on a grenade and roll it into the conference room.”
If you really need to get something off your chest about office life, many people have a circle of family and friends they can trust outside of work. “Although sometimes your friends have no idea what you’re talking about, because they’re not in your industry,” Stafford said. People might not understand why TPS reports are so annoying. Or if you’re moaning about a mutual acquaintance, a friend might just tell that person the thing they swore they wouldn’t.