Q&A: I’m the one in the office my colleagues vent to

If you’re feeling the burden of being the office sounding board, there are polite ways you can dissuade your colleagues from dumping on you.

Q: I’m the one in the office my colleagues vent to. What should I do?

A: If this is you, you already know the awkward and often stressful position you’re put in when colleagues make you the office sounding board and confidant — the one everyone chooses to air their grievances to. While some folks revel in the role, the rest of us can feel bogged down with other people’s issues. According to Nancy Kosik, a certified etiquette and protocol consultant in Montreal, it’s often those who apply etiquette to their communication skills who are chosen by their peers as the ones folks vent to. “They make others comfortable, they are approachable, they’re good listeners and they’re nonjudgmental and caring,” she says. Sure, these are noble qualities, but if you’re feeling the burden of being the office ear and shoulder, there are polite ways you can dissuade your colleagues from dumping on you. First, says Kosik, remember that you “cannot train others to think you will drop whatever you’re doing, anytime, to listen to what could be draining or negative.” When you’re working away and a colleague starts talking about how upset he or she is with your boss, start by “acknowledging his or her feelings by saying, ‘I really wish I could listen to you right now, but unfortunately. ...’ ” Then pick a moment when you’re “more mentally ready to give others attention, and express it as a win-win for both of you.” Try: “I can focus and be better able to support you after I finish this report.” Hopefully he or she takes the hint.