Venting vs. Intervention: What Do You Want from Me?

Everyone needs to blow off steam sometimes. You’ve been there before: frustration, annoyance, or anxiety builds up, until the only thing that helps is to get whatever is bothering you off your chest. But when it happens at work – when a colleague reaches their boiling point and feels compelled to share what’s going on with you – how do you respond?

How do you decide when to listen, when to jump in and help, and when to walk away? Consider these points…

Venting circle
  1. Venting our emotions is important: It’s impossible to walk into the workplace and decide to be devoid of feeling, because feelings provide you with important information. On an individual level, your emotions tell you how to adapt to your environment, and give you cues on how you’re coping at any given moment. On a social level, researchers have found that we are wired to talk to others, to be social, and to share our experiences with others around us. That means when we experience stress, we are innately motivated to communicate that stress / frustration / anxiety with someone else, to cope with what’s going on. Hence, the venting. Like turning a valve on a pipe to release some pressure, to vent is verbalize your personalize experience – to get those negative feelings out of you and into the external world around you.
  2. Complaining is different from Venting. Not every attempt to share stress is necessarily productive venting.  Sometimes your co-worker might just be complaining.  How can you tell the difference? Take note of any patterns that emerge. Does this person come to you repeatedly, reiterating the same problem over and over, with no solution in sight, taking no responsibility for what part they might be playing in the problem? This type of communicating is complaining; and you’ll probably notice that once the person is done talking, they don’t seem to feel any better for having said things out loud.
  3. How did it end? After someone has had a good venting session, they will often share that they do feel better once they’ve gotten things off their chest, and they can move on with their day.  You’ll probably also notice that during a productive vent, your colleague can recognize what they’re accountable for in the present situation and, once they’ve had the chance to speak their mind, is pretty open to hearing suggestions on how to help things change. 

So once the venting starts, what do you?

Remember at thecore of this moment, sharing their feelings is this person’s attempt to cope with a stressful situation.  Begin from a place of empathy and put yourself into their shoes.  Effective communication begins with active listening, so take this time to simply hear what your colleague wants to say.  Give them room to express themselves, without interruption from you.  Be patient with the process and resist the urge to jump in right away with a “fix” or solution.

A productive vent in a safe environment is something that can help reduce stress and contribute to a healthier working atmosphere.

Your Engaged Assignment: Venting in the workplace is not uncommon. We all face stress on different levels at different times, and venting can be a fruitful way to deal with stress, anxiety, and frustration.  When a colleague comes to you looking for an opportunity to talk about a specific concern, you can help them deal with stress in a healthy way by recognizing that venting can be an effective coping mechanism, and by providing a safe space of empathy where your co-worker can be heard without judgement.