Why Venting is Toxic

by Rebecca Morgan, CSP, CMC on August 30, 2018

“I need to vent” is an oft-heard expression when one is frustrated.

Great that the person is clear on what they need.

However, they often vent indiscriminately to whomever is within earshot. I’ve had strangers express their frustration to me, even though the cause of their angst had nothing to do with me.

Venters say it makes them feel better to get their upset off their chest. I think of it like coughing without covering your mouth — it makes you feel better to release what needs to be released, but you are spreading your negative thoughts to those around you, most of whom don’t want to hear it. So while it may make *you* feel better, it makes other innocent bystanders feel worse.

You are spreading your bad vibes to others who may be inflicted. They may be having a perfectly fine day until you dump your vexation onto his/her head. Some may slough it off, but others will allow it to taint their mood. Do you really want to do that — leave bad emotions in your wake?

So what to do if you find it useful to express your frustration to others? Here are some options:

  • Don’t express it to anyone.Try writing it out. Then toss it. Why would you hang on to it?
  • Walk around the block or go into your car and vent. Mutter whatever you would have said to another person. If you’re walking don’t worry that others will think you’ve gone off the deep end. They may have already thought that.
  • Enlist *one* friend or loved one to be your Vent Buddy. You both agree you will allow the other person to vent *one* time day for *one minute*. That’s right — only one minute. Your Vent Buddy will time you and tell you when to shut up. The Vent Buddy will not offer advice, but will merely listen.

The only times I believe it is appropriate to vent to more than your Vent Buddy is when there is something to share that will likely be of benefit to the listener, or when you are seeking input on how to handle the situation better next time. So vent only when you have something to learn or to share.

  • If a customer complained about something you or your organization can do differently, share the info with coworkers to see if your organization can make the change.
  • If your colleague was curt to you and you know she is caring for a terminally ill loved one, you can share with other colleagues to treat her especially kindly, even when she is grumpy.
  • If you lost your temper at a fellow parent during your kids’ game, you can ask your pals for input on how to deal more respectfully to him next time.

I learned in a personal development course years ago that one should only complain to someone who can do something about it. That had a major impact on me and now I complain much less. Instead of a complaint, I try to seek a lesson if I can’t find someone who can do something about it.

How can you shift your venting to make it less toxic and more productive?

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