How to Respond to Someone Venting

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where someone is venting to you, and you’re unsure how to respond?

What’s the right thing to say? Should you let them continue talking? Should you try and fix the problem? Or should you just listen?

Knowing how to react appropriately can be tricky, but there are ways to handle this conversation.

According to experts, here are helpful ways to respond to someone venting:

Dr. Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios, MD

Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios

Certified Psychiatrist, The Pleasant Mind

Validate their feelings

We all need patient ears to listen to our woes and agonies. Venting is a cathartic release. It’s a purging process where emotions are allowed to let out through: 

  • crying, 
  • yelling, 
  • laughing, 
  • shouting, 
  • speaking or any other means.

Related: What Is an Emotion and How to Best Handle It?

When someone is venting, we should let them share their stories. This gives them emotional well-being.

People feel good about themselves when they vent their deepest: 

  • Frustrations
  • Anger
  • Sorrow
  • Annoyance 

The suppressed emotions get a chance to be revealed and processed for mental well-being.

Venting is a process of freely expressing strong emotions, usually negative ones. The person gives voice to those emotions that are forceful. It’s a way to rationalize one’s worries and concerns, anger and frustration, doubts and fears.

Remember that when someone vents at you, it means the person is already overwhelmed and under a lot of pressure. So they need someone to express their deepest feelings.

Venting relieves stress, and the person feels lighter and relaxed after experiencing an emotional storm.

If someone is venting to you, you may feel confused about how to respond to such situations. Pouring out is healthy for the person doing it but may not be for the other person on the receiving end.

Here are a few tips that may help to respond in a healthy way to someone venting:

Never criticize their feelings as it will make them feel guilty and more upset 

When someone is venting, be an active listener. When you listen to the person, it comforts them and can soothe their mental agitation.

Related: 50+ Reasons Why Listening Is Important

Never criticize their feelings because it will make them feel guilty and more upset about their actions, and next time they may not come back to you for emotional support. Thus, validate their feelings as real even if you know they might be callous in certain ways.

Ask questions about their feelings

Ask questions like: 

  • “What is it that is upsetting?”
  • “Why are they looking so angry and frustrated?”

A person venting out is looking for emotional support. Thus, asking a few follow-up questions to them means that you’re concerned about them and are eager to help them resolve their issues.

Always put your patience mode “on”

Enable them to tell you their deepest secrets or emotions that are concerning without getting irritated. Always put your patience mode “on” so they feel heard and accepted.

Never be rude to them; otherwise, they feel hurt and not accepted.

Shower compassion by allowing them to pour out their heart to you

Do not give advice that may not be the need of the hour. At times, only compassionate hearing to mental agonies can actually heal deep scars and wounds. So for you, silence is the key.

Sometimes sharing grief lessens the woes, and the person may be searching for just that.

Follow a non-judgmental way of reacting 

You need to handle things calmly and let them understand the real reason for their anger or annoyance.

Avoid jump-in decisions and conclusions that can make them feel more annoyed. Help them take a pause and self-introspect about their feelings. 

You can also help them develop insight into their innermost issues and resolve them completely. In a way, you are helping them see the situation from all ends and develop a logical and rational outlook to manage their negative feelings in a better way.

Lindsay M. Anmuth, Psy.D.

Lindsay Anmuth

Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Co-Owner, Skyline Psychotherapy & Assessment Services, PLLC

Avoid being in a solution-focused mode

Recognize that people vent for various reasons, but it is almost never to get someone to fix their problems for them. 

Too often, an individual attempts to open up an emotion-laden topic just to feel disappointed and pushed away when their partner, friend, coworker, or parent attempts to simplify what they are saying to apply an easy solution. 

This happens because the well-intentioned listener wants to soothe the emotion and is unsure how to accomplish that. 

It is also common for them to feel helpless in the face of a long venting session and to experience difficulty coping with that emotion within their own bodies. 

The idea that they can apply a quick solution to make the “bad” feelings go away is an attractive option for many people…and who would blame them? 

Unfortunately, entering solution-focused mode when a person isn’t looking for that type of help is a quick and effective way of shutting down a person that is probably just (spoiler alert) trying to connect and be acknowledged.

Cut down on the guess-work, interrupt, and ask what they need from you

Yes, this is actually a completely healthy and valid option. Asking might sound something like: 

  • “Hold on before you continue; is there a problem that you want help solving, or are you just looking to explain so that you can get some validation?” 
  • Or even as simple, leading, and humorous as: “Wait, just to be clear, are you venting right now just so that I can tell you that you’re right and your emotions are totally valid?” 

In my own experience as a couples’ therapist, most partners make assumptions about what one another needs and never take the time to ask questions about what might be most helpful. 

Asking for what a person is looking for as a result of their venting session is an important skill that can be used whenever needed. Ask everyone and everyone who dares to share their passionate versions of events. 

My prediction is that the “venting to connect folks” will far outweigh those that answer with “I’m desperately seeking your advice.”

Make them feel their emotions and versions are valid

Taking solutions off the table does not leave you helpless. In fact, with the weight of needing to solve problems off of the listener’s shoulders, more options become available. 

If most people tend to vent to be heard, connect, and feel that their emotions and versions of the facts are valid, then those become the new goal. The answers are right there! 

Some seemingly interested, connected, and validating responses from the listener might include: 

  • “Oh wow,” “Nice!” 
  • “Oh, that’s got to be hard.”
  • “And then what happened?” 

Body language might consist of simply: 

  • making eye contact, 
  • turning toward the listener, 
  • gesturing along with them, 
  • and just generally matching their level of energy. 

Related: Why is Body Language Important?

If confused along the way, the listener need not panic; they can recall the follow-up questions and convey interest. 

Clarifying questions might sound like: 

  • “What was the hardest part about this for you?”
  • “What do you think the take-away message is here?” 

The point is that the listener has many more options available to them than simply cutting to the chase, simplifying a person’s story, and hastily applying a solution that the listener likely already thought of on their own. 

Jo Pronger Faulkner, BCom

Jo Pronger Faulkner

 Lifestyle Coach | Author, “Absolute Will

No matter how tempting it is to help, don’t offer unless asked

We’ve all done it: vented about something or someone within earshot of someone else. Sometimes it feels like a relief to get some frustration off our chest, right? But what happens when you are on the receiving end?

When someone is venting, it can feel like a personal attack, especially if they are stressed and in a heightened emotional state. It’s as if they are re-living the situation and angry at you, even though you are simply an innocent third party to whatever they are upset about.

Whether it’s a:

  • friend,
  • spouse,
  • child,
  • co-worker,
  • or your boss

who is venting, how you respond can either make things worse or allow the person to work through the situation on their own without feeling like they are in it alone. This distinction is key.

The number one pitfall to avoid is offering advice. If you are solution-oriented, you’ll immediately feel as though you want to jump in and fix the venter’s problem for them. 

You might even believe you’ve got the best way to do it, too. You aren’t emotionally attached to the situation or the outcome, and answers seem so easy when it’s someone else’s life, right? 

Unless the person specifically asks you for advice, chances are very good that they just want someone to hold space for them and listen while they talk things out loud, to come up with their own solution.

From their viewpoint, it can be very empowering to figure out a solution to a problem in front of someone else, especially if the listener supports the venter’s perspective (and proposed solution to their problem) in the end. 

Support doesn’t mean the listener needs to agree with everything being said, but that you are able to understand why the venter is so upset. The venter will feel validated and heard, even if you, the listener, didn’t say much.

Not only that, as the listener, you will also have established rapport with the person who is venting. Because you didn’t get involved in trying to take sides or fix the scenario, and because you simply listened, those things build trust

Sometimes the less you say, the more people will trust and respect you.

What if the person is venting about someone you care about?

This is where things can get trickier. You might suddenly feel like you want to or need to take sides. 

  • You run the risk of inserting yourself directly into the conflict and coming out on the losing end, possibly with both parties. 
  • Or on the other hand, you might become the hero who can smooth things over without getting involved.

Here are some options to consider. You could:

  • Let the venter down gently and remove yourself from the conversation as quickly and painlessly as possible by saying something like: 
    • “Sorry, I wish I had time to listen, but I’m on my way to…”
  • Tell the venter that because you know the subject of their frustration, you don’t want to be involved
    • “Sorry, I wish I could offer my ear, but I don’t want to be put in the middle between you two.” or
  • Be the listener the venter needs at that moment and hope they will figure out a solution or compromise once they talk through their issue.

What if the venter is always venting?

You may, on occasion, run into someone who vents often. Maybe even every time you talk to them. 

They are habitual, chronic complainers and don’t seem to ever want to come up with any ideas to deal with all the many scenarios that cause them frustration and angst.

Being in close or regular contact with someone who commonly vents about anything and everything will quickly drain your energy. It’s not your responsibility to be their listening ear or sounding board every time, so choose your engagement with them wisely.

Silva Depanian, MA, LMFT, CAMC

Silva Depanian

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist | Certified Anger Management Counselor, Sessions with Silva

It depends on what the venting individual seeks from the listener

Taking preliminary measures or setting initial boundaries when someone is venting to you can be very helpful in determining how to proceed during the vent. 

Related: How to Deal With Someone Who Doesn’t Respect Boundaries

An important question to ask before the venting really starts going is whether the person just wants to be heard and validated or if they want opinions and advice at the end. 

This question is important because, often, people who are venting just want a sounding board, someone to listen to them and empathize with them so that they’re not feeling alone or overwhelmed from keeping all their emotions pent up. 

When this is the case, if you start responding with unsolicited opinions or problem-solving advice, the individual can quickly feel invalidated:

  • Like their emotions are unimportant
  • That you don’t care about them
  • That you just want them to finish their story and leave. 

Conversely, if the person venting does ask for opinions and advice, you now know to:

  • pay closer attention to details, 
  • ask clarifying questions, 
  • and offer possible ways the person can resolve their issue. 

Use “I” statements

If this is the case, using “I” statements is essential so that any method you offer is easily perceived as a personal opinionnot a blaming, judging, right/wrong stance. 

For example, instead of starting your advice with a more judgmental, “You should have…” you can use an “I” statement such as, “The options I’m seeing are…”

Shift the topic or even stop the discussion altogether

You might eventually notice, however, that sometimes the person venting is going in circles despite any validation or advice you might have given. 

This can understandably become frustrating for you as the listener and upsetting to them as they keep spiraling through their negative experience. 

This is a sign that it might be time to shift the topic or even stop the discussion altogether, suggesting that the topic be picked up again later when the person has had time to emotionally separate a bit from their triggering situation.

Of course, sitting through someone’s venting session takes time and emotional energy, which you might not always have available. 

Set an initial boundary

If that is ever the case for you, setting an initial boundary can be very useful to show that, while you still care, you can’t be present for them at the moment. 

For example, this can look like: “I know you’ve had a rough situation, and I want to be there for you. I just don’t have the mental/emotional bandwidth to dedicate right now. Can we talk about this tomorrow so I can be fully present with you?”

Bottom line: Responses to venting can vary and depend on what the venting individual seeks from the listener. 

  • If they just want to be heard, then validate their emotions and experience. 
  • If they want opinions, then give your advice, but be sure to use “I” statements. 
  • If they’re going in circles, help them out by acting as an emergency break to the conversation.
  •  And if you know you can’t be present at the moment, let them know.

Lena Suarez-Angelino, LCSW

Lena Suarez-Angelino

Licensed Clinical Social Worker | Writer, Choosing Therapy

Ask clarifying questions about what supporting them looks like

Venting happens for many reasons and among different types of relationships. Your response to someone venting can look different depending on a few of the following factors: 

  • Your relationship with the person
  • The topic that is being vented about 
  • Your ability to hold emotional space in that particular moment

That last factor will be key in navigating a response while also looking after your own mental health. 

You can check in with yourself by asking:

  • Are you ready to give them the attention they need? 
  • Are there any limits or boundaries I want to make clear before they start venting? 
  • How will I know when I’ve reached my limit?

After gauging your emotional capacity, here are a few ways that you may respond to someone venting:

Responding to someone you’re close to and have the capacity to hold emotional space for

This is someone, whether a significant other, friend, work colleague, etc., that you consider to have a close relationship with. 

You may say things like: 

  • “Tell me more.” 
  • “I’m here to listen; take all the time you need.” 

You may also want to ask clarifying questions about what supporting them looks like. 

Someone coming to you strictly to vent isn’t necessarily looking to brainstorm possible solutions or hear other perspectives. It saves you and them the frustration and energy from clearing that up before venting. 

Responding to someone you’re close to but don’t have ample emotional space for at the moment

Again, this is someone that you consider to be close, and while you care what they are coming to vent to you about, right now, you just don’t have enough mental and emotional energy to do so. 

Instead of “grinning and bearing” it, you can try to say something along the lines of: 

“It sounds like this is really important to you. I can see that you’re upset by it and need someone to talk to. I want to support you, and I would love to be able to give you the time and space that you need to feel heard. 

Is it okay if we talk about this [suggest a time that may work better for you emotionally and even logistically]?” 

This may come as a surprise to them, as this is setting and establishing a boundary for yourself that you may not have done previously. 

Responding to someone that you’re not close with and have limited capacity to hold emotional space for them

This person may be someone you have a lot of complex history with, such as: 

  • Family members 
  • Co-workers
  • Not-so-close friends 
  • Strangers

You may say something in-between the past two suggestions, such as: “I’d be happy to support you, but know I only have a few minutes right now.” 

You may also want to establish a boundary if there are off-limit topics that might come up. You could say something like: 

“I’m okay with you coming to share what’s upsetting you, but know that if you want to talk about [insert topic], you know that I really can’t support you the way that you need.” 

This helps prevent drama, gossip, and blurred boundaries both within family dynamics and workplace culture. 

William Rivers

William Rivers

Founder and Chief Editor, Seniorstrong

It is a human tendency to interfere, counter, and justify own points in a conversation when someone is venting their heart out. Being a patient and a non-judgmental listener is the only logical thing to do. 

Besides giving them your undivided attention, a few satisfying replies could enhance their sharing experience.

Highlight a word from their speech and ask them to elaborate more

Make sure they catch a breath and calm down a little after minutes of nonstop venting. Offer them some water without waiting for them to ask for a glass themselves. 

Once they take a quick water break, ask them more about their woes. Highlight a word from their speech and ask them to elaborate more on them.

Example:

  • Person 1: I cannot believe they are considering replacing me after all these years. No one can boast of a better onsite management experience than me in the company!
  • Person 2: Here, please have done water. Now tell me more about onsite.

Empathize with the speaker by asking them if they are okay

Acknowledge their troubles and let them know you feel for them. Empathize with the speaker by asking them if they are okay. 

A critical lecture is the last thing they need when seeking someone to confide in through venting. While you are playing the role of the listener, analyze the situation from their perspective. 

Don’t just be a mute listener; express your concern.

Example:

  • Person 1: You won’t believe what happened next. He left me at the shack alone and took off with the car. I was stranded for hours.
  • Person 2: That’s awful! Are you okay?

Ask them if you can help improve the situation in any way

Offer to help. Show that you are there for them and could go to any length to stand by them

If a person is venting, they’re not merely looking for a shoulder to cry on while lamenting their life. They need a mature listener who can genuinely feel for them and understand the reason behind their frustration. 

Ask them if you can help improve the situation in any way, even if you already know how to answer (most often, the answer is, “No, it’s okay. Thanks for asking, though. It means a lot”).

Example:

  • Person 1: I am so exhausted. It seems like the trail of misfortunes will never end.
  • Person 2: I didn’t realize you were going through all this. Can I do anything to make it better?

A gentle assurance is a conventional but effective way to respond

Though it might sound a little generic, a gentle assurance is a conventional but effective way to respond to a troubled soul who is desperately venting. 

Everyone knows that time changes. All they need is a confidant to tell them the same old truth with compassion and tenderness. Help them believe that everything will fall on track soon by sounding confident and optimistic.

Example:

  • Person 1: I am losing all hope. I didn’t expect to be betrayed like this by my closest friends.
  • Person 2: I understand. Please hang in there. I’m sure things will get better soon. 

Avoid saying things like: 

  • “It’s not that big deal.”
  • “Grow up.”
  • “Don’t be such a baby about it.”

It will only worsen their mood and make you sound like an opinionated jerk who can’t be a decent friend in their time of need. 

You can share your wisdom in the form of advice once they are done venting and in a mental state to understand your rational points.

Debi Kinney, DMCP

Debi Kinney

Certified Health and Life Coach, Hello Coaching

When responding to someone who is venting, there are a few key questions to ask yourself:

  • What is the venting relationship?

Venting circumstances can vary:

  • Friend to friend
  • Client to coach
  • Co-worker to co-worker
  • Colleague to boss

The list goes on. And depending on the circumstances, you may welcome the venting session, or you might not. 

Determine how far you are willing to go in listening to their vent

So the first step is to determine how far you are willing to go in listening to their vent. If you have all the time in the world to listen, then let them speak freely.

However, if their venting puts you in an awkward position, then it is best to clarify with them verbally on front, are you coming to me as a friend or for a solution?” This will help to drive the rest of the exchange. 

  • Are they a repeat venter?

Is the person coming to you someone who is in a challenging situation that they need to get off their chest, or are they venting just to vent? 

The answer to this question can often drive how much we want to “be there” for the person venting. 

  • What do they want to get from the exchange?

Are they coming to you for solutions and ideas or just as an ear to listen? Knowing their intention will help you determine how best to be there for them. If you don’t know, ask. Don’t assume; clarify. 

Key questions to help manage a venting session:

Once you are able to determine how involved you want to be with the venting session and what the person venting wants to gain, you can help direct the vent in a positive direction: 

  • What would you like to happen next? 
  • What steps can you take to resolve or prevent this from happening again? 
  • Would it be helpful for me to share my thoughts back with you?

What not to say:

There are a few phrases that will not help in any way and should be avoided at all costs:

  • “Calm down”
  • “You’re overreacting”
  • “You take things too personally”

Be direct and kind

Even if you never want the venter to come to you again, statements like these not only damage relationships but also can be hurtful long-term to the person venting. 

If you truly do not want them to vent to you anymore, be direct and kind and let them know:

  • You aren’t comfortable engaging in the dialog. 
  • You care about them and offer an idea of who they can vent to or where they can find support as an alternative to you. 

We all find ourselves in need of tactics to navigate a venting session. 

  1. Knowing the intention of the vent,
  2. how involved we want to be, 
  3. and phrases we can use to make a venting session productive 

will help to navigate the situation. 

Nancy Landrum, MA

Nancy Landrum

Relationship Coach | Creator, The Millionaire Marriage Club

Listening for the purpose of understanding is the most powerful “help”

There are good rules for venting depending on what/who you’re venting about and to whom.

With permission, it’s perfectly good and often helpful to vent to your partner about anything other than themselves or their family. 

If you need to vent anger, hurt, or unhappiness about your partner or your partner’s family (especially their children if you are a stepfamily), do it to a neutral party or in a journal or write a nasty letter that will then be destroyed.

Related: How to Deal With a Stepchild That Is Difficult or Disrespectful

The purpose of venting is to release the energy of anger, hurt or fear to enable one to come back to a more balanced state from which you can communicate respectfully and make a more rational decision. 

If a friend can remain neutral, then vent to a friend. Venting to a family member about your partner will almost always cause the family member to rise in your defense. 

They will remain unhappy with your partner even after settling the issue. It’s not a good practice for the long-run health of your relationship. 

Wait until they are calm before asking permission to offer a solution or a point of view

Giving advice without permission is always disrespectful and rarely welcomed, especially when upset enough to need to vent. 

While driving home one day, I was venting my frustration with something (not my partner.) He listened carefully, then asked, “Are you open to a suggestion?” I firmly answered, “No, not right now.” He very respectfully dropped the issue. 

The next day when I was more balanced, I went back to him to hear his advice. I was ready to listen to ideas by then.

If you and your partner need to vent about each other, do so with a professional who, hopefully, can remain neutral and understand the role venting has in the process of healing a relationship.  

Just listening to understand the venter’s point of view and emotions is the most powerful “help” you can bring to the situation. 

Trying to be rational in the face of upset is wasted energy and often produces resentment. When someone is upset by hurt or anger, it is not the time to point out what seems like irrationality to you. 

That person’s feelings and position seem perfectly rational to them at the time of the upset. Wait until the venter’s feelings have calmed down before asking permission to offer a solution or a different point of view.

David Akva, LCSW-C

David Akva

Clinical Social Work and Therapist

For some, it feels great to get it out. For others, they cannot understand what would compel someone to share. 

But all of us, to some extent, have experienced what it’s like being on the receiving end of venting, and it can get pretty: 

  • Awkward
  • Strange
  • Uncomfortable 

Here’s how to deal with someone who starts venting toward you:

Determine where you’re at and make it clear to the person who’s venting

This means you need to do some introspection, a gut check, or quick self-reflection to ensure that you’re capable of handling a conversation. 

If you determine you’re not, politely decline. There’s no shame in doing so, especially when you make it clear to the person venting that you’d like to hear them, and you need to collect yourself first. If you determine you can listen to them, move on to step two.

Actively listen and respond to their process and not their content

This means you respond more to the themes of what they are sharing than you are to their details. Responding to their details is only necessary for clarification and trying to understand what they mean genuinely

To do this step successfully, you do not include any judgment or solutions in your responses. You do include:

  • follow-up questions, 
  • responses that have empathy, 
  • and body language that shows you’re being authentic

Follow the process of the person venting

Check if there are any leftover thoughts and feelings, then seek closure. Once you’ve allowed the person to let out what was on their mind and body, they may: 

  • follow by asking you questions, 
  • take a breath of fresh air, 
  • or look at you bewildered and just stare. 

Regardless of your response, you can always stick to this rule: When in doubt, name the process. 

This means you simply reflect on what they presented to you and wait silently for their response. Once they respond to your reflection, you can then verify if they need to continue venting or if they are ready to shift the conversation. 

Once you get that answer, you’ll know if you need to continue letting them vent or if you’ve shifted to solutions, feedback, or any other part of a conversation.

Margo Regan

Margo Regan

Relationship Expert | Founder, Margo Regan Relationship Counseling Therapy

Let them know you understand them and can see the world through their eyes

I assume this is someone venting about an issue separate from the person they are venting to. In this instance, it would be helpful to consider techniques highlighted by Carl Rodgers—a psychologist that developed person-centered counseling

He proposed every relationship should have three core conditions. These are: 

  1. Empathy
  2. Congruence (genuineness)
  3. Unconditional positive regard (non-judgment)

Utilize active listening skills

Empathy is being able to understand the experiences of another person. If someone is venting and they feel you understand them, then it can have a calming effect on them. 

To show you understand them, utilizing active listening skills can be powerful. This means simply repeating to them what they have said. Let them know you understand them and can see the world through their eyes. 

You do not need to agree with the person venting

Unconditional positive regard is accepting the person venting as they are without judgment. You may have a different worldview from the person venting, which is okay. 

You do not need to agree with the person venting. They will have different: 

  • life experiences, 
  • upbringing, 
  • and will see the world differently from you. 

It is, therefore, essential not to take the venting personally.

Related: How to Not Take Things Personally

Make a specific time when you are emotionally available for venting

If you are the recipient of ongoing venting, then you must engage in good self-care practices. You might want to make a specific time where you are emotionally available for “venting” and can put a limit on it. 

For example, if the venter is your partner, then you can allocate 20 minutes for a venting session.” 

You might want to vent as you walk together. Walking or exercise can be a way to release difficult or distressing emotions. 

Dr. Danielle Clark

Danielle Clark

Business Professor | Intuitive Life Coach

Acknowledge their feelings and show empathy

When someone’s venting, it’s important to preserve your time and energy. While lending an ear to a co-worker or friend certainly comes with the territory, it doesn’t mean you need to stay stuck in toxic vibes for minutes or even hours on end.

Below are suggested responses to help you and the venter get to a better place:

  • “I get that you’re angry. It sounds like you may need more time to sort out your feelings. Why don’t you take a few deep breaths and consider journaling or going for a walk.”
  • “I’m sorry you’re experiencing this. I want to be there for you, but you’re coming on a bit too strong right now. Could you please get back to me when you’re feeling calmer?”
  • “I’m glad you reached out to me. I hope your telling me about the situation gave you some peace. Now that you’re feelings are out in the open, let’s shift from talking about the past and see what solutions we can come up with to turn this situation around.”
  • “I am sending you and this situation lots of love. This is a lot for me to handle right now as I’m going through a tough time and have been working hard to keep my vibes high. Do you think you could find someone else to talk to about this? Perhaps in a few times, we can then connect on this topic.” 

The key here is you want to:

  1. Acknowledge their feelings 
  2. Show empathy
  3. Set boundaries 
  4. Then alter the conversation to be future-focused (if they are in a place to pivot—some venters require more time to stew than others).  

Dr. Brian Kaplan, MD

Brian Kaplan

Licensed Medical Doctor | Provocative Therapist | Author, “Almost Happy

Say something that the venter will hear as “good-bad-good”

The sh*t sandwich is a three-layered approach—say something that the venter will hear as good (bread), then bad (sh*t), and then good (bread), e.g.:

  1. “I agree with the main point you are making.”
  2. “You sound aggressive and threatening, so it’s not easy to listen to you.”
  3. “I know you mean well here.”

Use nonviolent communication 

A wonderful four-step approach (Rosenberg’s NVC):

  1. Repeat the words of the venter that were hurtful.
  2. Say what feeling they generated in you
  3. Say what you need from that person to feel much better about your relationship.
  4. Make a simple request: e.g., “Can you please say the same thing in a kinder or more respectful way?”

Use humor when appropriate

This is the area of my main expertise. There is a way of using humor to derail many venters and calm them down. This is the subject of our recently published book, “Almost Happy.” 

Suffice to say here that humor really works in these situations as long as you abide by the Golden Rule.

Only use it when you have affection in the heart and a twinkle in the eye for the venter. Not always easy, but extremely effective when used with responsibility and kindness.

Nancy Mithchell

Nancy Mithchell

Registered Nurse and Contributing Author, Assisted Living Center

Offer some small words of encouragement and understanding

When someone is venting, it’s crucial to recognize that very little of what they say will be personal or about you. 

Even if someone is venting about things you’ve done or said, chances are there is a lot of other stuff that has been building up inside waiting for the release that has nothing to do with you. 

Realizing this can help us: 

  • breathe, 
  • stay calm, 
  • and just listen to what the other person is saying.

When people vent, they’ve reached a point where they can no longer contain their frustrations, worries, or anxieties. What they need most of all at that moment is a safe, non-judgmental space where they can be allowed to get everything off of their chest. 

You don’t need to be a counselor to simply sit, listen and offer some small words of encouragement and understanding when it feels right. 

Most importantly, when someone is venting, they are not inviting you to fix their problems or offer solutions. 

This is very tricky for most of us to accept because being in this situation can make us feel uncomfortable. That’s why we have the strong urge to jump into doing something about it, even in our minds—it helps distract us from the discomfort of simply sitting and listening. 

But that’s what someone who is venting needs most—just an ear. It’s crucial to avoid automatically assuming that someone wants their problems fixed by you.

Sara Macke

Sara Macke

Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Simply reflect on their feelings 

When someone is venting, there are two things potentially happening:

  1. They don’t want to be venting and may feel like a burden
  2. They don’t understand that you’re tired of hearing them vent

So, how do you respond? 

  • Which way is your friend/loved one/colleague leaning in terms of venting? 
  • How do you feel about being on the receiving end?

We forget that people are allowed to vent, and we are allowed to set a boundary in regards to how much we want to tolerate.

So, when someone is venting, figure out how you’re feeling:

  • If you are purely interested and want to listen—go for it. 
  • If you’re unsure how to respond, simply reflect on their feelings: 
    • “Wow”
    • “Yeah” 
    • “You definitely sound mad!” 
    • “Oh man, that situation sounds screwed up.” 
    • “Wow, you’re really hurt, huh?”
  • If you’re tired of hearing it, become solution-focused. How? Try this:
    • “Do you need comfort or solutions?”

Rosalina Oliva

Rosalina Oliva

Life Coach and Student Services Advisor, Oxford Learning College

Say “I hear you” and actively listen

As a life coach and student services advisor, I speak to many people going through stressful periods in their lives. The best way to ensure they are understood is to say “I hear you” and actively listen. 

If the vent is aimed at you, it might be tempting to respond with anger and defend your corner after someone has vented their frustration. However, a calm and measured response will always have better results, even if the other person has made personal or professional criticisms. 

A few moments should be taken to collect your thoughts and process the reasons for the rant.

You should not attempt to reason with the other person

The anger would likely have somewhat clouded their judgment. Instead, you need to make it clear that you are listening and ready to help them find a solution. 

With that being said, you should prioritize your personal safety and be prepared to walk away if you believe there’s a risk of violence.

Rachel Mills

Rachel Mills

Self-love and Wellness Blogger, Milsy Girl

Try to remember they are not angry at you

Needing to vent is a mental health necessity. It’s a release of some form. Some people need to release their anger or annoyance physically, and others get verbal.

The human urge to vent develops from a feeling of being let down. If something has not turned out the way it should, and you feel that another individual or group of individuals is to blame, you will naturally experience: 

  • Anger
  • Annoyance
  • Disappointment

The display of these emotions can be quite explosive and consist of a barrage of highly charged statements about the people who have let you down. This is usually done in the presence of another person because you want to be heard. 

You want someone else to understand why they are so angry. You are looking for someone to sympathize with you.

Being able to vent and release the stress and anger inside is so important. If you don’ release it, it can build into something much bigger over time. Eventually, the stress and annoyance will come out but maybe more dramatically, which is not a good idea.

From the perspective of the person being vented to, it is crucial that you realize that they are not really aiming the explosion at you (unless you are the cause, of course). 

Usually, you just happened to be in the right place at the right time. You are an ear for them to vent into and release their stress.

Having someone speak to you in such a passionate and angry manner can be unsettling, but try to remember they are not mad at you. Don’t take it personally. They just need you to listen and allow them to expel their annoyances.

Stay quiet and allow them to finish talking

In my ten years of extensive customer service experience in Hotel Management and life, when someone is venting, the best thing you can do is stay quiet and allow them to finish talking. 

Do not be tempted to jump in with comments or advice unless they ask for it. They are already angry and incorrect advice could irritate them more.

Generally, they don’t want you to give them answers. They purely want you to listen. Once the explosion of words has ended, they will feel much better and more than likely calm down, which will be the end of it.

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