As discussed in a previous post, venting is a two-way process that involves the person venting and the person hearing the vent. Healthy, positive venting is focused on how the person hearing the vent shows empathy, creates safety, and participates in active listening (Kurz, 2017; Bryant, 2009; Egan, 2007). Research has concluded that negative venting can lead to higher stress levels and other physical health concerns. Negative venting is not associated with the person venting but rather the active listener and his or her response (Bodie et al., 2015; Goldsmith, 2004).
Another way in which we can respond to a person venting is by using a technique called reframing. The goal of reframing is to offer a different perspective or a new way of thinking (Hackney & Cormier, 2013). Reframing looks beyond “the silver lining” and creates a new frame of reference. There is a 3 step process to reframing. The listener should:
1. Use active listening skills to learn about the situation and its details
2. Offer a different, more constructive view about thoughts, feelings, or behaviors
3. Allow the person to respond or react to the reframe
So how does this work? Let’s paint a hypothetical picture. Let’s say that your friend is frustrated about a recent argument with her mom. Your friend tells you that she decided to drop out of school because “it just wasn’t working for her.” Her mom was extremely upset about the decision. Your friend feels rejected and unloved. You might reframe by saying, “It sounds like your mom cares about you and your future.” You would then allow your friend to respond.
Have you ever seen a hamster run in a wheel? The animal runs and runs, around and around, but never actually goes anywhere. People do this when they cannot stop thinking about an issue, comment, event, etc. This is a psychological phenomenon called rumination. We become angry, disappointed, or frustrated and we talk about the thing that is upsetting. Venting is not always a negative action, but it can be unfruitful. Talking about an event repeatedly does not solve the problem. As a matter of fact, rumination can leave one stuck in the past, dwelling on what was and not on what’s to come.
So how do we handle this as a in a constructive, positive manner? The answer to this question is based on the type of relationship that we have with the person. Trust is a large component of the response. If the person venting trusts the active listener, pointing out the rumination can be a positive action. One might say, “It sounds like you can’t stop thinking about this. What are you hoping to gain from venting about it?” Granted that might sound a bit bold, but again, a response is rooted in relationship. If one does not have a deep relationship with the individual venting, the response should be different. One might say, “It sounds like you are very frustrated. What were you hoping would happen?” In the counseling profession, it is said “the relationship is the vehicle for change.” The depth of relationship will impact how one should respond.
It is important to note here too that certain personalities lend themselves to rumination and unhealthy venting. In this case, one needs to consider how s/he will invest in these relationships. The active listener exerts energy in determining how to respond to the person venting. It is appropriate to set boundaries in this area. Setting concrete times (e.g. 2-3PM) for conversation with a friend who needs to vent is an appropriate technique to protect one’s time and energy.
Healthy relationships, at any level, require effective communication skills. How to respond to a vent is a necessary skill for the workplace. As an active listener, one can use reframing to help individuals to take on a different perspective. Additionally, an active listener can help a person venting identify rumination and work towards “stopping the wheel.” The depth of the relationship and trust are keys in responding to a vent. Protecting one’s time and energy is an important skill for the active listener. Healthy communication is an art; one that must be practiced and observed.
Bodie, G.D., Vickery, A.J., Cannava, K., & Jones, S.M. (2015). The role of “active listening” in informal helping conversations: Impact on perceptions of listener helpfulness, sensitivity, and supportiveness and discloser emotional improvement. Western Journal of Communication, 79(2), 151-173.
Bryant, L. (2009). The art of active listening. Practice Nurse, 37(6), 49-52.
Egan, G. (2007). The skilled helper: A problem-management and opportunity development approach to helping. Belmont, CA: Thomas Higher Education.
Goldsmith, D.J. (2004). Communication social support. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Hackney, H.L., & Cormier, S. (2013). The professional counselor: A process guide to helping. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.
Kurz, C. (2017, March 16). The psychology of venting. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from https://www.sagu.edu/thoughthub/the-psychology-of-venting
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