Venting. We all have done it. As a matter of fact, we probably have done it within the last 24 hours. Have you ever vented and was angry with yourself for doing so? Do I know those times all too well…? So why do we vent? Is it healthy to vent? What can we do when others want to vent? Let’s unpack these questions.

Why Venting

One of the main reasons why we vent is to reduce our stress levels. Rime (2009) states that disclosing stress is a coping mechanism. Venting is a 2-way process: the person venting and the person hearing the vent. As a matter of fact, positive venting can reduce stress, but negative venting can lead to heightened stress and physical health concerns. It is not just about the person venting, but equally important, the person who is hearing the vent. Research has shown that the difference between positive and negative venting can be focused on the ways in which the person hearing the vent responds, both through speech and action (Bodie et al., 2015; Goldsmith, 2004) . This research supports numerous counseling theories and models that focus on active listening, empathy, and safety.

Empathy validates a person’s feelings, sympathy does not acknowledge the feelings involved. Empathy is active, sympathy is passive.

Active Listening

When people vent, they may not need a verbal response. They want someone to listen. For a moment, stop and think about the last time you actual felt heard. How did you know that you were heard? What did the person listening do to convey that s/he heard you? Now take a minute and think about a time when you did not feel heard. What made you believe that the listener was not hearing you?

Examples of inadequate listening include:

Thinking about other things, tuning out the person, listening partially or in fragments, and rehearsing, or thinking about what we, as the listeners, will say next (Egan, 2007). When communicating with people we should use active listening which is defined as behavior that communicates interest and understanding using verbal and nonverbal messages shared in conversation (Hackney & Cormier, 2013) . Body language can also indicate listening. SOLER is an acronym used in the counseling discipline to teach body language that conveys active listening (Egan, 2007).

S – stands for facing the individual SQUARELY, which means that you are facing the person, both head and body.
O – stands for OPEN posture, which means arms are not crossed.
L – stands for leaning toward the person.
E – stands for maintaining EYE CONTACT.
R – stands for RELAXED in the other behaviors listed.

We can adequately listen by intentionally shifting our focus, both internally (mind) and externally (body language) toward the person speaking.


It is important to note here that there is a difference between empathy and sympathy. Empathy is a large concept to unpack but essentially at its core, empathy simply means “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.” Now we know this does not mean that you physically trade shoes with the person who is venting. Rather, you imagine yourself in their situation. What would you feel like experiencing what they are experiencing? Empathy allows us to connect with the person where s/he is emotionally. All too many times, we bypass empathy and try to place a “silver-lining” over their situation. We say things like, “it’s not that bad,” “it could be worse,” or “at least it’s not as bad as this.” These phrases show a lack of empathy and inadequate listening. Instead, use phrases like “I am sad that happened to you,” “I wish that I could change this,” or “I’m here for you.” Sympathy is focused on feeling sorry for the person.

Empathy validates a person’s feelings, sympathy does not acknowledge the feelings involved. Empathy is active, sympathy is passive.

Safe Environment

This concept should not be confused with the recent media exploitations of “safe spaces.” A safe environment is a place where individuals can feel free to share their feelings openly without judgment and with confidentiality (Bryant, 2009) . A safe environment also includes a deployment of empathy and active listening skills. It is important to state that when a person vents, s/he may say things that they do not necessarily mean in the moment. Part of venting includes a reduced filter in the things one says. As the listeners, we can help the one venting to process verbally what is occurring and we can actively listen.


As a communicator, both in listening and speaking, it is important to understand the concepts presented in this article. Many of us work jobs that require an extensive amount of communication daily. In the moments when we are hearing the vent, it is important to use active listening skills and empathy in an environment that is safe and free of judgment. This conveys concern and care.

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.
Rimé, B. (2009). Emotion elicits the social sharing of emotion: Theory and empirical review. Emotion Review, 1, 60-65.

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