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Venting Your Emotions at Work: Helpful or Harmful?

Venting at work comes with potential benefits and costs.

Key points

  • Venting negative emotions to coworkers is a common experience.
  • There are benefits (e.g. validation and support) and potential costs (e.g. later regret) to venting at work.
  • Journaling eliminates many of the risks but lacks the benefit of in-person support.

Disappointment, frustration, anger — these are just some of the negative emotions you are liable to feel at some point at work. When you experience an intense undesirable emotion, you might choose to express it to a coworker. People talk about the need to “vent” the emotion, meaning taking the time to express it with the goal of lessening its intensity. “Blowing off steam” is a phrase sometimes used.

Venting is a common practice, but does it result in more harm or good? Like many questions in psychology, the most accurate answer is probably, “It depends.” In this case, it’s important to consider such factors as how, who, when, where, and with what goal.

How and With What Goal

Emotions are physiological experiences that are caused by perceptions or thoughts. If you somehow immediately shut off the thoughts, the physiological emotion, or bodily experience, would subside in a matter of seconds to minutes. What keeps an emotional experience alive is continued thinking about it. So one risk of venting is continually reliving the undesirable emotion. This is particularly likely if venting consists of simply repeating the events, focusing on the “wrongness” of what happened, and so forth.

If this kind of thinking perpetuates the negative emotional experience, why do we do it? We all like to be right, and having a prime example to feel self-righteous can be tempting bait. If we’ve been wronged, being the victim has its privileges, such as sympathy, and focusing attention on the negatives of others rather than ourselves.

What might more productive venting look like? It might be helpful to share with coworkers what happened, and how you feel about it, with the aim of examining your perspective. Often when we vent to coworkers we are seeking validation of our perspective; that we’re right for feeling this way. Supportive coworkers may oblige, either out of sincere empathy or a sense of pressure to agree. Instead, look for alternative interpretations, and ask your coworkers for the same. It’s not that you need to agree with alternative views, but even considering them helps break the grip of the belief that your interpretation or experience is necessarily 100% right, that the wrongdoers are 100% evil, and so forth.

When and to Whom

Typically the need to vent is when the emotion is hottest. That makes sense. The risk is that in the heat of the moment you may say things that you later regret, or that at least might be taken out of context if shared later by your coworkers. Taking any amount of time to calm yourself, even just a few minutes, may be beneficial in giving you more conscious control over what you share and how it comes across.

In the heat of the moment, there may be a temptation to vent to the first available ear. However, can that particular coworker be trusted? Do you expect confidentiality? What is their relationship to the person, people, or situation about which you’re venting? Might your sharing your negative emotions about these affect your relationship with this particular coworker?


Your workplace is familiar territory. You spend so much time there it feels like your space, and you naturally have grown desensitized to many aspects of the environment. A risk is that you may act more like you would at home than you would in a strange public or semi-public place. When venting, you might be relatively oblivious to who else may be within earshot. That might include coworkers, supervisors, customers, clients, or patients. Of course the ripple effects of the lack of privacy vary and are impossible to predict, but they seem almost guaranteed to be more negative than positive. As difficult as it may be in the moment, it’s worth the effort to gauge the level of privacy, especially when your voice is liable to be a bit louder due to the emotional charge behind the venting.

To Vent or Not: That Is the Question

There is no right or wrong answer. Hopefully, by considering the issues raised above, you can make decisions that increase the likelihood of beneficial venting while minimizing the risks. One entirely different option is to write or journal as a means of venting. Doing so eliminates many of the risks noted above, but lacks some of the benefits of venting in person with a supportive coworker. In the end, being self-aware and intentional in your choices is the ultimate goal.

More from Michael W Wiederman Ph.D.
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