Letting Off Some Steam

Mar 6 2023

Something you may hear or experience daily is a casual greeting of, “Hey, how are you doing?” And you might hear or offer a standard response of “Good, thanks.” 

But how are you really doing?  

The word really opens a window that allows a person to really share how they’re actually doing. It acknowledges that the standard answer is “good” while the real answer may be “not so good.” It can sometimes be challenging to know how or when to ask someone how they are or offer the reality of your response. However, opening that window also opens an opportunity to vent and experience a sense of relief, similar to releasing a sneeze you’ve been holding in.  

Becoming aware of how to vent healthily requires knowing a bit about what venting is and why people vent. Venting is a type of social dynamic; when it is developed in a healthy way, it can provide benefits for regulating emotions. It is a two-way process between the person venting and the person listening to the venting. Research suggests that venting helps you feel closer to others and experience a sense of belonging. Venting in the workplace can even help you bond with coworkers and alleviate stress.

Nevertheless, there is a tipping point between letting off steam and allowing emotions to spill over. For instance, you may unintentionally vent to someone that isn’t in a cognitive space to listen. Or you might get worked up to the point that your anger spills over. In such circumstances, venting becomes emotional dumping, creating or exacerbating emotional turmoil.  

The benefits of venting are often contingent upon the method of venting. The following are tips to consider when you vent or are listening to another person vent. 

  • If someone is venting to you, a helpful question is, “Do you want me to listen, or do you want me to offer advice?” Asking this question allows you to manage expectations. If you are venting, it is also helpful to let the person listening to you know whether you want them to just listen or to offer their advice. 
  • Sometimes it may be helpful to go to the same person (or people) to vent. Brandon finds that he often vents to his sister. Venting to a 3rd party (someone that isn’t involved directly in the experience you want to vent about) can help you feel better if the responses you receive are reinforcing.  
  • One strategy Abrar finds helpful is venting for a set period. Limiting the length of a venting session allows you to set boundaries, regardless of whether you are venting or listening to someone else vent. It also helps keep venting in moderation, not too long or too often.  
  • Engaging in mindfulness, as noted in Maddie Burke’s Tip of the Week, helps promote positive emotions. Mindfulness practices encourage you to observe your emotions more regularly, which can help you return to a calmer state when you are upset.  

Finally, you may not know you need to vent until someone asks you how you really are. That makes it all the more important to take some time to check in with yourself by considering, “How am I? How am I really?” We hope the tips we have provided are helpful the next time you are venting or lending an ear for someone else to vent.  

Abrar Hammoud is a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Technology Leadership and Innovation. Her research explores resilience in collaborative teams, particularly connections between artistic expressions of failure, belonging, and willingness to take creative design risks.   

Dr. Brandon Carlyle Grant is an Assistant Professor of Human Resource Development who specializes in employment and labor relations and data analytics, specifically focusing on how workers experience their work and how Human Resources management can use data analytics to improve the workplace. 

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