Real-Life Ways to Respond to Someone Who's Venting

It's time to let the air out. Get the inside scoop on how to respond to someone who's venting in a way you'll both feel good about.

Published January 31, 2024
Young couple with relationship problems arguing at home

We've all answered that phone call where there aren't any greetings but an instant barrage of angry, disjointed sentences that we have to piece together into a real story. Venting is a real part of people’s coping process, and it hardly happens in a vacuum.

Learn how to respond to someone who's venting so both of you walk away from the situation feeling supported and productive.

Healthy Ways to Respond to Someone Who's Venting 

As queen of the venters, I know that having all that fiery energy directed your friend's way can be intimidating. There's nothing like being caught off guard by someone ready to regurgitate their frustrations all over you. The good news is, there are things you can do to be supportive besides just listening. 

Confirm That They're Venting

Two Young Women Arguing At Home

Always ask if they're venting or if they want a real response. It's so easy for people's signals to get crossed when heated emotions come into play. Avoid unnecessary hurt feelings by knowing what’s being asked of you. This can be as easy as asking, "Hey, before you start are you just trying to vent or do you want some serious advice on this situation?”

Stay Away From the Hypotheticals

Try to stay away from the hypotheticals. People who are venting come to you because they trust you and your opinions. If you start to go into hypotheticals, they may feel dismissed instead of supported. So, switch, "Well I can see how someone might do that," into, "I can see why you'd do that."

Be Honest About How Much Emotional Bandwidth You Have

Just listening to someone vent is emotional labor, and it's okay if you don't have the energy for that. But it's best to make it clear to the person who wants to vent to you that you're not in the emotional place to be as supportive as possible. While this is hard, it's important to prioritize your own mental health first. You can be honest about your own emotional bandwith and still support your friend. 

So, when you go to respond, follow it up with a reaffirming gesture. You could say something like, "I know you really need to let all that stuff out, but I'm super drained right now and don't think I'd be able to support you in the way that you need. But, if you're still feeling up to it, we could meet up tomorrow and scream all our frustrations out into the night sky?"

Be Kind With Your Words

When people vent, they're usually feeling a little (or a lot of) hurt underneath all that anger. They might not realize that they need some tender love and care. So, choose your words wisely and lean into kind language.

Show Your Support and Empathy 

Your empathy and support can help your friend move through emotional stages to help them process their emotions. When we vent, we're often looking for emotional validation and to relieve stress. Listening to your friend, validating their feelings, and allowing them to express what they're feeling without shame can help them process their emotions. 

Encourage Them to Continue Working Through Their Emotions

However, some experts believe that venting can also have negative impacts on both the person venting and the person listening. Venting can be a double-edged sword and create a sense of "mutual distress" for both people, and it can potentially become a negative cycle for the person venting if they aren't reflecting on their emotions and working through them. 

After your friend has expressed their frustrations, you can encourage them to work through their emotions and move towards problem-solving by asking questions like: 

  • What specifically about this situation is most frustrating or angering to you? 
  • What do you see as the next step here? 
  • What are the things you can control or change in this situation? 
  • What do you think are some positive ways for you to move forward? 

Don't Try to Solve Their Problems for Them 

If your partner is the one who's venting, it's probably best not to try to solve their problems for them. There's a chance — however small — that they'll read your clinical approach as condescension, as "mothering" them, or as doubt that they can do it on their own. So, it might be best to focus on connecting and wait for your partner to ask if they want some solutions before you give them any advice.

Part of being a good friend is encouraging them and challenging them to grow, but you can't necessarily solve your friend's problems for them either. You can help a struggling friend by being a sounding board and helping "facilitate the other person's choices, rather than dominating them." You might encourage them to identify their emotions, look for healthy solutions, and ask questions to help them think differently about the situation. 

Quick Tip

You can also suggest healthy actions like talking to a therapist and journaling. 

How to Disagree With Someone Who's Venting to You

Male couple arguing about what's on a phone

Sometimes, your bestie starts raging about an incident that happened at work and you hear something that makes your face screw up because you don't like their take. You can disagree with them, but be careful about how you approach it.

Wait Until the Right Moment to Bring It Up

Interrupting someone who's already keyed up to disagree with them or point out why you think they're in the wrong is a one-way ticket to rageville. You'll be more effective at getting your point across if you wait until they pause and then bring up your points. 

Use Questions to Soften the Blow

Of course, sometimes you hear something so outlandish it triggers your own fight-or-flight instincts. Resist the urge to jump in the fray, and choose gentle, kind words to deliver your contradiction. Using questioning language is a great way to get someone to think about the perspective without taking it personally.

For example, you could say something like, "I hear what you're saying, but could it be that they read your body language as a bit aggressive and responded in kind?"

Know When They're Not Willing to Budge

Sometimes, it's best to bring up your feelings after they’re finished venting. If you start to disagree with them and it only makes them angrier or they turn their heightened emotions your way, then back out. They're not in a place to receive your perspective and it's better to try again when they're in a calmer state of mind.

Tips for Handling Venters With the Utmost Care

couple talking

Responding to someone who wants to vent is easier said than done. Knock it out of the park with these helpful tips.

  • Be extra careful when texting. You lose so much nuance when you're texting, so be very particular about the words you choose. Try to use parenthesis or emojis to help give better context for how they should receive what you’re saying.
  • Don't use their in-the-moment words against them. People can say some nasty stuff when they're venting. But they think it's a safe space and if you know you'll use their words against them in the future, then you don't need to let them vent to you.
  • Use physical touch as a response. Responding doesn't just involve words; you can also use hugs, pats on the back, shoulder rubs, etc. to communicate your support.
  • Keep a level head for them. If they're starting to go off the rails and you think they might try something dangerous or illegal, be their voice of reason.
  • Check up on them a few days after the venting session. Venting doesn't solve the world's problems, and the people in your life will feel really loved if you check on them after they let loose.

Everyone Can Be a Sounding Board

For some people, the best form of catharsis is venting. Even if you're not a venter yourself, you can be a great sounding board. Go with your gut, follow our tips, and everyone should walk away feeling a little bit better.

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Real-Life Ways to Respond to Someone Who's Venting