Where Can Leaders Vent?

Leaders have situations which are frustrating at work. The higher you go in an organization, the less acceptable it is for leaders to display a bad attitude or poor interpersonal skills. Therefore, a leader must be highly selective about when, where and which topics they choose to vent about.

What is venting? Venting is an emotionally charged expression. At work, the perceived need to vent could emerge as a response to something happening in the leader’s environment. This “something” may be deemed by the leader as threatening, and threats can initiate an acute stress response.

As leaders, we need to know what to do when feeling this way – as the dangers of perceived threats are not necessarily real. There are many effective techniques to “put the brakes” on stress. These include deep breathing, mantra meditation, visualization exercises, yoga, and tai chi. (Understanding the stress response, Harvard Health Publishing accessed 4/4/22)

When we put some distance between the threat and our response, we can consider if venting is in order. Were we actually threatened? Is there a threat to the organization? What timetable for response is appropriate? Is it our role to respond? Sometimes it is important to respond and by switching off our fight or flight response, we can organize our thoughts and make a proper action plan.

Leaders may choose to vent directly to their boss if the topic is a critical one that they need help sorting out and addressing. This can be useful but, there is a risk of overusing this path. In particular, leaders are sometimes surprised that utilizing an “open door” or a “vent to me only” policy can end up working against them come performance review time if their boss decides to label the venting sessions as “negativity” or “a bad attitude.” It is recommended to be selective about what you choose to vent to your boss about and to spend some time arranging your thoughts in advance.

Another choice of where to vent may be a trusted peer who is at your level in the organization. For this choice you need to be careful about having absolute confidence in the person and be sure that they know their role: to only listen. People in general struggle to listen without giving advice, and they may start advising on things you have no intention of following up on – which could reflect poorly on you.

The best suggestions for where to vent are a journal or a professional coach. The reason being that both of these can help you organize what is important to you in a situation and make a plan to follow up, as desired. You can review your journal to understand trends over time. When using a coach, part of their role is to bring themes and patterns of behavior to your attention, which is an incredible benefit.

The least recommended place to vent is with family or friends. Why? Because they have similar challenges in their workplaces and, as much fun as it can be to compare notes, they may prefer not to get knee deep in your issues during their time away from work. Once in a while it is alright, but regular venting about the same work issues or people may bring unnecessary strain to these relationships.

Self-management is an important leadership skill that takes conscious effort to develop. Consider these tips for sorting your frustrations and finding healthy ways to vent.

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April 7, 2022 at 11:51 am
Brian Raison

Excellent topic that no one speaks much about. The journal or coach option is fabulous. "organizing thoughts" (perspective) works. Awesome read.

April 7, 2022 at 1:30 pm
J Miller

Brian, agreed. Great article.

June 22, 2022 at 10:25 am

Agree. Venting to your boss or peers is unfair and comes with risks.

April 8, 2022 at 10:40 am
Marla Flewellen

Good article. Great Tips.


Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.