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How Good Listening Can Impact Venting in the Workplace

Venting often occurs in the workplace. However, is it productive or effective in any way? Past research has been pessimistic on the value of venting in the expression of anger. It has been hypothesized that venting does not provide relief to those who do it. In fact, it can even make the situation worse. However, recent research in the Academy of Management Discovery found that venting can be valuable beyond immediate emotional release. The researchers explored the role of the listener. They concluded that certain types of listeners can actually aid venters in solving their problems.

The researchers conducted three studies. The first study, a survey of nurses, found that listeners were critical in the venting process. Specifically, when a listener was a “challenge listener” (i.e., a listener that attempts to challenge the venter’s current perspective), venters were better off. In other words, when the venter engaged on problem-solving or gleaned new insight on the issue, the venter decreased their venting. However, when the listener confirmed the venter’s feelings and/or provided support, the venter increased their venting. 

In the second study, the researchers attempted to replicate their findings with undergraduate participants. This study also found that problem-focused responses on the part of the listener were most beneficial to venters.

In the third study, the researchers further explored the issues and looked at the venter’s willingness to accept the challenge listener’s suggestions. The listeners provided suggestions in both an emotionally supportive manner (“I understand how you feel”) and an emotionally unsupportive manner (“You are overreacting”). The venters were more likely to accept ideas from listeners using the emotionally unsupportive style than from listeners using the emotionally supportive style.