Tip of the Week: How to Handle Venting at Work?


Pharmacy managers must not only possess high levels of emotional intelligence, but should also encourage development among staff that facilitates more effective and creative outlets for frustration.

The modern pharmacy, regardless of practice setting, can be rife with frustrations. Managers and peers have likely experienced, drug shortages, certain staff not appearing to pull their own weight, role conflict expectations from various stakeholders, problems with third-party payers, and many other issues. Between work and even family/social issues, it is little wonder that the average person vents several times per day.1

Venting is defined as the discharge of negative feelings by expressing or discussing it with others.2 A commonly held belief is that venting is healthy in nature because it allows the venter to get negative emotions off their chest rather than bottling it inside.

However, extensive literature in psychology demonstrates considerable nuance into the ramifications of venting. Venting has been found to shift one’s mental capacity toward a focus on negative emotions rather than problem-solving.3-7 Furthermore, venting does NOT actually help the venter feel better; rather, it just evokes a re-run of the same negative emotions over and again.

It is important for managers to realize that the events that trigger venting are typically routine in nature. Examples of triggers may include perceived unequal work distribution, challenging patients, inventory shortages, malfunctioning equipment, and/or troubles outside the work environment.

The second thing to realize is that venters either consciously or subconsciously choose their listeners. According to Behfar et al, venters are looking for cognitive and emotional support.8 They want to feel safe. It is important for managers to foster a safe work environment in which comments borne from frustration are not silenced or ridiculed.

Behfar et al also found that a listener who was able to provide new insight for the venter was the most helpful in regard to problem-solving. Cognitive or emotional affirmation of a venter was not helpful since it did not provide any new information. In fact, it was found to perpetuate negative emotions.

Thus, managers must not only possess high levels of emotional intelligence, but should also be a role model and encourage development among staff that facilitates more effective and creative outlets for frustration and help instill better coping strategies than venting. They might even go so far as to codify, in writing, expectations for staff comportment as it relates to potentially frustrating situations so that employees do not engage in the type of venting or other activities that can disturb or even upset their colleagues.

Managers should attempt to reorient venters to new insights that may help them think or feel differently about their situation rather than offer a placating response or return their venting with anger of their own. Providing new perspectives allows for increased problem-solving behavior that can lead to better work and better patient care outcomes.

Additional information about Human Resources Management Functions can be found in Pharmacy Management: Essentials for All Practice Settings, 5e.


  1. Alicke M, Braun J, Glor J, Klotz M, Magee J, et al.Complaining behavior in social interaction. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 1992;18(3):286–295.
  2. Folkman, Susan, and Richard S. Lazarus. Coping as a mediator of emotion. J Personality Social Psychol. 1988;43(3):466-481.
  3. Brown SP, Westbrook RA, Challagalla G. Good cope, bad cope: Adaptive and maladaptive coping strategies following a critical negative work event. J Applied Psychol. 2004;90(4):792-801.
  4. Bushman BJ. Does venting anger feed or extinguish the flame? Catharsis, rumination, distraction, anger, and aggressive responding. Personality Social Psychol Bull. 2002;28(6):724-731.
  5. Kowalski RM. Complaints and complaining: Functions, antecedents, and consequences. Psychol Bulletin. 1996;119(2):179-193.
  6. Nolen-Hoeksema S, Morrow J. A prospective study of depression and posttraumatic stress symptoms after a natural disaster: The 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. J Personality Social Psychol. 1991;61(1):115-123.
  7. Thomsen DK, Mehlsen MY, Christensen S, Zachariae. Rumination—relationship with negative mood and sleep quality. Personality Individual Differences. 2003;34(7): 1293-1301.
  8. Behfar KJ, Cronin MA, McCarthy K. Realizing the upside of venting: The role of the challenger-listener. Acad Manag Discoveries. 2020;6(4):609-630.

About the Authors

Nicholas Wang, PharmD Candidate. Touro University California College of Pharmacy

Shane Desselle, RPh, PhD, FAPhA. Professor of Social and Behavioral Pharmacy, Touro University California College of Pharmacy

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