How to Respond When Someone is Venting at You

If someone is venting their upset at you, even if it's not about you, it's natural that you might react negatively.

After all, none of us like to be on the receiving end of someone venting at full steam! It can be uncomfortable, frustrating and even distressing.

  • You might not know what to say to them.
  • You might try get away from them.
  • You might get frustrated and debate with them.
  • You might feel responsible for trying to calm them down.
  • You might try to change their point of view.

You've probably already witnessed first-hand that when you resist or react negatively toward someone who is venting at you, or try to advise them of a better perspective, it can end up adding fuel to their fire and making things worse!

But it doesn't have to be that way. There is another path.

Someone in the situation can choose the path of peace. And that someone is you!

You can save yourself, and at the same time help to free them too. Here's how…

A Response to Venting – the Power of “Compassionate Listening”

Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh beautifully conveys the power of truly listening to each other from a space of compassion.

The next time someone comes to you wanting to vent – full of their frustration, upset, hurt, pain, worry, distress and you don't know what to say… remember the message in this short video.

  • Perhaps what you say to the other person in response to their venting is not important.
  • Perhaps saying nothing is best.
  • Perhaps what they need is not resistance, not judgment, not your advice, nor a new viewpoint. Sometimes all they need is compassionate listening.
  • By being a space of compassionate listening for them, you allow them to empty themselves of pain. That may be all that is required.
We need someone to be able to listen to us and to understand us. Then we will suffer less. - Thich Nhat HanhClick To Tweet

Share this video with people in your life, and together let's create relationships where compassionate listening is the normal practise – a reflection of our intention and of our love for each other.

To share your thoughts, questions or experiences, please do leave a comment below.

Related Resources for Communication & Relationships

How to Respond When Someone is Venting at You

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14 Responses

  1. Hi Bernadette

    Great post as usual.. True power of compassionate listening.. really interesting.. It remind me of something I read in a book few years ago….

    “Shared grief is half the sorrow, but happiness when shared, is doubled”


  2. And how do you broach the fact that their perceptions are wrong? How do you get to that point? That’s an important part that is left out.

    1. Great question. One of our jobs in life, in our relationships (which are assignments for our growth), is to look at how we might shift our perception and evolve through whatever we are presented with, and to convey where we stand from a place of love and compassion. If you wanted to broach an issue with someone, one way might be to consider releasing any attachment to them being wrong in their view, action, position, and any attachment to personally being right. In a relationship we might consider that we are not there to point out to other people their wrong views. The Universe does a pretty great job of helping each one of us learn our lessons and eventually people come to see the truth about their own blocks and challenges in due course. It is easy to get attached to feeling we must right the wrongs we see, particularly in close relationships, or at the very least point out the wrongs. That is exactly what this video is about, letting go of that inclination and replacing it with a new energy and position… to invite greater understanding, listening, compassion and from that place you are more easily able to offer this person a new perspective. Practically speaking, if you are facing someone who is venting at you, of course communicating your position and feelings is valid. You might say “I hear what you are saying. I appreciate you feel strongly about this. I feel differently about it, I have a different perception. If you are open to me sharing my perspective, I would really like to share it with you so we can move forward”. If the person says no, then they are showing you that they are not yet ready to listen or open to engaging. If they say yes, you have an open door invitation to share your perspective. In sharing your perspective, we always want to do so from loving and compassionate energy… sharing what is true for us and what we see as possible, being observant of ourselves so that we don’t lose ourselves in ego and end up turning it into making the other person wrong and telling them their perspective isn’t valid. You can actually share a new viewpoint, and invite someone to see something differently, to awaken them to a perception that you think might be more healthy, balanced and positive, without every saying saying they are wrong and must change, and without judging their current position and opinion. I hope this helps and makes sense. Best wishes, Bernadette

  3. my friend vent to me on how his ex girlfriend who sextually touched him in ways he didnt like is having trouble getting passed those horibble memories what should i reply and say to him ?

    1. Hi, thanks for your message. Regarding your situation, when someone is sharing with you, it doesn’t always require you to provide them advice. After all, sometimes people share with us just to have an “ear to listen” or “shoulder to lean on”. Sometimes, as you’re probably finding in this situation, we’re not equipped to provide advice. Rather, we can be loving, compassionate, understanding and be a “listening space” for the other person to feel safe to share and be heard. If your friend asks further for advice, perhaps the best thing is to suggest that they go and see a counsellor to talk through the issue and get strategies for processing what happening and moving forward. I hope this helps. Best wishes, Bernadette

  4. I had a situation with a co worker who is also a long time friend. I was speaking clarification on covering while he was off. He lashed put at me. Calling me a victim repeatedly and hung up on me. When I saw Him a few minutes later we had very little interaction. His only comment was “we need to communicate better”. No apology.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience Bonnie. It often helps to remember that when people release their upset, it can often be just their own pain and suffering spilling over in that moment. It helps to not take things personally. Of course if it’s a repeated pattern of boundaries crossed and poor treatment, that requires communication and resolution, but sometimes people have one off moments of venting and a valid course of action is patience, compassion and letting it go.

  5. I love this so, so much. The video is amazing and I wish Tich Nhat Hanh was a prominent world leader. I happily shared the vid! The one trouble I have with doing this at the moment, is dealing with the energy that comes off of someone who is venting or sharing feelings that I feel are difficult. For example, if someone just kinda lashes out or dumps their anger about something else at my feet (for example in a text message where it comes out of the blue and there is no inkling or context) then I energetically feel like I get “hit” with their pain and negativity, or whatever it is. it’s not that I don’t want to be there for them and understand overall, but in that moment, I don’t, because I feel I get blindsided and feel they are just using me to not have to deal with feelings their own feelings. I have done this as well, and I know it’s because I am unhappy and want someone to hear me. Mainly, I want the feelings to leave but unfortunately the byproduct can be that you “give them” to someone else. I have a hunch that Tich Nhat Hanh would say to keep listening and to also listen to your own feelings with compassion … but I still fear certain friends because they tend to do this a lot and it can be exhausting to just have a nice day and not feel responsible for their own pain, when mine is barely manageable as it is. Ultimately it goes back to my dad, who I felt had endless, terrifying feelings and it was all up to me to manage them. It was so hard and upsetting and it’s just not something I want to be subjected to anymore. Then again I know that shutting out friends or people who are similar to him, or even seem similar in a moment, is potentially unkind to them and might impact my ability to be intimate or feel safe with people I love. But then I wonder what is abusive and what is simply someone needing to be heard? There are many times I felt I was there listening and helping someone vent but it drains me and hurts me. Maybe i’m not doing it quite right yet. 🙂

    1. Hi Jamie
      I hear you and know what you mean. It can be difficult sometimes to take the “dumping” of problems/thoughts/feelings that someone shares when they are trying to get it out and you’re feeling hit by it or blindsided, unable to take it if you have your own stuff going on too. There’s no right or wrong way to deal with it, as it largely depends on the unique situation and any patterns at play as well. Yes, compassionate listening, and also if a particular person has a pattern of doing that over and over again regularly to you, then it may require a new type of communication and boundaries, so that together you can find a better way of them sharing and you supporting them and vice versa, where it doesn’t burden you. As you can already see that you had a particular type of experience with your father, and that seems to echo now when other people vent to you, irrespective of what other people are doing, it may help to process any unresolved emotions about the experiences with your father. That way you’ll be in a more present state (not being triggered as much) and more able perhaps to differentiate what is okay with you and what is not. EFT/tapping is great for a situation like this, processing any unresolved emotions/memories you have, anything you may be carrying now as a result of those experiences. If you had experiences of your father sharing endless terrifying feelings with you and feeling you were responsible for managing all of that, naturally now anytime someone shares similar types of feelings it would feel even more painful to you and you may feel responsible. Tapping could help to heal at the root cause level, helping you to start afresh now with interacting with people now and having more clarity. I hope that makes sense. I’ve put a link to a tapping guide below in case it interests you…
      Much love

  6. Hello there,

    I know this is an old post, but its relevant to me. I have a couple of friends who are always venting at me about something. My first instinct is I want to help them by giving advice on how to fix their situation or at least make it better somehow.

    I want to start trying compassionate listening for them, but I’m not exactly sure what that entails specifically. I watched the video, but he doesn’t really explain HOW to engage in compassionate listening. Or maybe he did and I’m just too dumb to understand.

    What exactly do you say to the person to keep the conversation going? Mostly the venting I experience is solely through text, so there’s clear back and forth unlike verbal communication doesn’t really have at times. So that’s my main question: how do you keep the conversation going without sounding like you’re indifferent to their situation? Compassionate listening seems like it could come off as apathetic through text since you’re missing the tone of your voice. Hopefully my question is clear and hopefully you still look at old post comments. If you answer me then thank you in advanced!

    1. Hi Mike, yes I know what you mean, and that’s the challenge with text. Compassionate listening in person can be simply listening, nothing else, and acknowledgements like “I hear you”.
      You could use that same approach via text, though it misses so many of the nuances of body language we gain in face to face communication. Perhaps try text responses like “I hear you”, and also repeating back what you have heard to show your understanding and hearing such as “I hear that you’re feeling XYZ way”.
      With love,

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