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Do you want to vent or are you looking for advice?

I once heard someone say, “When a friend is upset, it doesn’t matter what you tell them, but rather what you enable them to tell you.” This sentence has since shifted my mindset and how I approach situations when friends/family/colleagues are venting to me. I always believe it is important to engage in active listening through any conversation, and I find it helps me know what hat I need to wear when I first ask the question, “Do you want to vent or are you looking for advice?”.

Let me show you why.

You know how to be a friend

There’s nothing worse than a friend who sits there in complete silence while you passionately rant about a given topic, or another who tries to solve the problem for you. I often find, the quieter someone is, the angrier I get. Or, the less they let me talk, the more infuriated I am. When we ask this simple question to our friends or colleagues, we know how they want us to show up for them: You are then able to respond to what they need in their moment of frustration. 

This brings me back to what hat we need to wear, e.g. The Solidarity Hat or Devil’s Advocate Hat. If you know going into the conversation what is expected of you, then you know whether or not you are meant to be a sounding board, punching bag, or cheerleader. That, in turn, allows you to show up for your friend in a manner that is befitting of their needs. 

It’s healthy to let your feelings out

Bottling your feelings up is never the solution. I always think, if you don’t let it out now then it will come out later looking like a big hairy monster. Those might be good in Monsters Inc., but not when we are building healthy relationships. 

Being the good friend/colleague that you are, you might need to help them get all of their feelings out, which is where you have the opportunity to ask questions like, “What about this interaction frustrates you so much?” or “What would you have envisioned the outcome/reaction/interaction/etc. to be?”. You are not going to change the fact that they need to vent, so why not help them release all of their frustrations so that they can move forward?

You don’t need to solve every problem

Whenever I vent to my husband he often tries to figure out why someone did whatever it was that is pissing me off. He tries to get into their head and explain to me why the situation happened. Then he moves into solution mode so that I no longer have anything to vent about.

But guess what? Sometimes I need to yell. Sometimes I want to beat a punching bag. Sometimes people are really frustrating and I just want someone to validate my feelings, not solve my problems because I can do that myself. If I can‘t, I‘ll know where to find you and what to ask for. By asking what it is that I need, we can connect as a couple instead of me leaving the conversation more infuriated than I was at the start.

I want our interactions with others to be fruitful, and that can only happen when we meet the other person where they are. Close your eyes and imagine how refreshing it would be for someone to stop you dead in your tracks and ask you what you need, as opposed to just deciding for themselves — probably much like sipping a cold lemonade on a hot summer day. If we remind ourselves that each situation, interaction, and person is different, then we can see each interaction as an opportunity to grow in our relationships with other and we are able to take a more dynamic approach to helping our people solve their problems.


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