Why venting at work doesn't help

November 11, 2011: 10:28 AM ET

Blowing off steam at work to a coworker doesn't get rid of the anger. Instead, it amplifies the negative feelings. Here are a few alternatives.

By Shelley DuBois, writer-reporter

FORTUNE -- Picture this: you're pumped to start your work day with a cup of coffee, when you see that your jerk co-worker has left the break room in shambles: grounds everywhere, dish soap oozing on the counter, half-opened sugar packets on the floor by the trash.

So frustrating. And if you're like most of us, the first thing you want to do is blow off steam. You don't really want to get the person fired for sugar packet litter, or even have some kind of awkward conflict resolution conversation about it, but it's inconsiderate. And you need to vent.

We think of venting as a transfer of heat; as "blowing off steam," meaning anger, which would otherwise stay inside, creating pressure which could cause us to explode at an inopportune moment. Venting is different than complaining, which means voicing a concern with the goal of changing something or addressing the cause of the problem.

You can get a kind of warped satisfaction from talking about being angry without necessarily wanting to change the circumstances that trigger that emotion. But research suggests that venting anger doesn't get rid of it. Instead, it amplifies those negative feelings.

There are some obvious downsides to showing your anger in this way -- some studies suggest that angry people tend to be at greater risk for heart disease. But besides the larger health risks, fuming employees can corrode a workplace environment. More

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