When Venting at Work Becomes Toxic: How to Shut it DOWN

We all get frustrated at work.  Even if you have the perfect career, it’s normal to hit speed bumps along the way.  Maybe you had a conversation with your boss that ended on a snarky note.  Or you’re way over that co-worker who always gets away with being late for staff meeting.

Sometimes, you’re just having an off day.

When I’m feeling icky at work, I usually have a five-minute venting session with a colleague, and let it go.  Because at the end of the day, I love my job.  I am so blessed to do what I do.

Have you ever had that co-worker who likes to vent a little too much?  I’m not talking about someone who has the occasional bad day.  I’m talking about that colleague who is NEVER happy.  Every time you see him walking down the hall to your office, you just want to get under the desk and hide….or pick up the phone and pretend like you are on an important conference call.  You already know what’s coming when he walks through the door.

All he’s gonna do is BITCH.

This goes way beyond a colleague who is getting something off his chest, or just trying to shake it off.  I’m talking about the co-worker who can’t let it go.  He is so full of rage, his eyes turn black, and his voice practically growls as he laments the alleged unfair treatment from his boss.

“Sarah got a raise.  I know I work more efficiently than Sarah!”

“I am the most overworked and underappreciated employee in our office!”

“Why was I overlooked for that promotion?  I deserved it more than Howard!”

“Why am I held to a different standard than everyone else?”

Wait a few days.  Rinse.  Repeat.

At one of my former jobs, I experienced a co-worker like this.  My husband calls me Dr. Phil because a lot of my friends and colleagues can depend on me to be an ear.  I am an empath, and I enjoy counseling and helping people.  I’m also not the type of person who will shut you down if you push it too far.  I have a VERY hard time with confrontation.  So most people who want to vent to me will have my full attention.  I won’t kick you out.

But this guy……this guy…….

I’ve watched him as he bullied people throughout the office.  He’s always right.  No matter what.  His point of view was the ONLY point of view.

If you ordered office supplies from him, he would get your order wrong 90 percent of the time.  Instead of apologizing, he’d find some way to turn it back around on you.

If he was overlooked for a promotion, even if it was given to someone with clearly more experience, he would find some way to get even.  He would call human resources to see what kind of action he could take against the boss.   He was a professional victim.

And the lies…..oh the lies.  He never held himself accountable for any of his actions.  No matter how often he screwed up, or got something wrong, he would deny it….double down….and deny it again.  You could have a stack of evidence against him, and he’d still not admit a thing.  You would never get an apology.

Okay, so let me get to the point.

This guy would camp out in my office, and lament about how horrible he had it with the company.  It didn’t matter if I was in a conference call, working on a major assignment or under deadline pressure for a report.  He was incapable of recognizing my social cues indicating I didn’t want to hear his garbage.

The conversation always started out the exact same way, each and every time.  Eventually, I had the routine down pat.  He would come to my door, and although it was wide open, he’d still knock three times and say “hello, ma’am.”  (Those three little knocks made my skin crawl).

“Do you need anything from me today?” (He ALWAYS started the conversation off like that).

“Nope.  I don’t need a thing from you,” I’d respond, gazing intently at my computer while typing feverishly.  (I always hoped that no eye contact would give him the hint that I’m not in the mood to hear his gibberish).

He’d let out a sigh, and take a seat in the empty chair in front of my desk.  I knew what was coming next.

“I applied for three new jobs this week,” he’d say.  “Since I am so mistreated here, I am going to try to find work elsewhere, where I’m more appreciated.”

Then he would proceed to rant for the next 25 minutes about how much he hated his job, and how the boss was always out to get him.  I swear, I had his spiel memorized.  He was worse than a broken record.  He was like the little mosquito that’s flying near your ear in the middle of the night.  You swat it away, but it keeps coming back with that annoying little buzz.

This person really started to affect me at work.  His mere presence would raise my anxiety levels.  It was out of hand, and I needed to put a stop to it.

I decided to get some advice from my sister, who is an HR expert.  She said Denise, why do you act so powerless in this situation?  You have the POWER to tell him you can’t talk.  You have the POWER to tell him this conversation is making you uncomfortable.

Well, yes, I did.  But I didn’t want to come across as mean.  Remember, I hate any kind of confrontation.

She explained to me that if this guy was making me feel so uncomfortable at work, I had an obligation to shut it down.  I didn’t have to be mean or rude.  I should simply tell him:

A.  I’m too busy to talk right now.

B.  If you are unhappy at work, you should take it up with your boss.

She was right.  Why was I making it so difficult?

In fact, my ordeal inspired my sister to write a blog post of her own, with some fantastic advice for others who are in my situation.  You can read it here.  I highly recommend it!

Do you have a co-worker who uses you as a sounding board?  Has it gotten out of hand?  Share your story with me at denise.rowell@gmail.com.


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