I’ve encouraged a coworker to vent about her boss — my friend

A reader writes:

I’m hoping you can help me shut down some complaints that I’m realizing I’ve unintentionally encouraged for way too long.

A few months ago, I was added to a project that would require several months of close work with another person in my department (let’s call her Bonnie). I hadn’t worked with Bonnie before, but we’ve found we work well with each other and have together launched a great product. Here’s the problem: Over the course of these past few months, Bonnie has started venting to me about her boss, “Meredith.” The venting has increased, and I haven’t shut it down. I think I’m a sympathetic ear, and she feels comfortable telling me how difficult it is to work for Meredith. (Meredith is new to managing this team but has been with the company for years in increasingly responsible roles and is highly respected.)

The kicker? Meredith and I have been friends for YEARS. In fact, she’s the one who helped me get my foot in the door at this company. We don’t work on similar projects or have cause for our paths to cross too much at work, so I’m not surprised that Bonnie doesn’t know we are friends outside the office. But we are, and I now feel incredibly uncomfortable that I’ve let Bonnie vent to me and haven’t shut it down. Is there a way for me to start doing so now? You give a lot of advice about redirecting people when they go off topic, so I’m wondering if that may be the best course of action.

For what it’s worth, I think this would be a bad thing to allow even if you weren’t friends with Meredith, for a few reasons. First, it’s bad for Bonnie, because complaining this frequently often makes people more unhappy with work situations; it tends to feed their dissatisfaction and make it worse. Second, it’s bad for you, because being a sympathetic ear to frequent venting tends to make other people think that you agree with the complaints that you’re providing a sympathetic audience for. That can mean that you end up with a reputation for being disgruntled or a negavity-spreader yourself, even if you’re not.

The friendship, of course, adds an extra layer of complication. You did Bonnie a bit of a disservice by not making your relationship with Meredith clear — after all, wouldn’t you be mortified to find out that you’d been regularly complaining about your boss to your boss’s friend? And you’re doing Meredith a disservice too; it’s hard to imagine that she wouldn’t feel betrayed if she discovered that you’ve been providing a sympathetic, possibly even encouraging audience for complaints about her.

None of this is intended to chastise you; you obviously didn’t intend to get into this situation. But I think it’s important to fully appreciate the reasons that it’s bad, so that you really do ensure that you shut it down.

As for how to do that … the next time Bonnie starts complaining about Meredith, I’d say this: “I know you’re having a tough time, but I don’t think it’s good for either of us for me to be a sounding board for it. I like and respect Meredith. I like and respect you too, and I feel a bit caught in the middle. I don’t think I can feel comfortable continuing to discuss her. I hope you understand.”

If Bonnie is reasonable, that’s all it will take. But if she does continue to bring up Meredith in the future, I’d just say, “I’m not comfortable talking about Meredith, but maybe these are issues that you can discuss directly with her.”

I did debate whether or not you should come out and explain that you’re actually friends with Meredith. I think it’s going to be tough to do that at this stage. Earlier, when it first started, you could have said something like, “I should tell you that I’m friends with Meredith, and like her a lot.” But it’s hard to do that now without causing a very understandable “eeeek, why didn’t you say something earlier?!” reaction from Bonnie. So I think I’d just stick with “I like and respect Meredith,” which is true, and recuse yourself from future venting conversations about her.

{ 66 comments… read them below }

  1. NickelandDime*

    And this, my friends, is the reason why you should be really careful about who you’re talking to at work, and the topics.

    Vent in the safety of your home, to people that truly love and care about you. Honestly. Not much can be gained venting at work.

    1. CrazyCatLady*

      I agree that you should be careful about who you vent to at work, but sometimes it is so tempting because no one understands the topic of your venting like your coworkers. When I try to vent to my husband, a lot of times he doesn’t get it because he doesn’t work there.

      But yeah, bad idea to do it at work for so many reasons!

      1. NickelandDime*

        It is tempting, and we’ve all done it. But this letter could have gone in so many horrible directions for Bonnie. What if the OP repeated all of this to Meredith? A lot of people are like that, whether it was to intentionally hurt Bonnie, Meredith, or because they have a big mouth and can’t hold water? It’s bad enough she let Bonnie keep talking without warning her.

        1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

          Being a sympathetic ear came around and bit me in the bum when my complaining coworker went to HR and said I agreed with her complaints.

          I found myself being called into HR to explain why I was upset. Needless to say they weren’t happy that I been listening to her complaints and warned me that I needed to clearly articulate that I didn’t agree with her next time she started complaining.

        2. Lou*

          Yea I have dealt with a person like Op who repeated it all to a Meredith, her reason was it will fix everything, and everything was going to be ok, and to not worry etc. Naw didn’t end up that way for me.

    2. The IT Manager*

      Also the spiraling black hole of negativity. The more you complain and hear others complain, the unhappier you become. It can actually make its worse for you and others as you just keep hearing more and more problems – some that aren’t even yours.

      1. LawBee*

        This is so true. I realized last week that a group text I’m a part of has become increasingly negative about a job that I love. So – redirection time! I just keep spamming the group with pictures of pandas, haha.

        1. HigherEd Admin*

          THIS. I didn’t realize the reason I disliked my job was because I was part of a trio that did nothing but vent about it nonstop… Until the other 2 people left the company and took their negativity with them. It was amazing how my outlook on my job, my other coworkers, and my boss changed after those 2 left!

      2. Cat*

        I think this is a thing but I also think it’s often too broadly applied. Venting at work to trusted co-workers serves a very important function sometimes: it assures you you’re not the crazy one, which is really, really easy to lose sight of when crazy stuff is happening around you.

        It’s a tricky balance. I have a co-worker who hates the partner (it’s a law firm) she works with most of the time. I’m happy to reassure her that the partner really is that bad – she is – but also: she needs to get a new job. The situation is no longer salvageable and I think the complaining has reached a point where it makes her feel worse about it while she’s in it.

        For people who work with that same partner a bit of the time, however, I think it’s worth venting so that you can get that reassurance that she really is that bad and you’re not actually as terrible at your job as you might feel. It also serves as a reminder that it’s good and reasonable to limit your exposure to her; it doesn’t necessarily have to taint your entire job. If those conversations weren’t happening among co-workers it would be a lot lonelier but individuals would also have fewer constructive strategies for dealing with issues.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I’d say it depends on the goal of the venting. If it’s what you’re describing — sort of a reality check — then sure, I can see that serving a purpose. But often that’s really just venting; people often aren’t genuinely trying to figure out if they’re the crazy one but rather looking for the release that venting can give you in the moment. I think the litmus test is “what am I trying to achieve by saying this?”

          1. Cat*

            I don’t disagree with that. I also think there’s something to be said for knowing your audience – good and perceptive friends can often guide you constructively in ways you didn’t really anticipate, and I think if you’re paying attention, you can know that articulating your frustration to those people is generally productive whereas articulating it to other people is just going to reinforce the negative emotion.

            It’s tricky with co-workers since they have other priorities and loyalties regarding your job; but, on the other hand, they’re also the people who know the situation best and thus can be the most helpful.

          2. Althea*

            Venting can serve various purposes, though. For me, venting about an incident lets me feel better and then move on to other things with a clear head (in the short run). It’s also useful in the long run, not as a reality check but as a pattern-finder. When I’ve vented several times about a similar subject (though usually different incidents), I start to pick up the pattern. “Why does she have to edit every document 3 times even though she’s the only one who made changes last time?!”

            If there’s a tactic I can try to change the thing that is annoying me, I’ll usually try it. If not, it moves into the realm of a standing joke, which makes life easier. I start sharing that with coworkers as well, “Well, we know she’s going to edit twice more, so plan on submission after a week, not a day!” That helps to put a positive attitude on something that you can’t change, even though it’s weird/frustrating, and communicates real work issues to coworkers.

            But – honest – this comes from the venting in the first place. If I was sitting and stewing silently about it, this process would not happen and the issue would remain a constant annoyance instead of something that rolls off my back.

            There are certainly times and places to vent, and better and worse ways to do it… but I think you might under-estimate the ways it can be useful – there are, at least, several things that venting can achieve.

            1. Myrin*

              I’m very happy to see that there are others (like you) who experience venting the same as I do – the “negativity spiral” others are talking about doesn’t happen to me at all so I was super confused if maybe we were talking about different things somehow. Glad to see I’m not alone, although I really appreciate the perspective of people who have a different relationship with venting.

            2. LizzyD*

              I agree. After venting a few times over a coworker who continuously forgot to close documents after he was done, and in doing so made it difficult for us to go in and edit, I realized I should probably DO something. Made it a “shared” document. Done.
              Making unchangeable things a simple “inside joke”, I’m also a fan of :)

              What I can’t stand are the coworkers who complain but never try to change anything, ever. Even when there is a fix. At that point I have to assume they just enjoy complaining, and I’m not going to join in. Drives me up the wall though. I just want to stop them and say, “Well if you don’t like it, why don’t you do XY and Z?”. But it will sound snarky or worse.

        2. Bostonian*

          It’s definitely a balance. With one of my old coworkers the validation that we were both experiencing the craziness was helpful, but it was too easy to veer off from that into complaining about petty stuff that really didn’t need to be talked over, and rehashing the complaints about that petty stuff just made me feel worse about the situation over time.

          I think checking in with coworkers is good. A little complaining can be okay. Straight-up venting to coworkers is probably bad in most circumstances.

          1. fposte*

            I think if you’ve said the same thing more than once, it’s time to start considering what it’s getting you.

            1. HR/San Francisco Bay Area*

              This! I encourage employees to vent to me – always with the proviso that some things might have to be followed up/acted upon – and don’t judge the venting. However repeatedly venting about the same topic -“I just can’t stand working with Director Fishbreath any more. He is such a micro-manager!” – will get you some directed feedback and questioning. Especially when it turns out the Director is ‘micromanaging’ your repeated spelling errors!

        3. TootsNYC*

          I’m happy to reassure her that the partner really is that bad – she is – but also: she needs to get a new job. The situation is no longer salvageable and I think the complaining has reached a point where it makes her feel worse about it while she’s in it.

          One important thing: Venting can often release the very pressure that should be building up and pushing you out to a different job. That’s one reason to not listen to venting–you might be making it less likely that the other person will actually *do* something about the situation. By communicating, by leaving, by figuring out workarounds.

          If you ever suspect that, use this tactic: “You sound unhappy. What are you doing to do about it?” Use a tone that implies it’s a genuine question, and you’re genuinely interested in the answer. Sort of like, “Where are you going to go for vacation?”

        4. LBK*

          I think the phrasing and tone of a vent and a true sanity check are wildly different, though, and it’s usually easy to identify which one you’re hearing. A vent is usually more of a rant that ends with a rhetorical expectation of agreement. A sanity check is usually prefaced by “Okay, tell me if I’m crazy but…” or something similar delivered in an even tone. Something that goes on for 10 minutes in a clearly frustrated voice and ends with an incredulous “Am I right!?” is someone looking for validation of the opinion they’ve already settled on, not a different perspective on whether they’re reading a situation accurately.

          1. Cat*

            Yeah, I was certainly not imagining 10 minutes of ranting when I wrote my comment. It’s possible I just interpret the term venting broader than a lot of people.

            1. LBK*

              That’s possible too – I know that has happened here before when I’ve discussed venting. My tolerance for what I consider a vent is fairly high, although I still don’t love short-form complaining either.

  2. AMG*

    I have had to do this a couple of times. Once, it shut down the ventor immediately. Other times, it kept happening and I said, ‘you should do talk to her’ and changed the subject. Alison’s advice is spot-on. People want a sympathetic ear and if you don’t give her that (nicely) there’s no payoff.

    1. Althea*

      That’s definitely a good tactic. Some bluntness, without being unkind. “To be honest, I’ve never experienced that type of thing from Meredith. Have you clarified with her that she meant X? When she talks to me about that subject, she’ll typically say it like Y, which means Z.”

    2. Lizabeth*

      +++++ This: “People want a sympathetic ear and if you don’t give her that (nicely) there’s no payoff.”

      Separately, all the people in the office have started doing this with the office squawker and it’s much, much better now.

  3. mull*

    I think it’s important for the OP to promise Bonnie amnesty on whatever venting Bonnie’s already done.

    As for fessing up completely that the OP and Meredith are friends, that’s a question of ethics (I would say yes, fess up 100%) but also one of pragmatism: how likely is Bonnie to find out that the OP and Meredith are friends? If Bonnie does find out and hasn’t been told the full story, that’s not great.

    1. NickelandDime*

      Maybe the OP can start re-directing the conversations toward SOLUTIONS instead of just complaining. And if that doesn’t stop Bonnie, then she tells the truth and let the possibility of what could have happened sink in. I’d also apologize for not saying anything sooner. I think Bonnie might need to learn this lesson.

      1. mull*

        She can do all of that once: “I’ve let this go too far and I’m sorry. Meredith and I are friends, and at this point, I think it’s awkward for you and for me that I haven’t said anything about that until now. I should have said something earlier, and I promise I won’t relay anything you’ve said about her. I also think it’s better if we focus on problems and solutions instead of venting.”

        1. Anonymous Educator*

          I don’t know. I agree with Alison that it’s not necessary to bring in that she and Meredith are friends. A couple of reasons I can think of:

          1. It sounds as if only part of the discomfort about the venting comes from Meredith being the OP’s friend. Saying they’re friends may give the venter the idea that it’s only the friendship that makes it awkward and not the excessive venting, but it sounds (from the letter) as if it’s both.

          2. It’s already awkward enough to tell someone “Hey, enough with the venting already.” Saying that you and Meredith on friends will just make the venter even more mortified.

          1. mull*

            But part of the discomfort is that the OP and Meredith are friends, however. Also part of the (accidental) deception. The OP can easily say both parts of why she’s uncomfortable.

            So far, the OP has been accidentally dishonest about the whole situation. At this point, however, there are deliberate choices to be made. I don’t think half-measures are the answer.

            1. Anonymous Educator*

              The OP can say both parts, but I don’t agree with the “easily” part. I’m espousing a practical approach to getting the venting to stop. I don’t see any reason to bring all the sources of discomfort to the surface, except to humiliate the venter.

              1. mull*

                The point about being honest is to be honest. The venting is only part of the issue here. The other is that Bonnie was owed information that wasn’t delivered when it should have been (by the OP’s own admission).

                And even if the issue is approach only pragmatically, what happens if Bonnie finds out the fuller version of the story, that the OP and Meredith are friends?

                Giving two reasons why the venting should stop is both honest and likely to work better. Bonnie has nothing to be humiliated about either. She’s engaged in pretty normal workplace conversation with someone she thought she could confide in. She can’t, and that’s okay. Both parties have something to learn from this situation, and the fuller version of the truth here helps that happen.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I think it’s overstating it to say that Bonnie was owed information that wasn’t delivered. Unless the OP was actively drawing this stuff out of her (and there’s nothing in the letter that indicates that was the case), Bonnie is the one who chose to regularly complain to a coworker about her boss.

                  I wouldn’t say that’s normal workplace conversation; that’s always a conversation that carries some risk and doesn’t show the greatest judgment when it becomes chronic.

                2. Anonymous Educator*

                  I don’t think we’ll be able to agree on this. I believe in honesty, but I also believe in discretion.

                3. LBK*

                  I think if you go ahead with divulging your personal opinions without prompting, it’s not up to others to stop you and give a listing of all the reasons you might not want to say what you’re about to say (eg because you’re friends with the person they’re giving opinions of). That’s just one of the risks you take when you run your mouth and an excellent reason not to do it, among several.

  4. CM*

    I think the OP needs to acknowledge that she’s allowed the venting until now, so that Bonnie doesn’t feel that she’s suddenly being judged or that the OP is turning on her. I would preface Alison’s script by saying something like, “Hey, I know it’s nice to have someone to vent to, but I’m starting to feel uncomfortable about it.”

  5. M from NY*

    Why did you let this start at all? Being friends has nothing to do with whether or not Bonnie has legitimate issues with Meredith as a manager but you did both of them a disservice by participating in these vent sessions at all.

    So does Bonnie have real work concerns? Then suggest she find a mentor/coach she can talk to and get guidance on tools to address. If she’s just complaining to complain then tell her you don’t want to participate in negative talk any longer.

      1. M from NY*

        If you don’t acknowledge the real problem then you’re doomed to repeat it.

        The writer thinks the problem is because one of the parties involved is her friend. No where did she say whether the venting was legitimate or if her coworker is off base. If the real issue is her friend is nice but is a terrible manager the answers given here don’t help.

        Either way certain people tend to find themselves in situations and don’t see how they got caught up. The OP can redirect what’s currently happening but also needs to be aware of her actions so she doesn’t end up in this kind of scenario again.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Even if her friend is a terrible manager, though, that wouldn’t change the answer. The OP isn’t in a role where she should be giving her friend feedback or managing her performance, nor is she charged with coaching Bonnie on how to manage up. What she can and should do is to shut down the venting and direct Bonnie to talk to her boss directly.

          1. M from NY*

            I didn’t dispute that in my original response. Was responding to why my point wasn’t unhelpful. There’s a reason OP allowed herself to participate in the vent sessions in the first place. Focusing on her friendship won’t make her aware of her part in this situation so as not to repeat it no matter who the two parties are.

  6. Anno today*

    Listening isn’t passive or neutral. Listening validates the speaker. You have to be really careful at work about what you validate. (Naturally, I had to learn this the hard way.) I agree with the advice to shut it down, and send Bonnie to Meredith.

  7. Meg Murry*

    Is there any chance that Bonnie actually does know that you are friends (or at least friendly) with Meredith, and is hoping that by venting to you, you will pass along her complaints to Meredith, since Meredith is a first time manager? It’s a crappy way to do it, but I’ve seen people try to drop hints to friends about how they don’t like the way so-and-so is doing her job, in the hopes that it gets back to the friend in some round about way.

    For instance, if Bonnie is saying “gosh, I know Meredith is a first time manager, but I wish she would stop canceling all our one-on-ones, she needs to know it’s difficult when you can’t ever get a few minutes to speak with your manager” – that could be the kind of feedback she hopes makes it back to Meredith. Whereas if she’s saying “Meredith is such a b*tch sometimes, isn’t she, I can’t stand working for her!” – Bonnie almost definitely doesn’t want that to get back to Meredith, and probably doesn’t realize OP is friends with Meredith, unless she is the kind of person who tries to create drama for fun.

    Either way, I think Alison is right and you need to shut down the venting now – but I just wanted to throw that out there as another possibility.

  8. Althea*

    I don’t agree wholeheartedly with AAM on this one. Some people feel more anxious after venting (my husband is one); others really do feel better (I am one). Not everyone is the same here. That doesn’t always make it appropriate at work, but it’s not universally bad for everyone’s mental health.

    I spent some years in a small office, and at one point in time everyone in it was upset at everyone else… except me. I was the one vented to about numerous things, and often heard the same incident from multiple perspectives at different times.

    While I listened a lot, I also thought about how the other person in the situation may have been feeling, and what they may have wanted to say, if they heard the venting. I would often insert myself into the vent in this way. “Honestly, I can see why it was hard to hear that from Meredith, but I think she was trying to convey X.” Or “That sounds rough, but are you sure she meant it to mean Y instead of X? I could really interpret that either way.”

    Typically this deflates the vent a bit. It lets the person know I am sympathetic but not necessarily in agreement. Should the complained-about party happen to overhear, I know they would feel similarly about the comments I made – I don’t know their side of the story, but I can see they have one. It also lets the person halt their tirade if they are afraid of going to far with it.

    I ended that job on good terms with everyone there, so it did work!

    1. LBK*

      Can you speak to how this related to your own success with venting? It seems like this is actually an argument against venting having benefits – that often a vent is so fueled by a knee jerk reaction that it fails to acknowledge multiple perspectives, and that injecting some empathy and nuance into the conversation makes people realize that the vent is meaningless. I’m not sure how that proves that venting can be helpful to some people.

      1. k*

        Clears the mind. Especially in a bad situation – get it out instead of sitting on it all day. A good vent clears it out and I can get back to focusing. Also, knowing you have and return support is a reassuring thing.

        1. Althea*

          Yes, I agree it clears the frustration out and helps me get back to work. I posted this upthread a bit, but I can post here:

          “Venting can serve various purposes, though. For me, venting about an incident lets me feel better and then move on to other things with a clear head (in the short run). It’s also useful in the long run, not as a reality check but as a pattern-finder. When I’ve vented several times about a similar subject (though usually different incidents), I start to pick up the pattern. “Why does she have to edit every document 3 times even though she’s the only one who made changes last time?!”

          “If there’s a tactic I can try to change the thing that is annoying me, I’ll usually try it. If not, it moves into the realm of a standing joke, which makes life easier. I start sharing that with coworkers as well, “Well, we know she’s going to edit twice more, so plan on submission after a week, not a day!” That helps to put a positive attitude on something that you can’t change, even though it’s weird/frustrating, and communicates real work issues to coworkers.

          “But – honest – this comes from the venting in the first place. If I was sitting and stewing silently about it, this process would not happen and the issue would remain a constant annoyance instead of something that rolls off my back.

          “There are certainly times and places to vent, and better and worse ways to do it… but I think you might under-estimate the ways it can be useful – there are, at least, several things that venting can achieve.”

          My post really had two different points, one about venting serving a purpose and the other about advice on hearing venting. If people give ME a reality check while I’m venting, sometimes it draws me up a tad short (in terms of just clearing the frustration) but often is quite useful in seeing if there is a better way to solve the issue, or understand it.

          1. voyager1*

            I see where Althea is coming from. Lots depends on the maturity of the venter and your relationship with them. For some pointing out things like Althea suggests works well, for other folks it is just going to make them even more mad.

            Something to think about in the LW’s situation, Bonnie may see her as a friend hence the venting. Just something to think about.

          2. LBK*

            Eh, I guess this depends a lot on the person – I find venting useless for problem solving because the negativity that accompanies it clouds my ability to really be constructive. I don’t sit and stew, either, though – I ration out whether this is a real problem and if so, if it’s a problem I can do something about. If I can, I do it, and if not, I move on. I don’t like allowing anger and frustration to brew in me, and I feel that’s all that venting does.

            1. Althea*

              I think that’s the key difference. For you, talking about it causes it to stew. For me, it’s keeping it totally internal. That’s cool. I’ve never been totally clear if hearing venting is a problem for either type – I’ve never minded listening to a vent, so long as I tried to be honest with the person if I thought they were missing something. I wonder if people who don’t like to vent are the kind who also don’t like to hear it?

          3. simonthegrey*

            To me, venting serves a purpose in letting off an immediate burst of frustration. I work with students with a lot of pretty severe challenges, and sometimes when you have used up your entire repertoire and the student is still sitting, staring, and waiting for you to give the answers, it can be VERY hard to reign in your frustration. Venting – to another tutor who understands my frustration at the institutions that lead students here and sometimes at the students themselves – helps me release that safely so I don’t release it ON A STUDENT, which would be terrible. I realize it can be possible to stew (especially if a student has repeated behavior, or is tutor-shopping – but mostly venting allows me to present a neutral and helpful face to the students and take my frustrations and irritations elsewhere.

  9. TootsNYC*

    OP, I want to give you HUGE HUGE props for -not- taking all these complaints to Meredith.

    You’ve apparently been a dead-end for those complaints, and that’s such a huge service to Bonnie, and to Meredith. You deserve a major pat on the back.

    I had a situation in which I did not work well w/ my boss. It was devastating to me; I’d never been in that situation, and I felt totally imperiled. I shared my feelings, and some of the details of interactions, with a friend who’d worked with us both at different times. And I shared my frustrations with my close colleagues.
    Note that in all my conversations about this, I also shared the ways I felt I was letting my boss down; that she deserved to have someone she trusted in my role, and I apparently wasn’t that person.

    She called me in and said, “I’ve discovered you’ve been badmouthing me to our mutual friends.” So somehow, those comments–which I wouldn’t have considered badmouth at all, and I didn’t really think of them as griping–got back to her, with a spin on them that made ME look bad.
    I felt really guilty about having had those conversations–until a friend outside the situation said, “What were they thinking, to repeat that to her?” I still felt stupid, but I also realized that the people who’d carried her the things I’d shared as if they were gossip were more at fault than I was.

    So–I think you should feel that you have been very honorable by not repeating any of Bonnie’s complaints to Meredith. And if anything comes up, you might assure Bonnie of that.

    1. NickelandDime*

      That’s a really messed up situation. I also think the gossipers were more to blame here than you. You made a bad call and trusted folks that you shouldn’t have – but we’ve all done that. These people went out of their way to repeat portions of conversations to your manager, knowing it would cause problems, and that they know you assumed were confidential. I’m also sure they edited out things that they said to you. This is why I stand by my original statement about being careful about venting at work. You might say something to the wrong person, or someone might overhear you.

    2. chickenslacks*

      I know that venting is bad and shouldn’t be done at work but I had a situation were I was completely frustrated with my manager and I first tried to discuss the problem with him, he did nothing to change the problem and then started ignoring me and any way I tried to contact him. I told a co-worker about this problem. Then someone told my manager’s boss I was bad mouthing my manager. Everything go put on me because my manager was new to managing and I was new to my job.

      Maybe the OP should tell Bonnie if she has a real problem (or at least feels she does) who she needs to contact at your company to resolve the problem. Sometimes people don’t know who to contact and just want someone to hear them and acknowledge that what is happening isn’t good and hope that maybe by telling them something will change.

  10. 2 Cents*

    OP, I understand how you got into this predicament. I once worked at the same company as a friend, who was in management while I was entry level. Though most people knew that we were friends before I joined the company (she made it known that we were college friends), some people didn’t realize it. I certainly didn’t run to tell my friend everything anyone said, and people who found out afterward (bc I didn’t realize they didn’t know), I reassured them that I wasn’t her mole. I did use my unique position to let my friend know of general sentiments — no names, no IDing details, just like “hey that last policy CEO made has thrown a lot of us for a loop.” And she appreciated knowing how morale was. If anyone made comments that seemed like a bigger problem, I tried to encourage them to talk to her / management directly rather than just complain.

  11. Guera*

    I think it’s too late to tell her you are friends with Meredith and it’s too late to tell her you are not comfortable allowing her to vent. At this point both are awkward. I would simply make it no fun to vent to you anymore. Think about how you have responded so far while she’s venting. Are just looking at her with a deadpan look and not saying a word? Not likely. Are you saying things like “hmm, really? Wow! Oh my!” etc….expressions that encourage her without your explicit agreement? I would start responding by turning her negatives into positives. If she is really complaining just to complain that will annoy her. If she is really looking to improve her attitude about the situation she will appreciate it. And depending on your relationship you can just point blank tell her to do something about her situation. I had a coworker who complained incessantly about her boss. She wanted a change but didn’t want to leave the company. I finally told her, gently but firmly, do something about it NOW or you lose the right to continue complaining. She did and was much happier.

    1. HigherEd Admin*

      Just because a conversation will be awkward, doesn’t mean it’s not worth having. The problem with the passive approach of not making venting any fun for her is that it relies on Meredith picking up on hints over time. It’s a solution that may take weeks to come about. Bracing yourself for a potentially awkward conversation resolves the problem within five minutes.

      1. JMegan*

        Right, and in choosing to avoid an awkward conversation with Bonnie now, the OP is setting herself up for *lots* of awkward conversations in the future, as Bonnie continues to vent and the OP continues to feel uncomfortable.

        I think the idea of not engaging with the venting in the first place is a good one, but it’s too late for that now – the time to do that was right away when it first started. Now I think the only option is to take a deep breath and have the one awkward conversation that will (hopefully) put an end to it all.

  12. Macedon*

    I’d be in favour of admitting to your relationship with Meredith and reassuring Bonnie that whatever she has said so far will be held in privacy, but that you would feel more comfortable with not being approached about this in the future.

    If Bonnie finds out about the friendship between OP and Meredith, she’s likely going to feel unnecessarily anxious and perhaps led on, or betrayed. Unfortunately, extended listening counts as a degree of passive endorsement. By becoming a party to Bonnie’s venting, OP has sustained the idea that she is part of a safe space where Bonnie can vent. I’d say it’s for the best to ‘come clean’ and let Bonnie know that whatever’s already gone said will remain in privacy.

  13. Lou*

    You should tell her because she will find out eventually and things will hit the fan.

    This is quite similar to my last work, quite freaky. I’d say I was Bonnie but the letter writer (the person who I confided in) would agree with me and say all these nasty things about her friend to me, then she told my ex boss what I said and didn’t say (which tbh was worse because she almost got me in serious trouble for saying words I didn’t say, good thing I left last friday even though my resignation went up the creek I’ve explained before (because the stress caused me to pass out) and how my ex boss is petty and has no boundaries). I have never told my ex boss what she said about her, I have never told anyone what they have said about each other. It has resulted in me getting all the blame and dislike but I’d do a disservice to myself telling them, and I wouldn’t be helping anyone. I think me taking the blame and leaving was for the best in the circumstance and they can think whatever nasty things about me, about what I didn’t say but I was never going to win. I mean why would she choose her close friend work colleague for years over me her subordinate? I think I took the higher road tbh because I could have told her what she said about her friend, what they all say about her, but I didn’t. I lost two work friends from it but it’s for the best. I could have explained myself, but I didn’t. It wasn’t a good work place to stay in. And it would fix nothing.

    So shut Bonnie down and don’t feed into the negatively and tell her you are friends, and don’t nonchalantly say nothing, because it implies you agree with her.

  14. mcfly85*

    I’m a longtime fan of AAM, de-lurking to say, bravo on the Vampire Diaries reference. ; )

    Also, I’m sympathetic, OP. I’m someone upon whom people tend to vent, even if they’re venting about someone they know I have a good relationship with, or about an issue they know I don’t have similar problems with. I don’t know why. I just try to politely redirect, and I usually say something about not wanting to focus on negativity.

  15. newreader*

    AAM – you stated it’s not a good idea to encourage venting as it can create more unhappiness. I don’t entirely disagree, but wonder about your opinion when the venting has a purpose. I had hired an employee (let’s call her Suzy) in a department I used to manage and (long story short) I left the department six months later because I was feeling overwhelmed and burned out. Because I stayed with the same employer, just in a different department, I’ve stayed in touch with Suzy. She has done a wonderful job in her role and I was able to provide her with support and guidance regarding her job after I left the department – answering questions about tasks and history, etc.

    It’s been a few years now and she doesn’t need as much assistance with work related tasks, just occasional questions on items that aren’t regularly occurring. But we’ve stayed friendly and she will vent about frustrations in her department. Because I know the players and dealt with the exact same frustrations and unreasonable expectations, I empathize with her. I view these conversations as an opportunity for her to safely vent to someone who understands. And then I try to provide suggestions and encouragement for coping. Looking back, I can see some of my mistakes that contributed to my not being successful in that department and attempt to offer Suzy words of wisdom from that perspective.

    Would Suzy be better off if I discouraged any venting and kept our conversations to non-work related items?

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