How to vent about work without it backfiring on you

Intra-office venting is difficult to navigate, so we found some seasoned businesspeople to share with us what’s actually acceptable.

Coworkers: We spend eight or more hours a day together, we eat lunch (and clink after-hours drinks) with them, and we share the same struggles. At some point, it’s not only likely but encouraged that a number of them will begin to feel like work friends (or even work wives) — and, consequently, confidants. Unfortunately, unlike with other besties, we shouldn’t necessarily complain to them when it comes to work-related problems. Intra-office venting is difficult to navigate, so we found some seasoned businesspeople to share with us what’s actually acceptable.

1. Leave the personal side out of it (Brittany Larsen, Creator of Livlyhood). “Today, our workplaces are more casual than they’ve ever been, which can blur the lines between professional and personal pretty quickly. My mantra is to make sure that I am friendly with everyone, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m best friends with every coworker. Make sure that if you’re talking about an issue at work that you focus on what actually happened and leave the personal side out of it. Venting is totally fair, but just make sure you are venting about the situation, not gossiping or calling someone names.”

2. Make sure it doesn’t negatively impact your work (Steve Pritchard, HR Consultant forCuuver). “Within reason, complaining about work to other coworkers is generally acceptable. Most of us do it at some point; work can get stressful during busy periods, and venting this stress is often more helpful than letting it build up inside of us. However, this must not occur to such an extent that it begins to have a negative impact on work. Being too negative can bring down other employees’ morale, which consequently impacts their productivity. Making your feelings known is fine, but if you complain too much, your coworkers will end up complaining about your complaining.”

3. Complain to someone objective (Alex Douzet, Co-Founder of Ollie). “The best thing is to seek advice from someone who’s removed from the situation or source of complaint. If you have a mentor or someone you look up to within the company, speak with them. As someone who understands the inner workings of the company, they’ll be able to give you unbiased advice. And don’t discount the curative effects of venting to family and friends! And if your coworker is the source of your frustration, then speak with them directly. That way, you’ll have a better chance of fixing the situation together rather than getting others involved and potentially making things worse and creating an unhealthy, hostile work environment.”

4. Be careful of your audience (Will Craig, Founder of LeaseFetcher). “Some degree of complaining about work is inevitable. After all, who hasn’t been frustrated when a phone system crashes or when the internet doesn’t work? The point at which that complaining turns unprofessional is if it’s done in front of a client or customer or if it’s about a specific member of staff. If you have a problem with someone and their work conduct, raise your concerns in an appropriate way.”

5. Read the room/office culture (Peter Yang, Co-Founder of ResumeGo). “Whether complaining to your coworkers about work is okay is always dependent on the work culture of the office as well as the type of relationship you have with them. If it’s someone you’ve gotten to know over the years, their image of you is already cemented and a few complaints here and there aren’t going to change a thing. If, instead, the coworker is someone you just met last month or maybe even your boss, it’s not worth running the risk of damaging your image to them by complaining.”

6. Vent to people outside of work (Nick Kinports, Entrepreneur and Founder oflonelybrand). “Having owned businesses and worked for others, I can say, without prejudice, that nothing good will ever come from speaking negatively about your job. The best-case scenario is that nobody will bring it up ever again. Worst case? You’re setting yourself up to be undermined — and you might never know why. Keep work complaints that aren’t related to HR issues to your spouse, partner, therapist, or family. That way you know you can speak freely, let out the stress, and keep peace of mind when on the job.”

This article was originally published on Brit + Co.