I’m writing this as a follow-up to my recent post about bully bosses. Unfortunately, even bosses who are not usually bullies might yell in your face at some point. And no matter how valid a reason they think they have, it does not feel good to be the target of all that screaming.
Obviously it feels horrible to be treated that way by anyone. Maybe even more so if it’s a boss you really like who just loses it once in a while. But it’s still not the way you deserve to be treated, bully-all-the-time or not. So what should you do when a boss yells at you?
First a few words about all that yelling
I want you to remember this: When a boss yells at you, it’s about them. Yes, you may be the one all the yelling is aimed at. But it’s the yeller who is reacting inappropriately. And that says something about them — even if you did screw up.
So we’re dealing with someone who has anger issues. Perhaps it’s a one time thing. We all lose it at one time or another. But this is a workplace and managers have a responsibility to not abuse employees — or their power. And yelling at a subordinate is abuse of power, plain and simple.
That said, bosses abuse power in all kinds of ways. Denying you earned time off. Favoritism. Pitting workers against each other. Forcing you to do things you know are wrong. And of course yelling.
Workers need to feel connected
But the thing about yelling and all the other abuses of power are that they are not motivators. In many cases, they result in decreased productivity, even as workers strive to succeed just to avoid punishment.
An employee needs to feel connected. But abusive behaviors distance the employee. This means they go into self-protect mode and are less likely to collaborate or seek organizational solutions that benefit all.
So instead of getting more out of their workers, if a boss yells at you or uses any abusive techniques, they wind up looking worse. The most productive and efficient workplaces are ones that foster cooperation and connectedness.
So why does your boss yell?
The simplest answer is that a boss yells because he or she can get away with it. At least they assume they can in the moment. Or their primal brain takes over and there’s no thought at all involved in the action.
Some reasons why people yell:
- They want to be heard without anyone interrupting
- Some just like to intimidate people
- Yelling is a natural way to assert power / control
- When people feel small inside, they often yell big
- Some have deep triggers that get inflamed by situations / people
- When authority is threatened, a danger response turns into a scream
- And then there are the terrible managers who think loud = strong
- Even feelings of insecurity or fear (of their own inadequacy) can turn into yelling
- And some are just babies who want their own way!
So what do when a boss yells at you?
Well, the first thing you need to do is check your own anger. It’s natural for a person to feel their own temper rise when they’re being yelled at. But there is no way that will help you in the long run.
- Recognize what you are feeling and stay in the moment
- Remind yourself that the person is out of control
- Take a few quiet deep breaths
- Listen to what they’re saying
- Nod and show that you actually are listening
- Don’t flare your nostrils or stare angrily; this may up the attack
- Be as calm as possible while they rant and rave; often that alone helps
- Wait until the person stops screaming before you speak
If the person is being totally abusive and beyond any communication, listen for as long as you can. But if it becomes unbearable, you might try excusing yourself saying you don’t feel well. I’m sure you don’t.
If you make it through the screaming attack, say something bland like “I understand.” And then do your best to get yourself back to safety somewhere.
You’ll want to bring this up later. And hopefully together try to come up with ways to make sure this doesn’t happen again. But not right then.
For more tips on that next meeting:
Some more articles to help