how to deal with a coworker yelling at other coworkers, when I’m the team lead but not the manager

A reader writes:

I am team leader on an events team in a university in Europe. I am in charge of running the event, which means directing the work of my two permanent team members (“Angela” and “Julia”). However, my boss is the manager of all three of us and carries out performance reviews, approves time off, etc. In addition to the two permanent staff, I recruit 10 student assistants for several months before and during each event. I am the manager of the student assistants as I hire, manage their work, deal with performance issues, and fire if necessary. So I am team lead for the permanent staff and manager for the temporary staff, which can be confusing. Nevertheless, I try to create a team atmosphere where we all work together.

We organize two big events per year. These are quite stressful to run. During the event, one of my student assistants, “Kevin,” told me that one of the permanent staff, “Angela,” had shouted at him for something that went wrong. It is the nature of working in events that things do not always go according to plan. This particular mistake was in a schedule that Kevin had worked on. I supervised his work and should have noticed it before the event, but didn’t. When Angela noticed the mistake, she blamed Kevin and shouted at him, to the extent that he was quite upset (which is very unusual for him, as he is a calm person). To me, this was a small error, which was solved during the event. I spoke to Angela at the time, as I wanted her to be aware that her shouting at Kevin had upset him, and it was not only his fault. She reacted very badly, cried, and shouted at me for “talking behind her back,” but then eventually calmed down and apologized to Kevin, which solved the immediate situation.

However, after the event, my other permanent team member, “Julia,” told me that three other student assistants had complained to her that Angela had also shouted at them during the event.

We will work with most of the student assistants again, and I value our good team spirit, so I do not want someone to be showing behavior that disrupts this. If one of my student assistants had done this, I would definitely speak to them and explain that shouting at others was not acceptable even when stressed, ask them to explain, and agree not to do it again. However, it seems more complicated as I am the team leader for Angela, not her manager. I am not ultimately in charge of her performance, just her work. I am reluctant to go to our manager as that seems to be blowing the issue out of proportion. But Angela reacted very badly when I spoke to her before. It’s also been three weeks. What would be the best course of action?

Well, someone needs to have a serious conversation with Angela.

It’s reasonable for you, as the team lead and the person supervising her work, to have that conversation — just as you did earlier, when you heard she had yelled at Kevin. Her reaction there — shouting (again!) and accusing you of “talking behind her back” — was inappropriate, and ideally you would have told her that on the spot, as well as explained that it’s your job to talk to student workers about this kind of thing.

However, at this point, you’ve heard that she has yelled at four different people. Actually, five, since she yelled at you when you tried to talk to her about it. That’s enough of a concern that it’s time to loop your manager in. This is important information that your manager needs to have about a behavior pattern of someone she manages. That’s not “blowing the issue out of proportion”; that’s giving your manager information that she needs to have in order to do her own job effectively.

And to be clear, routinely yelling at people is a pretty serious issue. I’d actually argue it’s a big deal if it only happens once. Happening five times is quite serious, and your manager needs to be told so she can address it (or so that the two of you can jointly address it).

{ 95 comments… read them below }

  1. I am now a llama*

    I’d wonder if Angela’s “friend”, Dwight, can calm her down… Hehe

    All jokes aside, I completely agree with Alison. Yelling at coworker’s for a mistake? Not cool.

    1. Nervous Accountant*

      Oh gosh, I had a horrible flashback to a job where a subordinate yelled at ME (she reported to me) in front of a client….. horrible horrible people.

      I so so soooo wish I’d discovered AAM just a few months before when I did, it could have saved me so much grief.

  2. Dawn*

    Is this type of behavior typical or atypical of Angela? If this was the first time you’ve ever witnessed her acting like this, then I think it’d be good as team lead to take her aside and ask her if there’s anything going on that might explain the sudden change in behavior. Coming to her as a colleague who is concerned for her personal welfare could go a long way towards lowering her defenses and getting a reasonable explanation for her behavior. If there is a personal reason behind the behavior then coming to her with an attitude of concern will make going to your manager look a lot better from Angela’s perspective and will frame the conversation in a much different light than “Hey Manager, Angela is a total jerkface and yelled at a bunch of people.”

    1. Letter writer*

      It’s not typical behaviour for Angela, she does get very stressed but I have not seen her yell at anyone before. She does have some personal stuff going on, which I do understand but still want to get across that she can’t take it out on others.

        1. eplawyer*

          You didn’t see her yell at anyone this time either. You only know about it because people were sufficiently upset about it to mention it to you. So you don’t know how many times it has happened before.

          That means Angela knows darn well not to do it in front of the person who can call her out on her behavior. You notice she is only yelling at the students, not the other permanent team member.

          This is not “personal stuff” going on, this is a power play. She can yell at students (subordinates in her eyes), not peers or bosses. Until caught of course, then it is all your fault, not hers.

          1. MegEB*

            I don’t know that it’s fair to assume that this is a power play. The OP has stated that there’s personal issues in Angela’s life, so I think it’s fair to assume that the OP is correct and there is, in fact, personal issues at play. It’s also completely reasonable (and doable) to approach Angela with this in mind – “Angela, it’s come to my attention that you’ve yelled at several other staff members. I know you’re going through some tough times, and I’m happy to provide whatever support I can in this matter, but the yelling needs to stop.” I think the major key to this is being sympathetic (which will help the OP work smoothly with Angela), yet firm (which will convey the message that the behavior is unacceptable).

            1. Shell*

              I think it certainly qualifies as an unconscious power play at the very least. Most of us know we have to put on a polite face towards outsiders. But when that mask slips, it’s often towards people whom we know we can safely do so: pets, family, spouse, etc.

              Coworkers are people you should remain professional towards even if you’re having a bad day/week/whatever. The fact that these are students doesn’t change the fact that Angela needs to be professional towards them. Angela feels “safe” in losing her self-control towards these students, which is her using her authority/power whether or not she’s consciously doing so. You don’t see her losing it at her actual manager, do you? OP is a team lead and doesn’t have disciplinary authority, so Angela lost it at OP too.

              Until Angela loses it at management, I feel justified in saying Angela is freaking out at people she doesn’t think can discipline her and hence safe to yell at.

            2. Observer*

              I would say that you could be right – but still this seems to be a pattern. And, that means that it’s time for the supervisor to get pulled in.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            I agree that Angela has enough of her thoughts collected not to yell in front of or at the team lead and the big boss. Although, she did finally yell at OP when confronted by OP.
            It could just be me, but it seems that Angela looks around before she blows her cool to see if anyone important is in earshot, also.

      1. Dawn*

        Oh yeah, she definitely needs a sit-down with the boss and a serious discussion about appropriate behavior in the workplace. I was thinking from a “I will still have to work with this woman” standpoint, how you can bring it up to her with a tone that conveys respect and concern and not come across like “Imma tattle on youuuu!!!”

        1. Not So NewReader*

          “Yelling at coworkers is not appropriate unless the place is on fire or something then you yell to say ‘Get out! NOW!’ It’s just not professional behavior and it is not acceptable here at Teapots R Us. It creates a negative work environment and detracts from the company’s efforts here. This is your verbal warning that any further incidents will be reported to our Department Head.”

          As far as “I still have to work with this woman”, OP is her immediate supervisor, not her peer and not her best friend, which OP can state just this way. Matter of fact, if OP wants to be a good supervisor to this woman then OP will tell her to nip the behavior before it becomes a larger issue. “I am not your peer and I am not your best friend. To be a good supervisor to you, I need to inform you of what the company expects from all of us. “

      2. Kadee*

        That’s exactly why you should follow Alison’s advice and speak to your manager about this. It’s not blowing things out of proportion because if Angela is yelling at your student assistants because personal problems are impacting her at work, it’s unlikely that it will only present itself in the form of yelling at you or your student assistants. Her manager can address this issue in general terms in ways that will likely be more successful, such as suggesting outside resources to help her deal with her personal issues.

    2. TootsNYC*

      This is part of what my boss did with me the time I yelled at someone.
      “Of course it’s unacceptable, and I’m glad you recognize that; I knew that you would realize how wrong it was. But what I’m most worried about it, this is not like you. What’s going on, and what can we do?”

      And she was right–I was particularly stressed at that point. There was pressure that felt extreme and unfair, about something I was powerless to affect.

  3. Apollo Warbucks*

    You have seniority even without managerial authority. You can still still standards of behaviour within the team and as these are students who I assume are new to work place I think you would have an obligation to speak to her about the yelling even if you were peers.

    I don’t see much complicated about dealing with this, I’d have a conversation with Angela’s boss and let them know what has been happening and that you purpose telling Angela very clearly that yelling at people is not on and doesn’t fit the team culture you want to build and you will tell her it must not happen again under any circumstance and see how the boss reacts and find out what they think and if they are on the same page as you about consequences.

    Then have the conversation with Angela and get the boss to handle it if it comes up again.

  4. TootsNYC*

    I think when it involves your direct reports, or your direct supervision of a specific event, you have every authority to talk to Angela.
    It’s best perhaps to say, “Hey–don’t yell at people. This is hard enough; we need to treat one another well” instead of “Yelling is unacceptable and you are wrong.”

    So what you did was totally right.

    Now you’re dealing with a “not in the moment” situation, PLUS you have evidence that Angela doesn’t regard you as having the authority to “talk behind your back.”
    Now is the time to give your manager the information needed to do her job.

    Yelling at people is serious. Really. It’s serious.
    I’ve yelled at someone at work twice (over many years–it’s not like I do it all the time–but volume is sometimes a way of handling stress for me). It was really damaging. To everyone. And then it was damaging to me because I got in serious trouble for it. (my point: it’s damaging to everyone even if the yeller never gets disciplined for it. But many companies will discipline someone for it–and rightly so! I deserved everything I got.)

    1. AnonaMoose*

      I got yelled at a couple of times at OldJob. And it was ALWAYS because they had personal work issues going on at the time (one was demoted, the other was yelled at by a client for something that was out of our control) and they saw both saw me as an outlet. Apparently I have that face that you want to punch, I dunno. BUT, I will say that both times I had to speak up about it, they were not the type to apologize, and HR almost got involved in one instance (dude, if you’re going to rip me a new one, don’t do it in front of ALL the staff, too many witnesses, idiot), and the other time completely ruined what was a really good working relationship up until that point.

      Words hurt, not just sticks and stones, kiddies!

  5. TootsNYC*

    You know, this letter brings up a whole “when you appoint a team lead” question of authority. Managers who appoint team leads need to be out in front of thiis.

    I often leave my full-timers in charge of the department (“Susie has the conn”), and I do count on them to get me information from that time so I can use it to keep us all performing well. I may need to check in a little more proactively lately, to underline the idea that I -want- to hear from them stuff like, “Wakeen takes tasks to do, and then takes a bread in the middle of it instead of powering through” or “Jane is really slow” or “Other Department Head was upset about XYZ” and yes, “Angela has been yelling at people.”

    I’ll say this, too: Even if Angela had only yelled at Kevin, I would want you to tell me, if I were Manager to your Team Lead.

      1. AnonaMoose*

        Is it? I think if you’re so stressed (outside of the Event) that you’re regularly yelling at coworkers, that there is probably an underlying issue that needs to be resolved. It could be hormonal (been there!), familial pressure, really anything, but once someone is at a point that they’re constantly exploding – ya, it might be time for professionals.

        1. AnonaMoose*

          And I say this as someone who has been Angela, kinda. My explosions were inward, but they were there – and visible to others.

    1. Anna*

      The only thing we know she needs at this point is to check her behavior and adjust it so that it’s appropriate.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      To me yelling is a way of saying, “I lack the skill set necessary to deal with this problem.” It could be that Angela needs training in how to handle particular types of problems. Or she needs to be told what is expected from her when she encounters X type situation or Y type urgent issue.

      But OP has also said that Angela is having personal issues right now. It could be that a couple sessions of EAP would help. Or it may be that something larger is necessary.

      One thing that I see is that Angela does not seem to understand that OP is her supervisor. And that should be addressed by their boss.
      OP can also point out that people are allowed to report other people for things that are causing discomfort in the work place. Angela should know that it is to be expected that if someone yells at another person, then that person can report the yelling person. I have found that just by making this statement problems can be brought to a resolve.

      I try to find out what trigger the undesirable behavior, what was going on when the yelling happened. Sometimes that can bring a problem to light that cannot be ignored and needs management to resolve it. We had one frustrating situation go on for a long period of time at one place I worked. One day the boss sat us all down, because we all had problems with the situation. Long story short, we did not have the authority to handle the situation. Our boss stepped in and fixed it for once and for all. The whole sit down discussion started because one of us had a huge blow up over the problem while others only had moderate difficulty with the situation. This could be the case for Angela, too. Others are handling the difficulty and limping along but Angela lost her cool over it.

  6. Charityb*

    It might help if the manager focuses on the inappropriateness of yelling at people rather than on the, “I’ve received four complaints about this already,” part. I’ve noticed that sometimes when someone is confronted with an allegation that they mistreated a specific person in some way, their focus becomes on how that person betrayed them/tattled/got them in trouble and not on their behavior.

    1. fposte*

      Sure, but it’s trivial to resist such attempts to derail. “That’s not the concern right now, Angela; we’re talking about your behavior, and I’m going to need you to keep your focus on that for this conversation.” If she can’t, that’s a problem in its own right.

      1. Charityb*

        You’re absolutely right, but I wasn’t just talking about during the conversation with the manager but afterward. Remember that letter from a few weeks ago about the woman who was always borrowing money and taking food from coworkers? When the manager confronted her with a specific coworker’s complaints, the woman later went after one of the people who complained and started berating them.

        I’m not saying that Angela will do that, or that she will derail the conversation with the manager, but you don’t want her (after the conversation) to start focusing on the fact that someone complained instead of the fact that she behaved inappropriately.

        Definitely make the complaints part of the dialogue, but don’t say something like, “I don’t want to hear any more complaints about this again,” The issue isn’t that someone reported it; the issue is that it happened to begin with, and the behavior wouldn’t be acceptable even if the student assistant had kept quiet. (Just as in that other letter it wouldn’t be OK for the woman to steal food from her coworkers even if the coworkers didn’t complain about it).

        1. some1*

          Right, it’s a good idea for the LW to make clear that her employees bringing her concerns is not “talking behind her back.”

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Yep. The employees have a right to bring complaints to their supervisor. It’s fine to say, “When X happens, people will report that X happened. Because X is not acceptable/professional behavior. Going forward, if you do X, expect that someone will report it. Likewise, if you see someone doing X you may report it yourself. X is not acceptable, period.”

            I worked in a place where everyone reported everything, all the time. It was, um, interesting to watch. However, it was always the same type of complaints. The people who did not do those behaviors did not get reported. After a new person had been there for a little bit, the patterns were clear: do not do x, y or z, if you do someone WILL definitely report you.

  7. Brett*

    A team I work with sometimes has a team lead who yells at his team in horrible ways (cornering them in their cubicles and screaming at them for 10-20 minutes straight).

    This resulted in me requesting to my manager that I never work onsite with them again and to limit my contact with their team. He does not even want their lead or manager emailing me directly anymore because of it. As a result, all of their projects that required my help went downhill fast. (And they decided I was undependable and cut me out anyway, which I am not the slightest bit upset about.)

    Word of this team lead’s behavior has spread throughout the organization, and as a result they are getting less and less work from within the organization. Point being, this kind of behavior out of employees will not only hurt your own team, but can damaged your reputation throughout your organization.

    1. TootsNYC*

      That’s a point to make to Angela: “It’s not just that this is greatly unfair and rude to whoever you’re yelling at. And it’s not just that it’s unproductive, because it just makes them defensive. It’s also very damaging to you–people will not trust you, they will not promote you, they will not reach out to you with opportunities.”

    2. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

      I was at an event a few years ago where I watched the event manager scream at volunteers. It was the last thing I’ve ever done without nonprofit and definitely the last time I gave the money. I was at an event a few years ago where I watched the event manager scream at volunteers. It was the last thing I’ve ever done without nonprofit and definitely the last time I gave them money.

      I think people don’t always think about how even just observations of behaviors can change her coworkers or outsiders position.

      1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

        I really don’t know what happened to this post except I was on my phone:

        *I was at an event a few years ago where I watched the event manager scream at volunteers. It was the last thing I’ve ever done with that nonprofit and definitely the last time I gave them money.

      2. More Cake, Please*

        Yes. We are not as anonymous as we think. I recently heard about an incident of a grocery store owner screaming at the staff working at the coffee shop in the parking lot–who work for a totally different company. That grocery store will NOT be getting my business ever again. I’m happy to support local business, but I refuse to support local abuse.

        Once I was viciously cut off in traffic by a person who had the info of their massage business plastered all over their rear window. I was so tempted to leave a nasty Google review for the business… but then realized I was devoted way too much emotional energy to the whole incident and it was time to move on.

    3. Betsy*

      My first boss was a yeller, and the reason why I quit. One time we were running an event together at a fancy restaurant, with high-profile guests. While we were setting up, I noticed that some protesters had convened outside the restaurant to protest the fois gras. I spoke to them, and they said that they had been there every single night for months. They had a legal right to protest and weren’t bothering or accosting anyone – just standing peacefully with signs. Anyway, awhile later, my boss came to me in a panic about the protesters outside, afraid they were going to “ruin the event.” I said, “Oh, I talked to them. It’s okay, they’re here every night and they don’t bother anyone.” My boss looked at me square in the face and said, “Betsy. You. Are. An. Idiot.” She then proceeded to explode at me about the whole situation. This was the last straw in a series of uncomfortable incidents. I finished up my mandatory duties at the event that night, and then quit.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        When people don’t know what finesse and tact look like, then they do not recognize it when it is in front of them. A normal boss would have been thrilled with how well you handled that.

  8. Anon4This*

    At my job, there’s a team (Teapot Communications) with very high turnover; everyone other than the manager and assistant manager has left in the past 18 months. The reason is the manager and assistant manager are both yellers AND belittlers as well as being workaholics who expect others to work as long as they do.

    Since I’m in Teapot Creative Services, I often work with the two employees left on the team, and have heard demoralizing comments made to them and seen really harsh criticism in documents we jointly work on. (Both employees do their jobs well and are very knowledgeable; one even got a gift basket from a team she helped with a long, complex project.)

    I have not witnessed the yelling because I sit across the building, but others who sit by the team have mentioned it and one of the team employees told me about a couple of incidents. Both of the employees want to leave and likely will in the next few months. If neither of them raises the problem (and no one leaving before them has) and our department director never witnesses it, is there any way for me to raise it? Our office doesn’t like downers or complainers, which is what this would be seen as. But as long as their behavior is uncorrected, we’ll keep losing good people and costing the company as a result of turnover.

    1. Batshua*

      I am very not an expert, but couldn’t you just go to HR with what you just told us? I mean, sure, they’d need the yellees to corroborate it, but it’d be a start.

    2. Cheesehead*

      Anon4This, I would bring it up as bad for morale. I had to do that once with a coworker. We were on a help desk, so we were all in one large room and took calls from clients around the building (coworkers). My coworker would frequently complain about people, how they didn’t do things correctly, how they didn’t listen, whatever. And if she wasn’t complaining about coworkers, it was her stepdaughter, husband, the phone company, the grocery store….whatever. It got to be really hard to listen to, all the time. So I brought it up to my manager that the constant negativity was the issue and it was really bad for morale, for the overall environment in that room, to hear her complaining all the time. And the complaints about people who were her coworkers, who she was supposed to be helping? Yeah, not cool. And my supervisor, herself, gleaned the other part of the issue without me having to say a word…she asked me “and it makes you wonder what she’s saying about you when you’re not there?” Well, yeah….couldn’t disagree with that one.

    3. TootsNYC*

      If you’ve got an HR department of -any- level of professionalism, I would think that yes, you can go to them and say, “This is what I’m hearing from credible sources, and we have already lost so many people. I’m worried we’ll lose the two good people we’ve currently got, and that team will be in constant churn.”

      I’d also say, “also, it’s very upsetting to work at a place where this sort of nastiness by a manager and other superior goes unchecked.”

    4. AW*

      Our office doesn’t like downers or complainers, which is what this would be seen as.

      Then your office has decided that it’s OK with losing good people. There’s no way that no one has noticed that practically an entire team left in the last 18 months.

      1. Mike C.*

        Yes, this. The idea that people who are raising concerns are “complainers” or “downers” or “spending negative energy” or whatnot are simply being dismissive of criticism that needs to be dealt with.

      2. Anon4This*

        Yes, I believe you’ve summed it up. I’m sure they know there’s a problem (continually having to hire for that team), but no one above this manager has done anything.

        Thanks for the advice, everyone. When poking around our intranet, I saw we can report anonymously if we want. A friend at a previous company suffered negative career consequences when she reported pretty egregious incidents so I’m wary of having reprisals despite a formal no-retaliation policy. And my team was spun off from the Teapot Comms team before I started (probably to keep people with a more specialized skill set from leaving) so I don’t want to get pulled into working for these people when their employees inevitably leave.

        1. Anon4This*

          They’re careful to cultivate a different image among their peers and bosses. They confine their abuse to their team, so if you’re on other teams that don’t deal with them, you might not know.

          But, yes, it is weird.

    5. Anna*

      Someone who yells and belittles employees is the exact definition of a downer. And going to HR about managers who yell is not complaining; it’s shining light on abusive behavior.

    6. 2horseygirls*

      I am NOT an attorney of any sort, but have been reading up on workplace bullying. A team with that high of a turnover rate should already be on HR’s radar in 800 foot neon red. The term that applies is called “negligent retention”, and the company may be held liable for retaining the abusive manager and assistant manager.

      1. Anon4This*

        2horseygirls, thanks for sharing that — never heard that term before. In this environment, the manager and assistant manager appear to be “forgiven” because they’re competent and do a ton of work. (They have to, obviously, since everyone leaves. They work crazy hours.) This is not right, but I guess the company is more concerned about short-term productivity rather than long-term ramifications.

  9. NotaPartyPlanner*

    As a senior events professional, I will say that anyone who behaves like this at an event is unlikely to be able to succeed long-term in any events role. That behavior is NEVER acceptable. Successful event professionals have to have the mindset of: whatever happens during the course of the event, my focus is to support my teammates to ensure that the event is successful for the client, university, or whomever. Positivity is the number one priority regardless of circumstance.

    This behavior to me is a huge red flag about her ability to handle stress.

    1. Mallory Janis Ian*

      Exactly. So many mishaps at an event can be fixed behind the scenes without the participants even realizing that it wasn’t supposed to happen that way; an unflappable, resourceful event staff constitutes 99% of that illusion. Acting stressed and coming emotionally undone is not only unprofessional, but it also calls undue attention to little mistakes that may otherwise have gone unnoticed.

    2. Sassy AAE*

      Absolutely. Event planning is 50 percent detail-oriented, and 50 percent letting things go. I’ve barely started my event management career and already I’ve run into some pretty weird last minute requests (last time I had to run out and buy red ribbon to rewrap 60 cookie gift bags because the blue ribbon was a competitors brand color.)

      You really need to be able to roll with the punches and pull people in, rather than excluding them.

    3. HM in Atlanta*

      Any so many event staff are independent contractors or short-time staff that can pick and choose which event teams they’ll work with. The best of these won’t work with the Angelas of the world.

    4. Dynamic Beige*

      This is one of the issues I have with Rex, whom I have spoke of before here. Rex is a client of mine and runs his own agency, but he also has a lot of other commitments. When he’s confronted with things he doesn’t like and he’s stressed, it gets ugly. I have not had the full ugly directed at me (yet), but I have come across the aftermath a few times. In one instance, another supplier was AWOL for almost an hour. When they returned, I could tell something was wrong, really wrong. Turned out that this person hadn’t read Rex’s mind in the right way at the right time and got yelled at for being incompetent. They said in doing their job for over a decade, no one had ever spoken to them like that and they were outside on their phone with their account rep being talked down from walking off the job. So I spent an hour telling this person that it wasn’t just them, telling them some jokes, asking about their family, what their favourite TV shows were, to get them back into a better mood. It is literally so bad that many people have refused to be put on another job with Rex.

      The thing is that Rex only yells at those who are either his employees or other subordinates. So, it is calculated enough that he lets the pressure build until he finds the “right” victim he can take down — one that can’t fight back fire with fire. If it were truly an issue of lack of self-control, Rex would have blown up at someone who could have negatively impacted his business — a client or head supplier.

      I suspect it’s the same thing with Angela. She’s got stuff going on and she can’t blow up at one of the permanent team members, so she took it out on the kids because they can’t fight back. Yes, something must be done because if Angela’s got something going on like a parent who is sick or her husband left her that is a somewhat temporary stressor, then maybe she can learn that this behaviour isn’t acceptable. If she doesn’t and this is just how she is when she gets stressed but no one has had the guts to bring it up before, that’s a horse of another colour. It’s another thing entirely if the thing that is stressing her out is the job — she’s holding on to resentments over not being Team Lead on events instead of LW or poor compensation or something else. If this is how she is when she manages subordinates, then until she can unlearn this behaviour, she shouldn’t have subordinates.

    5. Honeybee*

      And it’s especially bad in event planning because things ALWAYS go wrong in event planning. I mean any events professional should expect and be able to adapt to changing needs during the planning for and execution of an event. I know that just from organizing some conferences as a graduate student. You have to make it look like you meant to do that while putting out the fires.

  10. Laurel Gray*

    Alison, thank you for acknowledging that yelling at others in the workplace is a serious issue. It really sucks that some people have been so exposed to Old Yellers that they actually think that this “personality type” (uhhh no!) is okay and can be handled by certain types in the work place. *I can’t think of a single nature of business where yelling at someone immediately changes an outcome, improves morale, performance, revenues, salaries, and the list goes on. Yelling is only for the satisfaction of the Yeller and all signs point to NOPE.

    *Oh wait – in reality TV world Gordon Ramsey can drop a few f-bombs and magically pan seared scallops aren’t overcooked and Jillian Michaels can yell the drive and motivation to drop 75 lbs into someone. Hmmmm…

  11. brownblack*

    I had a boss whose routine yelling was so over the top, and came at such exquisitely inappropriate moments, that it was almost funny. But just almost.

  12. HM in Atlanta*

    Depending on where you are in Europe, a repeated behavior like this might fall under some of the bullying statutes (especially if left unchecked).

  13. Jerzy*

    As team lead, isn’t it your responsibility to act as your manager’s eyes and ears on what’s working and what’s not, including the relationships of the members of your team? If you hadn’t already attempted to discuss the problem with Angela, I’d say try that first. Since you did and that didn’t prove effective (she yelled at you during a discussion about yelling being a problem), then moving this up to your manager seems your obvious next move.

    Don’t offer your own personal judgement about her behavior, just lay out the facts (she yelled at several student workers, student workers became upset, you talked to her about it, she yelled at you) and let your manager make the call on how to move forward.

    1. adonday veeah*

      Bullying statutes.

      Heads up, America, these are headed our way! Before you know it, we won’t be able to discriminate against ’em OR treat ’em like crap!

      And doesn’t it just suck that we have to wait for it to be come law before we stop being asses to each other?

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Way, way over due.

        I tried showing a bully boss what bullying behavior was defined as, not only was she a bully but she let others on her staff bully people, also. It went right over her head.

  14. Mephyle*

    It may seem weird, possibly irrelevant, that I focus on a linguistic issue, but I bring it up in case it may also be complicating things. Everyone is talking about Angela “yelling”. OP said “shouting”. To most of us, they are the same. To me, they are the same, too.

    But I have found out that to some, “shouting” literally means “scolding”, not “yelling.” I figured this out after multiple episodes of being accused of “shouting” simply for saying unwelcome things that I would describe as scolding or expressing my non-acceptance of particular behaviours, even when I did it at a low, conversational volume. (This was in personal, not work situations.) I could say “I’m not shouting,” with all sincerity because I was talking normally, or even quietly, but it cut no ice, because the word meant something different to the hearer than to the speaker.

    OP, are these interactions taking place in English or in a different language? And when Angela shouted at you, was she yelling?

    1. fposte*

      I’m not sure of your differentiation here either—are you talking about a loudly raised voice vs. the content of the message?

      1. Lisa*

        I’ve noticed this with my student workers and interns, who are in the 18-23 age range – they often say that someone “yelled” when they mean “told” or “corrected”. I have had to ask for more precise language in the workplace so that I can tell if a customer is actually raising thier voice at my staff, or just saying something they didn’t want to hear. It’s weird for me, but I adapted assuming it’s a cultural/generational thing since we are from the same region.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I use “yelled” to mean scolding, justified or unwarranted scoldings, either type. I’m a baby boomer. It sounds like something that has been passed down through generations now. In any case, I use it to describe an situation that is very, very uncomfortable. It’s out beyond “a discussion” or “a mix-up”, I use it to indicate there was a problem of significance.

    2. Beezus*

      That’s odd! I’ve used “yelled at” as a term to indicate scolding, with or without a raised voice. “Shouting”, to me, always indicates volume.

      1. Anna*

        Same. I will say “I got yelled at about X” if I had a conversation with someone about something that went wrong. Even a conversation in a normal speaking volume. If someone is shouting, there is really only one thing they can be doing.

      2. T3k*

        Same. If I say someone yelled at me, usually it means they got on to me about something, usually in a slightly raised voice. Sometimes, in place of using “yell” I’ll say “they told me off.” Shouting, though, is a whole other ballpark.

      3. LBK*

        Likewise. I’ve described something said to me in email as getting yelled at; I wouldn’t describe it as getting shouted at.

      4. AW*

        Same here. Maybe this is regional? But Mephyle brings up a good point that they should clarify whether the issue is volume and/or what’s being said.

    3. Mephyle*

      To me, both shouting and yelling mean talking at a loud volume. The context may also imply the content of the message. For example, there is no doubt from OP’s account that Angela was talking in an unacceptable way to OP and the four students. In a different context, “shouting” or “yelling” (to me) could mean simply raised volume. E.g. “I heard voices and I realized the rescue party was getting close to where I was trapped in the rocks so I shouted/yelled as loud as I could.”

      Why do I bring this up? Because if OP and Angela are using different definitions of “yelling” and “shouting”, the necessary talking-to could get derailed on definitions; “It is unacceptable to shout at co-workers, as you did on occasion 1, occascion 2, and occasion 3.” “I wasn’t shouting.” “But you were, you even shouted at me.” “But I wasn’t shouting.” And so on.

    4. Letter writer*

      It was all taking place in English but for some people concerned that is their second language. I used shouting to mean “telling off at raised volume”.

      Angela should not have been telling any of the student assistants off anyway as she does not supervise them.

  15. hbc*

    “I am reluctant to go to our manager as that seems to be blowing the issue out of proportion.”

    Then keep it in proportion. “I just wanted to let you know that one student reported directly to me that Angela yelled at him, and three others complained to Julia. I spoke to Angela about the first case before I knew of the others. She reacted pretty badly initially, but eventually apologized. I’m not sure whether or not you want to bring it up since there hasn’t been an incident since I talked to her, but I thought you should know.”

    1. Nom d' Pixel*

      Yep. A good boss will want to know if there is a disruptive member of the team, especially if that person repeats bad behavior.

  16. Dr. Johnny Fever*

    This is the world I navigate – I manage my team’s delivery, but I do not do performance reviews. I have found in this situation that one has as much authority as one is willing to assume.

    In this situation, you’re coming from a perspective that the performance issue isn’t your job. As a lead, you can make this your job. You are a lead for a reason, and that comes with certain leadership expectations – you may not write reviews, but you still have to manage performance to achieve quality in the delivery. You have abdicated your ability to manage the situation.

    This is an opportunity for you to set things straight with Angela and show that performance is part of delivery. It’s also an opportunity to show that you can handle these situations independently and can achieve results, demonstrating that you are ready for a role that specifics the authority you hold.

    I’d suggest talking to your manager, but not from the standpoint of asking permission. Explain the facts, explain that you’ve approached Angela without seeing results, and note the course of action you wish to follow. Ask your manager for input on the approach. Come to an agreement on handling things – hopefully, your manager will appreciate the effort you’ve put in and provide support to you.

    Good luck!

    1. LBK*

      I agree to an extent, but I really don’t think OP can sit Angela down and say “This is my non-negotiable expectation for your behavior, is that an expectation you can meet?” the way she could if she truly had authority over her. Those conversations work because the implicit agreement being made is Angela does her job and then the OP doesn’t discipline her, but that’s an empty agreement because the OP doesn’t have the power to hold up that end of the agreement – she can’t discipline her whether she follows the OP’s directions or not. In this case it’s more like managing up, where you have to use things like benefit language and leading questions to essentially get the person to come to your conclusion on their own.

      1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

        Formal authority, no. This is true. But informal authority is still in play. You’re right that the approach needed here is more collaborative than directive.

        I’m not good at preparing scripts, but I can recommend a few talking points that might help here:
        1. Express to Angela that her work contributes to the benefit of the team (assuming this is true).
        2. Explain, factually, that while she has apologized to her target, the behavior itself does not contribute to team success. As a member of the team, she is an ambassador of the team.
        3. Since team members reflect on the team, discuss that Angela must be aware of the perception she leaves and the effect of that outside perception (despite the reality that drives the perception).
        4. Point out that the continued success of this work relies on the pipeline of student workers, and that respect is important to preserving that pipeline.

        In this case, OP doesn’t “lay down the law” but shifts the focus away from personal discipline and more positively toward continuous improvement. Additionally, it helps Angela see her work and role in a larger perspective.

        Lastly, after the conversation, pledge your support to remove obstacles or provide development. Then mean it. Show that you put the team first and the team will eventually follow the example.

        1. LBK*

          I completely disagree with this approach because none of those things are the OP’s responsibility; it would be really weird to approach the conversation from the perspective of how Angela’s actions impact the team because the team’s success isn’t in the OP’s purview beyond her own individual contributions. Unless the OP’s manager has delegated or shared such responsibility to the OP, it’s not her job to worry about how Angela contributes to the team’s success or how Angela’s actions reflect on the team, so it’s going to come off very “too big for your britches” if the OP comes at it from that angle. I think it’s still more directive than collaborative, to borrow your phrasing, because it’s directing Angela to think more about the team.

          Instead I’d focus on how Angela’s actions interfered with the OP getting her own job done: distracting her employees when she needs them focused on running the event, undercutting the ability for the OP to fix problems and address performance issues with her staff, etc. If there’s a reason Angela thought the error was a bigger deal than it was, that also might be worth touching on (eg “Just for future reference, I know these schedule things seem like crises but they actually end up being really easy to fix – for your own sanity, no need to freak out if one happens again”). I absolutely wouldn’t chide Angela for not helping the team – not my place.

          1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

            I hear you, but we may need to agree to disagree. IMO, anyone in a leadership position (and I include team leads in the definition) cannot have the words, “Not my responsibility” in their vocabulary. A lead must work toward team goals. How does the lead succeed if the team doesn’t succeed?

            I don’t come from or subscribe to the traditional methods of management; I’m into servant leadership. I also think that empowerment, ownership, and performance are team-focused goals, not individually focused. If I have team members who are not performing (and I include interpersonal skills in my assessment), then there is no way that I can argue that I was successful in my job.

            Every situation varies. In my experience, by giving clear ownership, empowerment, and expectations improve the overall team focus and strengths the team dynamic. The way that I do this is by having the conversation with my leader as I described – this is what is happening, this is how I want to handle it, please advise. I acknowledge that what allows this is the support from *my* leader in backing me up.

            1. LBK*

              That’s all well and good as a broad management philosophy but I don’t see it applying pragmatically to the situation at hand. It reads more like platitudes than advice.

              I think we may also be interpreting the OP’s place in the hierarchy differently; I’m reading her as more like a project manager who’s above Angela only in relation to tasks required to put on events but who isn’t part of what I’d consider Angela’s leadership or management team. Thus, when I say “not OP’s responsibility” I don’t mean she should ignore Angela’s actions because it’s not officially her job to manage her, I mean it doesn’t fall under something she should be trying to control. If I work in the IT department, it’s not my responsibility to ensure everyone in accounting is doing their jobs correctly – not because I don’t care if they do, but because it’s not my place to be managing their performance.

              It’s nice to focus so heavily on the team’s success as a whole, but that doesn’t mean you’re free to step out of line in the hierarchy to oversee your peers “for the good of the team”. That’s their manager’s job. If someone who wasn’t my manager tried to sit me down and discuss how my work performance was affecting the team as a whole the way you’ve described, I’d be awed at their gall and basically tell them it’s not their business to me managing me.

              1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

                That’s fine, like I said, we can agree to disagree. We obviously see the nature of the roles differently although we are talking about the same level in terms of roles.

                And I don’t think I have offered platitudes, but solid advice for consideration. As to it’s pragmatic use – well, it succeeds in my organization and I can only speak to that. This is not just my philosophy but my style and execution. I’m just giving my two cents like anyone else.

                1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

                  Oh, and I forgot to note – in my IT projects, it *is* my job to make sure that the people in accounting who provide input into my reporting are doing their job correctly, whether I provide that feedback directly or through that person’s manager. That may just be a difference in business domain and applicable regulations, but if the process/workflow is within my domain, then my leadership extends to all those involved in the development and operational efforts to ensure success.

      2. Nom d' Pixel*

        I think Dr’s advice is good. If LW has the support of Angela’s manager, she can use authoritative language. I hate going to my boss for help dealing with personnel problems because I feel like I should be able to handle everything myself. One of the things that I am learning, though, is that my boss wants to know what is going on. He wants me to go to him with these issues so he understands everything that is happening in the department.

      3. OhNo*

        I think you’re right, in that the OP can’t lay out any real consequences (or discipline, to use your term) to the behavior the way a “true” manager could. But I do think that the OP could address the issue as it relates to the impact on the rest of the team, and the production of their deliverables (or events, I guess, in this case).

        The problem with that is, of course, that without looping the manager in, the OP really can’t get the ball rolling on whatever consequences will make Angela change. I mean, ideally just hearing that this is unacceptable behavior would be enough to make her change. But judging on her reaction to being called out, I’m guessing she’s not the type to put forth that kind of effort without some kind of incentive attached.

  17. LBK*

    I think the one thing I’d be careful of is how you approach the conversation. This isn’t a performance management conversation you’re having with Angela, this is a peer-to-peer discussion. It’s a little complicated because you are coming to her in the function of “manager trying to address a problem for her employees (the students)” and you do technically outrank her. But I can see that if you set the tone as if you were a manager writing Angela up, she’d be rubbed completely the wrong way, and justifiably so (although not justifiably enough to be shouting at you). Maybe imagine you’re a manager going to the manager of another department to discuss issues between your respective employees; it’s more about sorting out a conflict than setting behavioral expectations, since you don’t have the authority to do that.

  18. Not So Sunny*

    When a member of the general public — or an employee from a different division — witnesses an employ yelling at others, it irreparably affects the university’s (and the team’s) reputation. That’s the bigger issue, to me. It says “Our employees don’t respect others and don’t know how to handle adverse challenges without losing control.”

  19. John*

    Crying in these situations, as she did when confronted, is emotional blackmail.

    Best thing to do at that point is tell her you can see she is having a bad moment and you will be happy to come back later when it is a better time to have such an important discussion.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Eh, it’s only emotional blackmail if it gets to you. Like you are saying, you can give the employee a moment to collect themselves or you can proceed but maybe use a softer tone of voice while saying the same things.
      I read tears as “this person is actually processing that something serious is happening here”. If the person is yelling or has other behaviors, I tend to suspect that the person has no clue they are in hot water.

      It could be that I am projecting myself on to other people. But I have had conversations with doctors and so on, where tears have been pouring down my face. I was still listening/absorbing everything that was said. I was just crying that is all. The few times a subordinate has cried, I just continued on with the conversation. It can be an opportunity to guide the discussion, as in, “Okay, you see that this needs to change, here are some steps for you to follow.”

    2. Elfie*

      Bah, not necessarily. I have cried at every single job I have held (embarrassingly enough, as I don’t think of myself as a Crier), but it was never to make anyone do or feel anything – it was just my emotions coming to the surface uncontrollably. As a woman in a male dominated field, this is the LAST thing I want to be known for. Saying that, I have never cried when I’ve been told off for anything, only when under pressure (usually unreasonable deadlines), so perhaps it’s the context that matters.

  20. ThatGirl*

    What if your co-worker (who you don’t supervise, even though you are the supervisor of everyone else in your department – you two are equals) has a track record of yelling/snapping/being rude to students in your department, as well as your assistant? Oh, and students have told you that they are afraid to make a suggestion or share an idea because she will tell them how wrong they are in front of others.

    And what if you’ve been consistently bringing this to your manager (your shared boss) for almost two years now and nothing has been done?

    Sigh. I’ve taken to telling her to apologize whenever it happens (after she humiliated one of my students at a public event). But, seriously? And then she wonders why she can’t gel with the team.

  21. 2horseygirls*

    Allison, I just wanted to say thanks for this: “Routinely yelling at people is a pretty serious issue. I’d actually argue it’s a big deal if it only happens once.”

    I wish I knew that the day my beloved supervisor decided to raise her voice to the point it was heard through an office the size of 4-5 average classrooms put together, and admonish another co-worker (on the job for 3 months and not having gone through this process before) and I for something that is not within either of our job descriptions, because she failed to notice for 2+ weeks that 16 items (an entire category, really) were missing from the daily report, even though she was copied on the communication that said Items were missing from Report A, but still appearing on Report B.

    Keep up the great posts – it helps me build my case. :)

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