I yelled at our intern

A reader writes:

One of our interns, who I supervise directly, has been performing pretty poorly for a while. I’ve met with him and been giving him feedback, but it hasn’t worked. This afternoon we were scheduled to meet again, where I was planning to draw a harder line. Then he sent me a really rude, sarcastic, inappropriate email this morning.

I’ve already been feeling really frustrated with this intern and his failure to improve / lack of accountability, and I guess the email just pushed me over the edge. When we met in the afternoon, I totally lost my temper. I’m not sure I’d say I yelled, but I definitely raised my voice. I think I was totally out of line. The intern totally failed to take responsibility for his performance and was continuing to defensively litigate every point with me throughout our meeting—which only made me more mad.

I know that I really screwed up. I intended to draw a firm line, but instead I lost my temper and flipped out. Not okay. But I’m not sure how to deal with it. All of my feedback for him is still true—I just really, really should not have yelled at him. I feel like I owe him an apology, but I’m not sure whether that would just be further muddling the process in an attempt to make myself feel better / clear my conscience (I already apologized, albeit not very extensively, towards the end of our conversation, at which point I already felt a pit in my stomach about having yelled at him). If I do apologize to him, I’m not sure how to do it (over email? in person?) and how to frame it/what to say—especially since he still has pretty serious performance issues which I’m not sure are going to improve.

On a side note, I also wonder what our meeting should have looked like. I’m guessing I should have very clearly, very calmly laid out the issues with his work, explained the potential consequences, given him a chance to respond, and then ended the meeting. Which was sort of my plan, but I think I wasn’t prepared for how mad I felt (which is maybe something to consciously prepare for in the future). But I’d welcome your thoughts on how to handle a meeting like this in the future.

I wrote back to this letter-writer and asked if she has the authority to fire this intern, because I think it’s relevant to the answer here. Her response:

I do have the authority to fire him! But he’s only got a month left with us, so it seems kind of silly at this point. Plus, even though he’s been performing pretty poorly, I’m not sure it rises to the level of firing for an intern (we tend to be more willing to work on performance with interns, since our program has a very heavy emphasis on training/mentoring newcomers to our field — many of whom, being straight out of college, have never worked in an office environment). But maybe I am wrong about what constitutes fireable.

I asked about that not because you necessarily should fire him, but because often when managers lose their temper, it’s because they’re forgetting that they ultimately do have that power.

Here’s the deal with yelling: I don’t think managers should ever, ever yell, regardless of the provocation. It’s demeaning to the employee being yelled at (who, because of the power dynamics in the relationship, is likely to feel like they have to just sit there and take it), it’ll create an environment of fear for everyone who witnesses it, it will damage the manger’s authority and reputation, and it will make good people not want to work for her. I say this not to chastise you — you’ve made it clear that you regret doing it — but to lay that out clearly first before we dive into the questions you’re posing.

Managers who yell typically do it because they don’t know how else to achieve whatever it is they’re trying to do — get feedback to stick, get work done quickly, ensure a mistake doesn’t keep happening, or whatever it is. Because they don’t know how to get things done any differently, they feel desperate and frustrated, and yelling feels like the only tool they have to get their point made.

But the thing is — and this is where my question about firing authority comes in — whenever you talk to someone as their manager, there’s an implied “or else” behind what you’re saying. And while that sounds rather tyrannical, the irony is that remembering that will usually make you sound less tyrannical … because when you’re confident in your authority to escalate the consequences if you need to (up to firing, if needed), you know that you have the tools you need to get the results you need, and can therefore stay more calm.

That means that when you’re having a serious conversation with an employee about concerns with their work, you should be clear in your own mind that if talking through the issues doesn’t work, you have more options! You can change work assignments around, ask for work to be redone, ask to see future work in earlier stages so you can intervene earlier if needed next time, take the person off a project, require them to work with you or someone else to try to improve their skills, and on and on. And you can ultimately remove the person from the position if things just aren’t working out. That means that you have a huge amount of power to resolve problems, and having it means that you don’t need to feel helpless or angry.

So, given that, what should your interaction with this intern have looked like? I actually do think you should have considered firing him, even though he only has a month left in his internship. He’s been performing poorly for a while, your feedback hasn’t changed that, and now he’s sent you a rude and sarcastic email? While I obviously don’t have all the details, that’s a situation that sounds pretty ripe for a meeting where you calmly say, “I’ve been hoping that we could continue working on the performance issues I’ve given you feedback on in the past, but your email today was out of line. We expect everyone here to talk to each other with respect. At this point, I don’t think continuing on for another month makes sense for us, and so today will be your last day.”

But if you weren’t ready to do that, another option would be to simply call the email out as unacceptable and hold him accountable for it. As in: “Your email this morning was rude and sarcastic, and out of sync with the way I expect people here to speak with each other. What’s going on?” … followed by, at some point in the conversation, “I want to be clear that while you’re working here, you need to be respectful of all of your colleagues. Emails like the one you sent this morning will hurt your reputation, make people less inclined to work with you, impact the kind of reference I’m able to give you, and jeopardize your job with us.”

You’d use a similar approach for the continuing performance issues: “We’ve talked a few times in the past about X, but it’s continued to happen. What’s going on?” … followed by, at some point in the conversation, “I want to be clear that in order to succeed in this role and get a good reference from us when you leave in a month, I need to see you taking this feedback seriously, which means doing Y and Z.” Depending on the circumstances, you might also include, “If that doesn’t happen, I will need to (insert consequence).” Consequences could be not being able to give him a good reference, reporting the problems to his program if he’s doing the internship for credit, not publishing the work he’s doing, removing him from a project, letting him go, or whatever makes sense. (And to be clear, these consequences aren’t punishment. They’re the outcomes that now make sense.)

Now, what should you do at this point, post-yelling? If you hadn’t already apologized, I’d recommend doing that — saying something like, “I want to apologize to you for snapping/yelling at you earlier. I let my frustration get the better of me, and I was wrong. No one deserves to be yelled at at work, and I’m really sorry that I did.”

But it sounds like you did already apologize, so you probably don’t need to do that again. However, you could follow up this way: “I’ve been thinking about our conversation the other day and why I lost my temper, which I regret doing. To be clear, no one deserves to be yelled at at work, and I’m sorry that I did. I’m frustrated that we’ve had several of these conversations and I haven’t seen any change in your behavior. So let’s talk about what needs to happen on that front and what it means for your work here if it doesn’t, so that we’re both on the same page going forward.”

Really, though, the main thing is to think through all your options — even the ones you’re not ready to use at this point — and go into your interactions with him knowing that you have all these options. I think you’ll feel a lot less inclined to yell when you’re feeling the full power of all of those tools.

{ 341 comments… read them below }

  1. AMG*

    I have no additional advice to offer, but am here to voice my support. I have a temper and it gets the best of me occasionally despite my really working hard to keep it under control. Nobody is perfect, but you acknowledge it and are moving forward with the correct steps, including an apology. Good for you!
    I hope you will send an update and let us know how it all shakes out.

    1. Cassandra*

      Support from me too. The top rule I had to make for myself as an educator was to muzzle myself when talking to students — always, always, always, no matter how peeved I am, or how right I am to be peeved.

      I’ve slipped. But less often and less badly over time. One thing that has helped me is experienced colleagues who talk me through situations I don’t wholly trust myself to respond constructively to. If there’s someone in your org you would trust to mentor you this way, I 100% recommend asking.

      1. Liana*

        Same here. As a teacher, there have been times where my students have been driving me absolutely bonkers and I can feel my temper rising. Working on keeping it under control and keeping my cool has been a struggle sometimes.

    2. Allypopx*

      Same. When I first became a manager, my temper was by far the biggest thing I got critiqued on and needed to get under control. I really wish I’d had this letter then – Alison’s advice is super thorough and well thought out.

      A lot of it did come from a place where I didn’t feel like I had a lot of authority (to be fair, I didn’t, that has since changed) but it’s not productive and makes it really hard to get people to take you seriously.

    3. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      Thirded as another temperamental person who’s gotta keep it on a tight leash.

      One time I was dealing with a very junior new employee who did the same thing as the intern in this letter – started trying to litigate and defend a massive error that had cost us and the client a substantial sum. I started off very calm, but she kept pushing back, kept being sarcastic, kept justifying and excusing. And then she rolled her eyes. Lost it. “THIS IS NOT A %*&#$%@ DEBATE! You just cost this company almost your entire yearly salary through an error you can’t even admit you made, and if you roll your eyes or argue with me one more #@$^&(*^ time, I have a REAL good plan on how make up the shortfall.”

      And, of course, she burst into tears and ran out of the room and I felt like Hitler.

      1. Can't Sit Still*

        I really want know how this ended. Did you have to fire her? Did she quit? Was she able to eventually accept what she had done and turn her performance and behavior around?

        1. Josie Prescott*

          Yes, please let us know.

          I can’t say I would ever advocating yelling, but sometimes the shock factor pays off.

        2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          She did accept and understand her error after I nuked her from orbit. My read is that she was the kind of person who was both incredibly privileged and lucky (private schools, affluent family, nothing but the best, never really had to work) and also driven (nothing but A’s ever, nailed a good job at my firm right out of college). And she had an ego, as a result. So she’d never really screwed up before, and I don’t think she had any idea how to screw up, if that makes any sense.

          Her performance got better, but was never really excellent, because I think she was so used to performing to the standards of a syllabus that she flailed in a situation that required a lot of individual judgment and self-auditing. Eventually, she went to work for another group in the company that dealt with a very codified, straightforward regulatory compliance process, and did a lot better.

          1. Me*

            “I don’t think she had any idea how to screw up, if that makes any sense.” This makes so much sense. I see echoes of myself in this. I was so good at school and had a harder time thriving once I lost the clarity and structure of syllabi and tests. It took me a long time to learn how to take initiative and make mistakes gracefully and openly in the working world.

            1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

              Yeah, taking initiative is hard when you’ve spent 16 years doing tricks on command.

              1. No Name Yet*

                SUCH a good way of framing this! I have a toddler son, and this really makes me think about what I want for his education.

            2. Ted Mosby*

              I’ve been to prestigious schools for most of my life and it’s really sad to see how some of my most accomplished (3 season varsity athletes, selected for state orchestras, near perfect test scores, college athletes, 3.9+s at elite colleges) just completely lost it once they graduated. A few are now in low paying low skill jobs, which would be 100% fine if it were out of choice and they could pay all their bills, but it’s more people who floundered when they were taken out of highly structured environments.

          1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

            I’m talking about my own situation with a former direct report, not the intern in the OP.

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          It was maybe a decent line, but having a 6’2, angry guy with a booming voice bellow it was off the reservation. I legitimately scared the hell out of the poor girl, and I don’t think she’d ever gotten that level of anger from anybody before.

          1. MMDD*

            Eh, you probably did her a favour in the long run. If it’s not your go-to MO then I wouldn’t be yourself up too much over it.

          2. J.B.*

            I understand, dealing with the situation in my personal life of someone who can’t admit she’s wrong and lots and lots of arguing. Ye gods, the self control that sometimes requires! I am really impressed that you own up to it and especially if you work to be different in the future.

          3. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

            It’s interesting, I’m a small person with a low key demeanor. I don’t believe in losing my temper or shouting but on the rare occasions when I do, then people tend to pay attention. It’s not a bad thing to have the bejusus scared out of you early in your career. I can still remember my time, I deserved it and I learned from it.

            1. not really a lurker anymore*

              My mother doesn’t swear. When she does (probably less than 10x I can remember and I’m 46), EVERYONE in hearing range jumps to attention and comes running to help/see what’s going on. It’s the rarity factor.

              1. Blue_eyes*

                This. My mom is the same way. She’s very quiet and mild mannered. I can remember almost word-for-word the 3 or so times I’ve heard her swear.

      2. Grr*

        Maybe (ok, likely) I’m a terrible human being, but aside from the swearing I cannot find anything wrong with what you said to her.

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          Like I said, imagine a large pissed man yelling it at a young woman. It wasn’t good.

          1. Kathleen Adams*

            Back when I was managing people, not just projects (*sooooo* happy to be managing projects rather than people), I had a guy (let’s call him “Mike”) who worked for me who did very good work, was a very hard worker, and could really crank out quality work, and was in addition a very good guy (and very, very funny).

            These are the reasons why nobody ever killed him, because despite all these fine qualities, Mike was not easy to supervise because he was also very thin-skinned, it was easy to hurt his feelings, and he also wanted to talk and talk and talk and TALK about every decision.

            Anyway, Mike eventually left my staff to go to work for someone else, and one of his bosses was…well, not a bad person – in fact I quite liked him – but I wouldn’t have wanted work for him either, for various reasons. Mike and I used to go to the same conference, so about once/year or so, we’d have breakfast together during this conference to catch up.

            So one time we were doing this, and Mike started complaining about his current supervisor, and he told me this story about going into NewSupervisor’s office to discuss with NewSuper some decision that Mike was unsure of. Did I mention that Mike always wanted to talk and talk and talk and TALK about every decision? So anyway, he’s telling me this story, and he says, “I was just sitting there talking and all of a sudden NewSuper says, ‘Mike, will you shut up? Will you just shut up?’ He was almost yelling at me! Can you believe that?”

            And I thought to myself, “Oh, Mike…if you only knew how often I wanted yell at you, ‘Mike, will you shut up? Will you just shut up?'”

            1. Michele*

              Snicker. We have our own Mike in our department, and I would love to yell at him. Alas, these things are frowned upon.

            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I know there’s no reason for you to do this, but if you can let Mike know that over-talking things bothers people besides New Supervisor (but say this in a kind/constructive and very specific way that identifies specific scenarios and actions), you would be doing him a great kindness for his overall professional development.

              1. Kathleen Adams*

                I have, but perhaps I was too gentle because it never seemed to make a difference. Also, I think his idea of “over-talking” is a bit different from most people’s idea of “over-talking.” His natural style is just to talk and talk and talk and TALK, and I’m not sure how helpful it is if he dials this town merely talk and talk and TALK. :-)

                1. Sam*

                  Ugh, my boss is this type. He processes everything out loud and ends up monologuing irrelevant tangents while he’s supposed to be leading a meeting…and then he complains that every meeting takes so long. It feels like wrangling his talking has become part of my job at this point!

                2. Kathleen Adams*

                  Mike, thank God, never did supervise anybody, because otherwise he would absolutely do this same thing. I can see him now, wondering (at some length:-) ) why it is that everybody seems so reluctant to schedule staff meetings.

            1. FiveWheels*

              To clarify, I mean that I’d me offended if a male manager of tall stature made decisions about me based on my gender and physical size.

              Nobody should behave threateningly to a colleague, and if it’s inappropriate to shout at a small female colleague it’s inappropriate to shout at a tall male one.

              Some individuals will be more intimidated than others by being shouted at – but that’s a product of their individual circumstances, not their measurements.

              1. OhNo*

                Alison has said before that part of being a manager is managing people’s perceptions of you. I know she’s mentioned before that there should be no perception of bias for or against people under you, for example.

                So, while size and gender shouldn’t make a difference in this situation, they could change the perception that people have. I think that’s worth acknowledging here.

              2. TL -*

                Eh, I’m a small woman not particularly threatened by anybody, but I think it’s fair to say a huge size disparity along with a lost temper is more likely to make people uncomfortable. And I know a lot more woman who feel vaguely threatened by male anger than vice versa. It’s not true for all women, but given her reaction, it was probably somewhat true for her.

              3. Student*

                That’s a comment from someone who has never been in a physical fight. I’m also a 5-foot woman, I’ve been in lots of physical altercations with other folk of a variety of sizes (including simple accidents and proper bouts).

                There is a very real, physical, scientific difference between fighting with people who have a significant weight and/or height advantage. This is math and basic physics: F=MA. It’s the same reason a car in a collision with a truck fairs much worse than a car in a collision with a similar car. I routinely encounter guys (and women) who are fully twice my weight and a foot talker than me – the average man would have to pick a fight with a professional football player to get a comparable physical disadvantage.

                An average guy can injure me much more easily than he can injure a similarly-sized person. I’ve had plenty of accidental injuries this way. If an angry guy attacks me, I will get much more injured than someone comparably sized to the attacker. In the same vein, I will have to resort to much more extreme effort to end the fight on favorable terms for myself than I would if I were fighting someone my own size – meaning that I have to be much meaner or smarter or more prepared to win the fight if my opponent has a substantial size advantage.

            2. RKB*

              I do, because I spent a lifetime being screamed at by my father who is over six feet.

              Regardless of gender and size you should never yell at someone unless you or they or everyone around you is in danger.

        2. Lissa*

          Yeah, I have to say if this hadn’t been yelled I think the words were justified. Even the description of the employee’s behaviour kinda makes me want to yell. :D

            1. Cafe au Lait*

              I yelled at a patron who had been a year-and-a-half thorn in my side. While I felt bad for yelling, I ended up getting the desired behavior from her. She never stopped being difficult but she at least stopped being difficult with me.

          1. lowercase holly*

            same! i would have been livid. i am very short and a woman and was at one point young so.. don’t worry too much about that part. we can take it.

            1. Jadelyn*

              Holly, please remember that you only speak for yourself when you say something like “we can take it”. Please don’t make statements like “we can” anything – some of us can’t, some of us have history that make a situation like that extremely threatening. I’m not a small woman and I don’t tend to scare easily, but if a 6’2 angry man yelled anything at me I’d probably break down in a panic attack, because I’ve had situations like that get violent before.

              In fact, I really appreciate Scientist specifically acknowledging the way that gender and physical presence affected the dynamic.

            2. Hiring Mgr*

              Why was a very young, junior, inexpereienced employee in a position where she could make a mistake that would cost so much $$ ?

              1. Lily in NYC*

                I think it’s more common than you might realize. I had a job in my early 20s where any mistakes I made would cost the company 50K (we’d have to give free ad space to make up for the error). I made one mistake in my 7 years there (it was more my boss’ fault but neither of us got in trouble because of our track record and it was a very understandable mistake, long story).

              2. Chinook*

                “Why was a very young, junior, inexpereienced employee in a position where she could make a mistake that would cost so much $$ ?”

                Speaking as someone who once cause thousands of dollars of damage to a new vehicle while working as a receptionist at a car dealership, it can happen quite easily. (Boss had the best reaction to me taking out the side of a custom made camper while washing cars under the supervision of his son – we all get one freebie and that was mine. When his son asked why boss treated me nicely when he would had yelled at said son, boss pointed out that, if his son had done that, he was probably goofing off. I, on the other hand, had been working there for 3 years, had a good reputation and that was the first time I had ever driven that type of vehicle)

              3. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

                She wasn’t, formally – she went completely off the rails, thinking that she was “showing initiative.” She and a more senior coworker were tasked with submitting a particular form as part of a package that would be submitted to a state regulatory agency. Her coworker was out, and she decided she’d take care of it. Without asking or knowing better, she found an older template on the shared drive, filled it out instead of using a newer one she’d been directed to use, and then directly emailed the deliverable to the client without putting it through peer review where we could have caught the error. The client submitted the package to the regulator before we were aware she’d done that, and it got rejected. Because it was our screw-up, we were on the contractual hook for the cost of the delay.

                1. Serin*

                  Oh, what a nightmare. I’m imagining that feeling when you’re new on a job and you feel like you spend all day long asking for guidance (feels like saying to your co-workers, “How do I open a drawer? Now how do I take a notebook out of the drawer? Now how do I open the notebook?”) and I can so easily see the desire to just do something by yourself for a change, and then for it to be so disastrously wrong …

                  (But arguing when someone told me how badly I’d screwed up and how large a problem that created … no, I wouldn’t have been doing that. I would have been in a small ball under my desk.)

              4. paul*

                My friend had a new hire just wreck a company car–that probably will cost them more than my friend makes in a year once all the worker’s comp, the cost of the car, the increase in insurance, etc, all shakes out. Let alone more than his new hire makes.

                Even minor mistakes can cost money.

      3. Cucumberzucchini*

        Well, she did roll her eyes so you were kinda justified. As you would have been if she had called you a skank. For me eye roll or skank kind of changes the rules. (Sorta joking, sorta not)

        1. Cucumberzucchini*

          I just read more comments and realize now you’re a male, so nix the second part of my comment. Whoops.

    4. Chris*

      I think the key is what you mentioned about acknowledging it. I once had a coworker who was technically the same job description, but had about 15 years more experience. She once yelled at me for a transgression which I do suppose warranted correction, but it was one of those “Yeah, you’re right, but dial it back”, and it certainly put me off.

      The next day, she came up and said she was sorry she had acted like that, that I didn’t deserve that, and I accepted her apology, and acknowledged that the base criticism was totally accurate. And, honestly, I thought even HIGHER of her than I had before she yelled at me. Anyone can get upset, but addressing it and dealing with it is so much more helpful than pretending it didn’t happen, and letting it be a permanent cloud.

  2. me again*

    I think in this situation taking this conversation out of the office can help. Something about offices make it very difficult to have deep conversations, especially when you are frustrated.

    Go for a walk with the intern, grab a cup of coffee or go out for lunch, but I would avoid an apology/conversation in the office, especially if you decide to keep him for another month.

    1. EddieSherbert*

      I disagree for this situation. Getting out of the office for a work-conversation can be great. But I think for a difficult conversation it is not the best option.

      Like, invite the intern to a coffee shop, sit down and have a tough conversation… followed by small talk? I would be horribly uncomfortable (if I was the OP or the intern!).

      But I’m also not likely to get into a deep conversation with my manager about emotions or whatever (no matter where we are!) :)

      1. me again*

        I disagree….. This is EXACTLY the time where you need to take the conversation out of the office. Both parties have a certain level of fault… Just hanging out in the office isn’t going to solve anything. It already hasn’t solved anything and just escalated the situation. Sitting at an office just emphasizes the power dynamic, which isn’t healthy.

        The only exception would be if the OP has decided to fire the employee – then she just needs to do it.

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          Emphasizing the power dynamic, in this kind of situation, is a good thing. As Alison said, if you know you have the “or else” authority behind you, you can stay more calm. And if the person you’re talking to knows that authority is there, they are more likely to listen to you. And from the intern’s perspective, she takes him out to a coffee shop, they have this conversation, and he’s got to hope that nobody around here’s her telling him he screwed up? And then they have to awkwardly walk or drive back to the office together? I’d be mortified, and I’d start to question if my manager knew what they were doing.

          This is not the case where two coworkers have had some personality clashes that they need to work through so they can work together. Maybe that would be a case for getting out of the office. But not this scenario.

          1. Sadsack*

            Right, having this type of conversation in a public place is a terrible idea. This is a work conversation to be held in private at work. I would not appreciate being taken to a public place to be told I am not performing well. The fact is, OP is in an authority position over the intern and he needs to understand that. He needs to listen to her and do what she is telling him or be out if a job or at the least be out of a positive reference.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yep — there are other times when getting out of the office makes sense, like when you want to informally talk about how things are going. This is not one of those times; this is a serious conversation where you want the power of the office behind you. Doing anything that might make it read as less serious/formal to the intern would be the wrong move.

        2. Joseph*

          Both parties have a certain level of fault…
          This isn’t really true. The level of faults aren’t even remotely equivalent.
          >OP lost her temper for a few minutes in a meeting when tensions were high and employee was being intentionally frustrating.
          >Employee has been poorly performing for a long while, has ignored feedback for a long time, sent a rude/sarcastic email before the meeting, completely refused to take responsibility for his actions and was arguing every single point.

        3. Not A Morning Person*

          I have to disagree about having a performance improvement conversation out of the office. Were you meaning to refer to a different type of conversation? A meeting outside of the office comes across as way too casual and not serious enough for the situation. The intern is not performing to expectations and is not behaving to expectations and needs to be told directly. Having that discussion outside of the office comes across to me as much more like a social conversation where you want to get to know your team member and not at all about a serious performance issue.

        4. SignalLost*

          So, I got to watch a disciplinary meeting at a coffee shop last summer while I was working a fairly strange gig. The coffee shop was a chain with a location on the building plaza site, so it was packed with employees from the two or three companies in the complex. It was EXTREMELY uncomfortable to witness someone getting a public dressing-down, however quietly done, and it was not possible to avoid it, given the size of the shop and the fact that every table was taken, with good odds that at least a couple of people knew the people having the meeting. It also was pretty clear that the woman being disciplined was very aware of the presence of everyone else, and by the time it was over, she was in (quiet) tears.

          I cannot recommend a professional meeting that’s going to get heated as something that should happen in a public space. The power dynamic was entirely visible, and the publicity of the whole thing clearly made it worse. If she was actually listening to what was being said, I would be surprised, given the palpable emotions coming from that table.

        5. stevenz*

          The fault is not equivalent, though. The intern is way more the problem than the manager. Yelling at someone in frustration is excusable. His performance and attitude are not.

      2. MoinMoin*

        I agree with your disagreement. This might make sense for a longtime employee whose work has been slipping or something, but I probably wouldn’t give the leeway to a short-timer who is being openly insubordinate and defensive about his lackluster performance. Even if you got through to him and he was a good employee for the rest of his time, would that month be enough to balance out the rest of the time? I just don’t see what results you’d hope to achieve, except making the rest of his time bearable. And more likely the result will be that his performance continues because it can’t be such a big deal if it’s informally being brought up over coffee.

        1. always in email jail*

          ^agree to agree with the disagreement.
          The power dynamic means he “can’t” refuse an invitation to lunch or coffee, and isn’t in a position to leave the situation despite being in an “informal”/non-office setting. That destroys the purpose of taking it out of the office. Now, maybe a long-serving employee that you sense has something going on in their life to affect performance etc…. but in this situation I would feel veeeery uncomfortable if I were the intern.

      3. TCO*

        Agreed. I think lunch or coffee sets a more casual tone (and I think an intern is especially likely to interpret it that way). This is a serious conversation and should have a formal tone. Coffee would send a mixed message.

        1. Jessie the First (or second)*

          Agree. Especially with an intern who is not behaving appropriately. Better to reaffirm professional behavior, not sidestep it.

        2. SometimesALurker*

          At a former job, all of the front-of-house employees’ annual performance reviews were done at the Starbucks down the street, because the offices were on an open floor plan the only conference room was also the lunch / break room and other staff members came in and out of it all the time. I believe that higher-level staff got to have their performance reviews in the director’s (private) office. Once my boss and I couldn’t find a seat at Starbucks, and so we sat on the base of a statue in a nearby park (slightly lower than bench height – -there weren’t any benches). It wasn’t comfortable, in any sense.

      4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I agree—I think it would read like “taking someone out to dinner to dump them so they can’t make a scene.”

        1. Chocolate lover*

          I was thinking similar. I don’t want to be scolded by my boss in public any more than I’d want to be dumped in public. That would make me feel even more uncomfortable, wondering who was listening.

          1. F.*

            I agree. I once had a boss try to take a coworker and me out to lunch to scold us about a jobshare attempt that wasn’t working out because the coworker was hoarding all the work. I told the boss that anything he had to say to me, he could say in the office, so we had the meeting there. Taking an employee to lunch to discuss their work performance, especially if the boss is paying (and I assume they would be) takes the worker/boss dynamic to a further extreme. Not only would I feel I could not speak up (even to tell my side of the situation or defend myself) in public, I would also feel publicly humiliated. (of course, my childhood comes into play here, when my father used to use dinner to berate me about my shortcomings, YMMV.)

            1. Whats In A Name*

              I just a had a deja vu moment to the person who wrote in saying their big boss invited her, her boss and another co-worker to dinner to let them know their roles were completely changing. So inappropriate. I don’ think they ever made it to the dinner though.

        2. Marillenbaum*

          Bit of a derail, but I just wanted to second this. I had to break up with my boyfriend this weekend (nothing wrong, just a poor fit), and even though every bit of me wanted to have the conversation at a public place where I could quickly scurry away, it was important to do him the courtesy of ending things in person and privately.

          1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

            Yeah, the only reason I could support the breaking-up-in-public is if you are actually afraid of the other person, and even then – it can backfire and it still isn’t a good idea to do it in a restaurant/other intimate setting, just not alone.

    2. Jessie the First (or second)*

      And I don’t think a deep conversation here is warranted. Intern is a poor performer and on top of that acted rudely and argued to Boss. What’s needed is less emotion, less boundary violating, and more straightforward and matter-of-fact explanation of expectations and consequences for failure to adhere to them.

      1. me again*

        Then she needs to just fire him, but she doesn’t seem to want to do that. Her only other option at this point is to make the last month better for all… So she needs to take a different approach.

        1. always in email jail*

          Options are not just “have a deep emotional conversation or fire”. As Jessie suggested, eeds to sit down and say as we’ve discussed in the past, I’m not seeing A,B, or C at the level I need to. I need you to do D,E, and F to improve. If I don’t see improvement, X consequence exists.

          1. Artemesia*

            This kid was rude and in subordinate. This is not the time for patient conversations. He has already had this feedback and his response is to show his ass and let her know who is boss which continued in their conversation. He should have been fired.

            1. Jessie the First (or second)*

              Well, I agree with that. Rude, sarcastic email, and then wanting to litigate every point I made? I’d be done.

            2. Jessesgirl72*

              I’d have fired him. At the very least, I’d have shut down the “litigating” immediately.

              The problem with hard line advice is that the OPs who are likely to do that wouldn’t be writing to AAM to get permission to. But sometimes firing really is the only answer that makes sense.

          2. always in email jail*

            Oh I would definitely personally fire the person, but the previous poster suggested if they’re not willing to go to coffee the only alternative is firing. I think there could be a middle ground.

    3. always in email jail*

      Also, this reeks of forcing a subordinate to interact with you outside of work, which would be a major red flag for me in a manager that I had worked with for less than a number of years.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        I would think it was really, really weird. Plus, it drags out a conversation that doesn’t need to be that long.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I had the same reaction as Jadelyn—it’s not inherently bad for a boss to take their intern(s) to work lunch, but it would be a bad idea to do so for the purpose of having a work conversation about the intern’s shortcomings.

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            Yeah, to clarify, I don’t think it’s weird at all to take an intern to lunch. It would just be weird in this kind of situation.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Oh, gotcha! I just saw your comment upthread and now have a better understanding—apologies for confusing your point!

      2. Jadelyn*

        I’m not sure I buy that – I don’t think it’s really “outside of work” in a red-flag/social sense if it’s during work hours. It’s still work, just transplanting a work conversation during work hours to a different location. If my team has a working lunch at a restaurant, that’s not being forced to interact outside of work, that’s just doing work at a different location for a bit. If there’s a mandatory team dinner after work, on the other hand, that’s forcing people to interact with everyone outside of work.

        That said, I still think it’s a bad idea. I could definitely see someone interpreting the “change of scenery” as an attempt to be casual and peer-sy about the conversation, which is precisely the opposite of what needs to happen in this situation. There’s a pretty clear lack of respect for managerial authority here, which I think would only be exacerbated by trying to situate a Serious Work Conversation in a casual environment like a coffee shop.

        1. fposte*

          Yeah, we have work conversations at the corner coffeeshop sometimes, and I initiate with staff that for big-picture conversations about how things are going and what our plans are for the future. I like that it loosens up our thinking a little.

          But I wouldn’t do it for a disciplinary meeting or a firing. Not only is it, I think, not fair on the employee to have other people listening to their shortcomings, I *want* the trappings of office for that one; I *want* to be doctrinaire. This is a formal meeting, and the office is the place for those.

          1. Tau*

            As a thin-skinned person, if I had to be on the receiving end of a conversation like this I’d want the trappings of the office around me. The office environment gives the cue that we are in Professional Mode right now and criticisms of me are criticisms of Tau-the-professional-employee and not Tau-the-person. Same sort of conversation in an environment like a coffee shop, I think I’d have a much harder time not taking it personally and bursting out in tears or something similarly embarrassing.

      3. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I don’t think there’s inherently wrong with a manager taking an employee outside the office (for a walk, for coffee, for lunch). It’s just not the right move in this particular situation. But there are plenty where it’s fine, and I’m confused by the idea of “forcing interaction outside of work” — it’s still work, you’ve just changed the venue.

    4. Government Worker*

      My old boss took each of his reports out for lunch once a year to talk over how things were going – it was a small organization and it was part of the largely informal performance review process. It worked well for employees who were doing well, because it took us out of the day-to-day context and let us talk about things like whether there were projects we wanted to start or professional development opportunities we wanted to take advantage of.

      But for a negative feedback meeting for a short-term employee? No. The less formal atmosphere would just be weird.

      1. SL #2*

        Yeah, now that you mention it, my supervisor at my fellowship would take me out for coffee when she wanted to talk big-picture thoughts about our different projects and the larger initiative they fell under, and definitely when she wanted to talk about my specific career goals and how she could help me, whether it was by professional development or new opportunities.

        But if we were doing a formal meeting (final performance review, the contracts discussion I had with HR, etc.), we’d stay in the office and reserve a conference room. Just seeing the meeting location in the calendar invite (“Peet’s Coffee” versus “Conference Room A”) was a signal to me about what I should be prepared to speak about.

    5. Trillian*

      Please don’t. Coffee shops and restaurants are noisy. Noise is a stressor to some people, making it more likely they’d react poorly. Some people have trouble hearing over background noise, meaning they’re working to understand your words, rather than taking them in.

    6. stevenz*

      I totally disagree with me again on this one. This is a very serious situation and taking a very serious situation to address in a cafe or on a park bench sets the wrong tone. This intern’s career potential could be on the line and they have to get it. Acting like a compassionate peer isn’t going to make him realize the significance of his behavior in a work environment. It sounds like he’s pretty thick-headed so softening the blow could just bounce off him. I have had to have serious discussions with a boss over lunch (not serious in quite this way) and it’s horrible. I thought it was inconsiderate of my feelings, and it ruined what could have been a good lunch. And by the way, lunch is a lot more public than the boss’s office.

      Alison’s advice is simply excellent. All in all I think the manager has more than enough reason to fire him, based on what she has written. And maybe that’s the best message she can convey for the intern’s sake.

  3. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I’m going to post an unpopular opinion: I’m a rare workplace yeller. I’ve done it three times in 17 years.

    I didn’t want to do it. Yelling wasn’t my first option; it never is. I’d tried almost every other alternative in the book. I’d modified my behavior in every way possible. I still did it though, and even today, I’m not really sorry. AAM is right that having the authority to fire or discipline someone makes all the difference. In the scenarios where I have yelled, I never had that.

    Why am I arguing this point? Because there are some people who Just Do Not Get It. One example can be found in the National Journal profile of Larry Summers and his time at the Department of Treasury where someone had to physically threaten him to get him to stop his awful public behavior. (It worked!) In my most tense, noteworthy example, the “It” was complying with specific guidelines and a coworker, the boss’s favorite, who kept pushing and interrupting and going around me because he wanted his way on a matter he had zero experience in. He was so used to getting his way all the time that my professional attempts to get my point across were missed until he pushed me over the edge. It was either yell or release something that could get the boss into hot water. Only after yelling did my coworker truly understand and back off.

    Is your intern one of these people who refuses to listen? I honestly don’t know, but it sounds very possible. This doesn’t make yelling on a regular basis okay, of course, because the authority you have allows you to prevent your frustration from getting to that point. That said, you’re not really sure you yelled and you already apologized for your behavior. I wouldn’t revisit the issue again because you risk undermining your message, i.e. all he’ll hear is your apology and absolve himself from wrongdoing.

    One last thing. Fire that intern please. It doesn’t matter if he only has a month left. It’s the principle of the matter, and you’re not running a charity. Plus I can think of dozens of interns who would jump at the chance for such an opportunity.

    1. Wakeen Teapots, Ltd.*

      About once every couple years something pushes me to the point I yell. It’s pretty shocking when I do. I can’t advocate for it. (I agree with Alison’s post 100%.)

      My trigger is someone trying to pull “baffle them with bullshit” shenanigans on me. I have not one single time felt bad after I yelled but yelling is sub-optimal strategy. I believe it weakens the power of the person who yells.

      And, I’ll probably yell again a year from now when some schmuck not yet in my universe tries it again. Even though I agree with Alison.

      1. Allypopx*

        This is wildly off topic but Wakeen I have a quote from you written on my whiteboard right now. In a thread a couple of years ago you posted that “compassionate managers need to put good employees first” and it’s really helping me navigate my guilt about a tricky dynamic I’m dealing with.

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          I don’t want to further derail, but I want to second how much I’ve appreciated Wakeen’s perspective over the years. It’s often different from mine, and I’ve learned a lot from reading her comments.

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            Just to clarify–I usually agree with her ultimate advice, but her way of looking at situations is often different from mine. I’ve really appreciated seeing that side of things.

          2. F.*

            I know we’re not supposed to clog up the comments with “+1″s, but I totally second what JB said. I have learned a lot from Wakeen and very much appreciate her input.

      2. Wendy Darling*

        I’ve only yelled in the workplace once, and I honestly am super embarrassed about it two years later.

        Frustratingly, it also got the desired result (the person stopped booking meetings with me to re-ask the same question over and over in hopes of getting a different answer). I did apologize for losing my temper. But I hate that yelling people generally works for me because in the back of my mind I know that it’s an effective strategy, especially if you’re a person who is polite and easy to deal with until you’ve been pushed way, way over the line — I think the shock of the transition from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde is what gets things done for me. So I sort of always have it tucked in my back pocket for emergencies. (I once shouted at a TSA agent and not only did I not get arrested — they helped me not miss my flight. WHY?!)

      3. Not So NewReader*

        I had a situation of two men rolling on the floor pounding each other.
        I yelled.
        Shocked them all to bits.
        They stopped fighting immediately and stood up just in shock that I was yelling.

        Yet another reason not to yell. If something big is going on people will pay attention if you have along history of not yelling. Annnd if you have a strong rep as being fair minded, people get super embarrassed if they are caught doing something they should not be doing. This is because they want that fair-minded boss to actually like them.

        The only other times I have yelled is in an emergency to someone who was a distance away from me. My normal speaking voice would not have been heard. They knew by the situation that I was not yelling “at” them, rather I was yelling “to” them.

    2. NoMoreMrFixit*

      I admit I’ve yelled at work. Had a coworker who was utterly oblivious to boundaries. Interrupted everybody. Admittedly it’s one of my hot buttons but I finally had enough and blasted him when he cut me off yet again. It took losing my temper to finally put him on a leash and show some manners. We’re human. And sometimes people will hit those triggers despite our best efforts to stay calm and professional. Some of them even do so deliberately.

      In this case you have an intern being openly disrespectful and rude. There comes a point where it’s time to sever the relationship. I’ve seen people get written up on their last day for crossing the line. There is no professional relationship to salvage here. Cut the intern loose. And try to set firmer guidelines right up front with the next one so this situation doesn’t repeat itself.

      1. NonProfit Nancy*

        I would argue that even in these situations, a very forceful, frosty tone is better than yelling. You can work to develop a manner that communicates the intensity and seriousness of yelling, but without really raising your voice much beyond normal. The difference is that yelling, to me, signals being “out of control.” Out of control scares me as the employee – what’s coming next, physical violence? – and also signals a lack of professionalism. Intensity signals that you are extremely serious and extremely in control.

        1. always in email jail*

          Sometimes, the only way I can remain calm/frosty/matter-of-fact, is to remind myself how angry it’s probably making them on the inside.
          Mature? no. Works? Yes.

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            I can speak from personal experience that sometimes speaking in a deliberately calm voice can infuriate the other person. But my experience was as a teenager annoying my sister, so I don’t know how well it translates to adulthood.

            1. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

              Exactly! I can get attention paid by slowly and clearly speaking in a slightly elevated tone. I.need,this.done.now.

          2. Anony-Mouse*

            YES! Channeling your inner The-Devil-Wears-Prada Miranda Preistley/ Anna Wintour/Meryl Streep is THE BEST way to go!

          3. Not So NewReader*

            One person usually carries the anger. If we control ourselves it is reasonable to assume the other person will get angrier. All that energy has to go some where, if not on my end then must be on the other person’s end.

            I have done this, reminded myself that the other person is just steaming because I am calm. It does come with huge responsibility. I think that I have an even larger responsibility not to throw gas on the fire, because I am the one exhibiting control for the two of us.

            But I have also done a thing of “Let’s take 15 minutes and figure out what the most important thing is that we feel the other one needs to know. Come back here at X time and we will talk.”

        2. RVA Cat*

          The OP raising his or her voice may have been necessary if, as it sounds like, the intern was interrupting and trying to talk over the OP during this conversation. But shutting down the inter-splaining is different from yelling in rage.

        3. Lora*

          Yes. This. The only time it is acceptable to yell at someone is if you’re shouting “watch out, there’s a piano about to fall on your head!” or some similar impending doom.

          Have had bosses who yelled as a means to get their point across; not all, but a significant proportion (like, 1/2) progressed to throwing chairs, heavy books, tools, etc. or inappropriate touching (e.g. grabbing someone hard by the shoulder, harassing, waving fists with a threat to hit the person). They had the power to fire us all, discipline us, change our work methods, all of that – and they still yelled as their chosen means of communicating that they were frustrated and serious. All of them had ridiculously high turnover – we’re talking 20+% in companies where the other departments averaged 5%.

          The litigating thing drives me up a wall too. I generally deal with it by icy silence until the person is done talking, then make them wait for a minute or two in awkward silence, glaring daggers at them, and then tell them that this is not an appropriate response to professional feedback. For an intern (or someone extra-obtuse) you sometimes have to follow that up with an explanation of what appropriate responses to a constructive criticism might be. If they still don’t get it, I tell them that the first rule of holes is that when you are in a hole, stop digging. This usually works pretty well.

          It does sound like this intern is all done. If you really want to keep him, I would explain what you need to see as an immediate turnaround – appropriate professional behavior, taking responsibility for his own actions, courteous to colleagues and boss, accomplishing X Y and Z to standards A B and C. If that isn’t possible, then tell him it’s his last day and be done with it. If he tries to negotiate or litigate those points, or complains that it’s not feasible, it’s his last day. You need what you need, and he’s telling you he can’t deliver.

          1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

            Oh, I love the awkward silence, daggers, then “This is not an appropriate response to professional feedback.” It makes me want to squirm. It’s so good.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              Ditto here.

              Someone needs to explain to them that we are not all going to vote on the matter. This is the instruction, do it or use the exit door one last time.

        4. fposte*

          I really, really prefer not to yell and I’ve never done it (I’m not counting raised voices to get somebody’s attention in the back of the room).

          However, I also don’t think it’s the end of the world when it happens. I think there’s a bit of a cultural divide on this, because there are plenty of fruitful milieus where yelling is a pretty common thing–music, sports, etc. It doesn’t mean out of control, it just means loud.

          But a lot of people, especially women, don’t have experience with yelling except in personal relationships. And I’ll return to my usual analogue in that yelling is not unlike crying, in that comfort with these particular expressions is strongly gendered and those not comfortable with them tend to see them as out of control. I think it would be good for everybody regardless of gender to be more comfortable with both.

          1. NonProfit Nancy*

            Ha, well I’d also come down pretty hard on not crying at work – excuse yourself if you can’t control it, but it’s really not appropriate for the workplace IMO – so maybe I’m just a soulless automaton :) I also don’t work in a very emotionally charged field or office, so it would be really quite out of place here. There are probably other fields and other offices where it would be less out of place.

            1. fposte*

              I tend to think people should try not to cry at work, but I also don’t hold it against subordinates who do unless it’s interfering with work or our communication.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                I’d take tears over temper any day. I tend to read an honesty in tears that I do not ever see in anger. Anger usually involves denial, blame shifting, etc.
                PLUS I have seen too many people throw things. I am sorry, there is not enough money in the world to compensate me for someone’s violent act.

                Once I got slugged in the mouth at work. You could see my lip swell up- it swelled fast like in the cartoons. My whole face hurt. I was told ALL about how crying wasn’t allowed. It took every cell in my body to stop myself from walking off the job.

                I will never work in another environment like that again.

          2. Zathras*

            This is a great point. I’d be curious to know if the intern actually perceived the OP as yelling. (Not trying to question the OP’s story at all, just suggesting that they consider the idea if they haven’t.) I’m a very soft-spoken woman, and often even when I think I’m shouting, I find that other people just heard it as me speaking a bit less softly. I’ve also been angry at myself for raising my voice in the heat of the moment, when really the actual increase in volume was barely perceptible, and mostly what I had done was simply put more force/assertiveness behind my words.

            Definitely bookmarking this letter since I supervise interns. I don’t have firing authority but I have the ear of the person who does, so I’m reasonably confident that if I brought her an issue that legitimately warranted a firing or a fix-this-or-be-fired conversation, she would act on it.

          3. Mirax*

            I think that yelling and crying differ in at least one major way–crying is often an involuntary physical response. It’s hard for me to see yelling the same way.

        5. 42*

          >>You can work to develop a manner that communicates the intensity and seriousness of yelling, but without really raising your voice much beyond normal.<<

          Oh yes. A former boss of mine (completely beloved by his staff) actually *dropped* his volume when he was really, reallllly pissed. I don't think it was deliberate, it was just his way. And the effect was chilling. I'd see him do it while advocating for us to other departments that were making our lives miserable. Quiet, calm, verbal evisceration. Never heard him yell, he didn't have to.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I had a boss who would put on his “dad voice” when he was upset. You knew you’d screwed up when it came out.

              1. ThursdaysGeek*

                No, when the voice gets very, very quiet, it is terrifying in a way that yelling can never be. Of course, that’s often because a person like that so rarely gets mad, so when they speak in that quiet chilling voice, it’s more ominous for being so uncommon. There is a strong power in quiet speech.

              2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                It’s endearing if you’re not on the receiving end; when it’s directed towards you it can sometimes feel shaming/condescending. It’s a very specific tone he takes when he’s speaking to small children (I only know this because we’ve had classrooms of small children visit, and he always takes Q&A at the end).

                But honestly, he was such a wonderful human that you never wanted to disappoint him. So he didn’t really need to raise his voice because he was able to apply the parental “I’m not mad at you, but I’m disappointed in you” approach.

                1. Kairi*

                  I’m 23 years old, and I grew up in fear of letting my parents down, so the I’m disappointed in you approach always got me in the heart strings. Last year, my dad caught me doing something he didn’t approve of (which I disagreed with him on) but his use of the dad voice still made me burst out in tears.

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          EDIT: pretty sure the actual effect is “oh my god this guy’s about to stab me in the face.” I’m a terrible actor.

        2. Parenthetically*

          Same. I’ve had several students over the years come back and say they knew when I was “yelling” I was just kidding around, but when my voice got quiet and icy, it was time to say your prayers.

          1. Chinook*

            Now that I think about it, when I was a junior high substitute teacher, the yelling to get students to behave never worked. But, when I got frustrated to a point where I stared them into silence and then quietly but firmly gave them an order to behave, they would become the best behaved students ever. Too bad I only figured that out now.

        3. TL -*

          I have a measured, calm, and level voice that means I’m quite angry (it’s effective) and if you really push me, I have an even calmer one that I’m pretty sure is read as Hannibal Lectoresque – I’ve never been able to use it on command but when it does come out, it’s extremely effective.
          I yell at family and sometimes a significant other but I don’t think I’ve ever yelled at anyone else.

    3. PK*

      I walked out of my first job for being yelled at and turned the job back down when the owner personally came to my house a few days later to apologize. I shut down completely when that happens. At this point in my life, it wouldn’t be enough for me to walk out without notice but I’d definitely be looking to transfer out of that manager’s team at the very least. It would only take once.

      1. NonProfit Nancy*

        Yes exactly. I’ve never been yelled at at work, but I would assume it would immediately negate whatever wrong I had done in my mind (so, the exact opposite of what the yeller intended), and would be a quit-and-walk-out-on-the-spot situation. It’s almost like someone raising a hand to me, in my opinion. I’m a professional trying to do my job – and nobody’s life is on the line with my TPS reports – I don’t deserve to be shouted at. Perhaps there are different types of employees and different types of job where this wouldn’t work (like the military, I assume there’s a lot of yelling there. But OP is not presumably in the military).

      2. Marillenbaum*

        Precisely. If I wanted to stay in situations where I get yelled at, I would still speak to my stepmother, or drive a car in Massachusetts.

      3. Bend & Snap*

        YEP. Yelling has absolutely no place at work. Or anywhere for that matter, unless someone is about to get hit by a bus.

        In the last 5 years I have left my yelling maniac of a manager behind for a job where the only times people yell are if there’s a huge win and they’re excited, and I’ve also dumped my yelling maniac of an ex husband and told my yelling neighbors to shut their pieholes enough times that all it takes it 2 knocks on the wall to get peace and quiet back.

        Yelling is not okay. It doesn’t matter if it’s cultural, part of someone’s personality or anything else. I have diagnosed PTSD caused by, and triggered by, people yelling. Never again. It’s abusive.

        I’m happy to read that this manager apologized and recognizes that it wasn’t okay. I do think that the employee at minimum needs a conversation on how to take feedback and may actually need to be fired.

        1. NonProfit Nancy*

          Yeah, just speaking practically – I’m an experienced employee with valuable skills and I expect to be treated with basic human respect (no swearing, yelling, name calling etc). If I don’t get that, I will leave your employ post-haste. I know I’ll be able to get another job before too long where I’ll be treated professionally, and this is what my “walking away money” is for. So what kind of employees are you retaining when you act this way? Ones who feel they have no other options?

          Employment is a two-way street.

          1. PK*

            Exactly! Ultimately, I’m confident that I’ll land on my feet because of my work history and skills so I won’t tolerate that kind of stuff. I’m blessed enough to have options that I just don’t see the worth in staying in bad situations.

      4. Parenthetically*

        I had a coworker yell at me last year, and for the first time in my LIFE I was able to detach emotionally from it — all I could see was how ridiculous she looked. (In a particularly delicious bit of irony, she was screaming at me for undermining another teacher’s authority… in front of a classroom full of students.) My whole life I’ve just fallen apart when someone yelled at me, and then finally, at the age of 34, something clicked, and I was just Not Having Any of Her Nonsense.

        1. NonProfit Nancy*

          Yes! This is a major risk of yelling. A confident employee may well look at you as being an out-of-control crazy person, and you will actually lose authority.

        2. Bend & Snap*

          I do this too when people yell or are otherwise rude. I had an internal client who would foam at the mouth at me and then get even angrier when I didn’t react. Internally I was going “be made of stone” and externally she saw it as an F You. Very strange.

          1. Parenthetically*

            I think this woman definitely saw it that way, because she just kept escalating. She was physically trembling with anger by the time I cordially invited her to the headmaster’s office.

          2. Jadelyn*

            There’s a certain type of person for whom yelling is a deliberate attempt to assert control or power over you, and by refusing to respond you place yourself beyond their reach, which they find infuriating. As far as they’re concerned, your refusal to give them the emotional reaction they want is a kind of defiance, you’re refusing to play by their script for the scene and “disrespecting” their control of the conversation.

        3. Anonish*

          I had a very similar thing happen to me in the first few months of this job. A coworker had yelled at me two or three times over nothing, and the last time it happened, instead of getting upset like I normally would, I just went ice-cold with rage. I pulled him aside at the end of the day and said to him, “This is not the first time you’ve raised your voice to me, but it’s going to be the last. I don’t care what it was about, we are colleagues and you do not get to speak to me like that.” And to his credit, he has not done so again.

            1. Anonish*

              I was pretty impressed with myself! My normal reaction to someone raising their voice to me is to burst into tears so I’m not sure how I managed to keep it together.

      5. Sled dog mama*

        Had this happen last month. I had given notice and had six and a half days left (one and half at one site and five at other site). Grendel yelled at me (never mind that what he yelled was inappropriate) and I walked out, called my actual supervisor and told him then called HR and said “I know you have a no PTO during notice period policy but I WILL be taking tomorrow off or YOU WILL BE sending someone else to my other site next week.” HR’s response was we didn’t know it had gotten that bad with Grendel absolutely take tomorrow off.

    4. Grits McGee*

      Definitely agree on not apologizing again. OP, obviously yelling is not great and you recognize that, but there’s a world of difference between raising your voice in frustration vs. yelling, and yelling vs. screaming/pounding your hands on the desk/throwing things/brandishing a machete, as well as between someone who loses their temper once and someone who is a Yeller with a capital Y.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Yeah, I am worried that OP is so focused on apologizing that she is losing the bigger picture.

        OP, if you want to make a silent apology decide to learn from the situation and make that a part of who you are professionally. Let that silent vow act in place of another apology.I have had people that I would apologize to a couple times. He would not be one of those people.

    5. MuseumChick*

      I somewhat agree with you. I am someone who is very sensitive to yelling. I totally shut down when it happens and would probably cry at home if I was every yelled at by a boss. 99.5% of the time, no, you should never yell at work. But nothing is one-size-fits-all in this world and that included professional norms.

      There was someone I went to school with who was like this. She just did not get it and let us down on multiple team project where the end product was going to be available to the public and had a lot of advertisement. After months of trying to be professional with her everything finally came to a head and I raised my voice and spoke very harshly to her. She was shocked, upset, etc but you know what? Her behavior changed.

    6. MsMaryMary*

      I put yelling at work in the same category as crying or swearing* at work. Not terribly professional and not the preferred option, but occasionally very effective. There are times a show of emotion will get through to someone when nothing else will.

      *Whether it’s appropriate/professional to sweat at work definitely varies by workplace and corporate culture. My personal opinion is that it’s not a great idea in an office environment, especially from management. YMMV, and that’s cool!

      1. NonProfit Nancy*

        I think if I had an employee who wouldn’t respond except to swearing/yelling/crying, I would quickly move to fire that person way before I’d stoop to those types of displays. With a coworker or boss that’s obviously not your choice, but I still wouldn’t accept it as normal or necessary. It does seem like, based on the comments, there are some fields – law is maybe one – where this convention varies.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I think yelling is a much more egregious problem than crying because there’s both a problematic power dynamic (usually) between the yeller and the person being yelled at, and because it’s abusive. Crying can be spontaneous or manipulative, but it’s rarely abusive.

        1. Anna*

          Agreed. If you fire someone for crying (really?), my personal opinion is that you might have something wrong with you. Work is not an emotionless place where you walk in and all your human feelings turn off and to pretend that’s the case is weird.

          1. Statler von Waldorf*

            I fired someone for crying, and I don’t appreciate being told that because of that there is something wrong with me. She consistently used it as a manipulation technique, and was toxic through and through. I still her remember her abruptly stopping crying to start yelling at me and calling me a variety of hateful names because I didn’t stop firing her once the tears started.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              That’s a different thing though — that’s firing someone for being toxic and manipulative, not firing them because they once teared up while getting hard feedback.

    7. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

      In the Anne of Avonlea book, Anne Shirley is in her first year of teaching, and swore to herself she’d never, ever, use corporal punishment (which was still a thing when the books were written), and of course she had a problem child who, no matter what she did, would not behave. So one day she was having a horrible day and completely lost it and gave him a smack with her pointer after he did something bad. And she hated herself forever for it, and after that, the kid was awesome and even ended up adoring her, because he respected her for how hard she’d hit him (just as hard as a man!). There’s a similar scene in the miniseries adaptation with Jen Pringle, but it doesn’t have the same effect– Anne just feels horrible about herself and Jen Pringle is just as bad as ever. Until the play. Anyway.

      Not endorsing corporal punishment, obviously, but sometimes, with some people, being reasonable and professional doesn’t work. Sometimes, unless you lose your temper, they’ll never “get it.” It’s just the way it is. And sometimes, even after losing it, they still don’t get it. Which is when it’s time to let them go.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        Whoa, coincidence! In my comment here about speaking in a deliberately calm voice to annoy my sister, she called it my “Jen Pringle voice.” It drove her crazy because she knew what I was doing, but what could she complain about? “She’s deliberately speaking quietly and calmly just to annoy me!” I mean, I was also being super patronizing in what I said, it wasn’t just the calm voice, but it was still hard to complain about and not sound like you’re getting mad about nothing.

    8. Electric Hedgehog*

      Yes, fire the intern. The major point of an internship is to learn office norms, and one of those norms is that you’ll be fired for poor performance. It’s a lesson that he clearly needs to learn (and frankly, one that will hopefully save future bosses and coworkers lots of headaches).

    9. LKW*

      I am similar in temperament. I also work in consulting so yelling is rarely an option. So if I raise my voice, it’s going to be noticed. I’ve had people tell me they could hear me through walls and were impressed or say that they would not want to be on my bad side. As a woman, it’s always tricky to yell – your voice has to go up in volume but down in tone, lest you sound shrill. You also have to keep the words very terse with no references to feelings. Still, when I do yell, I do it infrequently. I may say “I’m sorry that I must be so stern/forceful/adamant but it is important that you understand that this is unacceptable.” I hate having to apologize though because sometimes you have to make yourself heard and the person on the other end won’t hear you until you raise your voice.

    10. Lily in NYC*

      I agree with you! I have yelled only once in my career (even calling it yelling is a stretch – more like I showed my frustration and spoke more loudly than usual and used one bad word). And it worked! The bosses here all know that I am always happy and laid back and I get along with everyone. I had been complaining about how impossible it was to work with this guy for months and no one listened or had my back. My tantrum made them realize that he was a problem and he got moved off any projects that entail dealing with other human beings.

    11. Mrs. Fenris*

      I yelled in the workplace one time in my 24 years in my field. It was not at a coworker-it was a peer/slight superior at another company. He was well known locally as a bully, and he started trying to push me around in a phone conversation. I finally started to splutter. I hadn’t intended to start spluttering, but once I got started I made a more or less conscious decision to do it as LOUDLY AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE. I believe you could have heard me from his office without use of the phone. I’m sort of embarrassed about it, and more than a little proud of myself. It did work, by the way. He backed down immediately, and my boss ended up having to talk to him in person about the issue that had prompted the phone call.

    12. Student*

      I agree with you. It should be rare, but it is sometimes the best tool for the job.

      I can think of two times I’ve yelled in a professional setting. Both times involved a co-worker touching me inappropriately. Being visibly and obviously outraged was the only way to get the point across to colleagues (and the bosses) that this is beyond the pale. There are some people who live in their bubble and really cannot fathom why this is inappropriate until you spell it out in black and white letters – not just attackers, but the people you need to take action to resolve the problem, such as the boss, HR, and other colleagues, who live in a nice bubble where this kind of thing doesn’t happen.

      I can think of a handful of times I regret NOT yelling at someone, actually – people just like the one the OP described, who seemed determined to find any minor loophole in constructive criticism and drive a truck through it. They justify to themselves and others that they don’t need to pay attention to the message you just gave them because you didn’t have a lawyer go over every word in advance, or use every logical fallacy in the book to try to end-run around the message.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I think the advice is the same, except you escalate it to the person with firing authority. Unless the organization is dysfunctional, in which case you do everything Alison said and focus on the consequences within your control—poor reference, notifying the intern program of derelict performance (or intern’s school if the internship is organized through a program granting academic credit), etc.

      1. NonProfit Nancy*

        You can also redirect to their boss and say, “I’m sorry, I can’t accept Jessie’s work as an intern under me anymore. He’s been disrespectful and I’m not interested in continuing to work with him.” Of course that works better if his boss is your peer rather than your direct boss, but even if he’s been assigned to you by an authority you can push back against them politely.

      2. Uzumaki Naruto*

        Yeah, the intern thing actually helps with the lack of firing authority. They need references — that’s the point of an internship! Or at least it’s a significant component, along with gaining experience.

        1. Artemesia*

          I had a very terrible intern once who was stunned when I suggested he would not want to use me for a reference when he requested that I provide him with one.

    2. Joseph*

      Try to redirect it to his actual manager. Basically you talk to his manager and explain the situation and history of issues, show the horrible email, and admit “I lost my temper a bit and I’m sorry for that, but it was really frustrating” while also describing Employee’s behavior in the meeting.

      1. The Supreme Troll*

        I don’t think it would be absolutely necessary to apologize for the yelling proactively. She could explain it in detail if this was brought up by the intern’s direct manager. Given all of the problems that the intern has been causing, calmly explaining why she yelled when questioned should be easily understood by any reasonable boss.

  4. Artemesia*

    Doing poorly is not necessarily a reason to fire an intern at this point, but the snotty email was. I think the OP would have done the intern and the world a favor by firing him on the spot for that. To then argue and not listen when corrected — all the more reason. While I don’t think yelling is a great idea, I think it was probably not unreasonable with this person who does not listen and does not take correction. There are lot os snotty, full of themselves, 21 year olds who have learned they can get their way by being jerks and who are not about to be bossed around by a woman. This appears to be one of them. Nothing sends a message to someone like this like getting fired. A month to go? Too bad.

      1. OP!*

        Very interesting to read that so many folks would have fired him at this point! I’ve never fired someone and am still, at this early point in my management career, trying to figure out where the line is for me. It’s helpful information to hear that many of you would have considered this over the line (though of course, I know it depends so much on the particular workplace and context).

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I’d say that you fire when the issues are fundamental to the person’s effectiveness in the role*, when you’ve tried several times to give very clear feedback and you’ve made it clear to the person that the issues are serious ones that will affect their success in the role, and when you have not seen significant and sustained improvement after that. (Ultimately they need to reach whatever high bar you have for the role, but they don’t need to get there overnight — you just need to see serious evidence that they’re going to.)

          * Effectiveness in the role includes that they can’t be a terrible pain for you or others to work with.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            I have often thought that PIPs and stepped warnings came into being because many people can’t tell where to draw the line. Having a written policy not only helps people to draw the line but it also sets the bar for company expectations.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          When I first supervised people I overlooked/accommodated a lot of behaviors that I never would now. Don’t feel bad about wanting to be fair.

          My wise friend used to talk about the rule of three. We see something three times we have a pattern. When we have a pattern we need to take action.

          Rude three times? Pattern. Take action. (Speak to him.)
          Questioning instructions in a non-constructive manner three times? Pattern. Take action. (Instruct him that is not done in work places.)
          Three instances of low quality work? Pattern.
          You get the idea.

          So I started by applying my wise friend’s rule of three. Well, you have to start somewhere, right? After a bit, I found there were specific things that I only needed to see once, I did not need to see them three times. In identifying these things I set my boundaries tighter.
          Another key point that was important to me: Consistency. If I insist on X today, three weeks from now I cannot decide that X is okay because I am just too tired today to argue. I had to apply my own rules evenly and consistently.

          My top rule is: If I am ready to explode, I only have myself to blame. I let it go on too long. I need to find ways to intervene before my temper goes up.

          FWIW, many work places would have fired this guy. Some arenas are rougher and make allowances because of the roughness of the work, I guess. I hope you tell him that you cannot be a good reference for him.

    1. Marisol*

      I agree wholeheartedly. The *kindest* and most helpful thing for this guy is to experience a hard consequence for his actions. Sounds like he got to adulthood without learning some important lessons–the sooner he learns them now, the better. And yes, the fact that he’s only got one month left there is irrelevant.

      1. TheBeetsMotel*

        The “one month left” may even help drive the message home. In the sense of: “You managed to get yourself fired for foolish behavior with only a month to go? That was stupid, and you should feel stupid.”

      2. Anonsie*

        Agreed. It’s a kindness to him, and it’s a kindness to all the people who will have to work with him someday if he learns now that this kind of behavior is unacceptable.

    2. Jadelyn*

      I think it depends on how poorly. Specifically, the fact that OP has tried to improve the guy’s performance multiple times already to no avail would suggest to me that the poor performance is absolutely a reason to let him go. But I agree with you that the rude email and the rules-lawyer attitude about being called on the carpet for his performance is enough and that he honestly *needs* to get fired for that kind of behavior if he’s ever going to stop doing it.

    3. Augusta Sugarbean*

      I would also say that not firing him sends a bad message to other interns, if there are more. They are seeing that they worked hard and bad intern performed badly but everyone got the same result.

  5. Jesmlet*

    An internship is an opportunity for younger workers to learn the ins and outs of working, including skills, appropriate behavior, and yes… what is tolerable and what is not. If you would’ve fired a regular employee for the same behavior then you should fire the intern, otherwise he won’t learn that what he’s done is unacceptable and he’ll carry that on to his next job. At the very least, I would sit down and apologize for letting your temper get the best of you, and then clearly outline the problems, what changes need to be made, and then the consequences for not meeting those expectations. The first jobs/internships are where good or bad employees are made and this will be a valuable learning opportunity regardless of how he leaves. Either he’ll learn that he can get away with stuff like this or he’ll learn that he can’t.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yes, exactly this! The learning element of internships also means learning that you can get fired for being unprofessional and for poor performance.

      FWIW, the litigating everything would have probably gotten under my skin, too, but my approach is to shut that ish down. I find it’s easier to me to detach from my irritation/anger when I remember that I’m in charge and that the convo with the intern is my show, not his.

      1. Allypopx*

        “The learning element of internships also means learning that you can get fired for being unprofessional and for poor performance.”

        This is really important. You should have more patience with interns and explain professional norms and standards as clearly and consistently as possible, but they can’t be completely exempt from professional consequences.

    2. always in email jail*

      At the very least, it’s worth telling the intern “If you were a regular employee here, you would have been fired for that email”, if you’re absolutely determined to let them finish out the month as a learning opportunity.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        This is a great point.
        The intern could have been fired for several things each on their own. It would be good if you, showed him this OP. (That is if you don’t just fire him, instead.)

    3. AnotherHRPro*

      I came to make the same point. Being terminated is actually a great lesson for an Intern and this is the best time for someone to learn it. I could also argue that by not terminating a poor performing and rude Intern is teaching them that their behavior is acceptable to a company. That could have longer term negative ramifications than losing the job now a few weeks early.

    4. AD*

      Very much agreed.

      I was coming here to say that this is the second recent letter where someone contacted Alison to basically say “I have a horrible intern but their internship is up soon and I don’t see the point of firing them” (paraphrasing here).

      Aside from the yelling in this letter, it’s basically the same thing. Why the angst about firing an intern? If I as a manager had an intern who was unproductive and/or had a poor attitude that escalated to multiple feedback conversations, I absolutely would not hesitate to let them go. Whether they have 4 days or 4 weeks or 4 months left, this level of dysfunction in an intern certainly warrants termination (at least it would for me).

      1. Artemesia*

        In many programs if an intern is fired they lose academic credit for the experience and in some cases with full time internships, it is an entire semester. I once worked in a program where we had full time internships (with corresponding seminars and academic projects.) A student in an international site did something horrific involving misuse of the company email and was fired; we were lucky not to lose the whole city as a placement it was that bad. We of course lost that particular organization. His father the lawyer did everything short of a lawsuit to bully us into reinstating him at a different site since it was delaying his graduation. I personally felt he should be expelled from the University as did the committee reviewing this that I sat on. The President felt we could not inflict a heavier penalty on appeal than the original flunk and dismissal for a semester. So firing has consequences. I would not do it unless the behavior was egregious — not just incompetence but unethical behavior or rude behavior.

        1. AD*

          Regardless of academic credit, a continually poorly-performing intern most likely warrants termination. What you described is not really germane to the concerns of the business.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          That would be a problem between the school and the intern, though, right?
          I don’t think OP works for the school involved. It sounds like she works for an independent employer, which would change her vantage point. I could be misreading this, that is a possibility also.

  6. MH*

    I have yelled exactly once in my professional career. I had been at work until 9:00 p.m (without overtime) finishing up a something important because I didn’t have any assistance. When I asked for assistance I was told by several people “it’s not my job” when really, it was, but the supervisor didn’t want to back me up. After spending until 9:00 p.m. three days in a row finishing this up, I was called into an office and asked “why I didn’t finish it sooner.” I kept my calm through that, but when I said, “hey, and I have a vacation scheduled you approved, I need help in finishing it then” and THEN was I told once again I wouldn’t have help on this project, I lost it. I shouldn’t have, I apologized, but I lost it, pushed to my breaking point. (And that supervisor was fired a month later.)

    i put that out there to say: I don’t think yelling is ever appropriate. If you have to yell, you’ve lost your point, the high ground, and simply shows that you’re unreasonable. If you tell all the time, all you do is create a culture of fear that makes things unpleasant, and you can wonder about your high turnover. But sometimes… I like to think you get one. You get one day where things just are at your breaking point, and someone hits that one special pet peeve. Shoudl you have yelled? Yes. Absolutely. Should you do it again? No. God, no. Because now you know that one thing that is going to set you off, and now, you can deal with it sooner. And this intern learns a valuable life lesson.

    1. Chinook*

      I have to agree. The one day you lose it and yell in frustration is sort of like finding that hill you are ready to die on. Not every hill is worth it and if people see you willing to walk away from smaller battles, they will realize that, on this point, this is your breaking point and you will not take it one moment more.

  7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP, I think it’s important to remember that you have standards you expect from your interns, and this intern is not meeting those standards. Given his attitude/tone issues (arguing with you instead of listening, sending rude emails) and the lack of progress on performance issues, I’d be tempted to fire him.

    Going forward, it might be helpful to figure out what your metrics are for determining when to separate from an intern. Here it sounds like there were ongoing issues that never improved, but because your internship program has an experiential learning component, you were hesitant to fire him. Having some kind of objective measure or protocol for how to deal with bad interns could really help if you end up in a situation like this, again.

    Here’s an anecdote from a dysfunctional old job that was hesitant to fire terrible interns. Right before I came on as staff, Old Job had a terrible intern. She had lied on her resume, etc., during the interview process, and a week after she came on board, she became completely outlandish and inappropriate. She was subpar at her job responsibilities and was resistant to coaching/feedback. Literally every assignment she had was redone by the assigning staff person, resulting in a relationship where she was a black hole that just kept sucking in resources but giving nothing back. She also showed up to work late and hungover, lied about attending mandatory client meetings, failed to meet basic business dress standards, and was extremely persistent in pushing the (much older) staff to “party” with her (i.e., get blackout drunk). She got drunk at a (dry!) work fundraiser with our major individual donors… all while staffing a table that required her to interact with those donors. When we called a cab for her, she refused to leave. When she was unable to peer pressure the one (new to the organization) staff person her age to party with her, she threatened to file a complaint against him saying that he had sexually assaulted her outside of work and was sexually harassing her at work.

    That intern should have been fired within the first month, but the Exec. Director would not fire her because she reasoned that this was supposed to be a learning experience. It wasn’t until the sexual harassment information came to light (several weeks after she started threatening that staff person—which she did for weeks) that the ED even contemplated firing. At that point, there were 2 weeks left in the internship, and the ED decided to wait it out. It was awful and toxic and left the entire office traumatized, and it undermined the relationship between management and staff.

    So please, fire this intern.

    1. MissGirl*

      I think it’s important to remember that being fired can be a great learning experience, especially if it’s a low stakes internship. You do not want the intern thinking this behavior is acceptable at all. Don’t let them go into their career thinking this is something they can do.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        Yes, and much better for them if they get fired while an intern than get fired from a “real” job later in life. If you have to get fired to learn a lesson, an internship is the best time for that.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Totally agree.

        In this case, the organization had never had to fire an intern, and so they were very deer in headlights about it (not excusing them, but just providing context). But the other issue was that they thought if they fired her they’d torpedo her future career. I’m not sure why the ED thought not-firing was preferable because the best possible reference she would have gotten was a statement that she had interned at the organization (but isn’t it much worse to have someone who’s a nightmare list that they interned with your org when they go on the market?). She would have been fired if she were staff, and generally, you shouldn’t keep an intern who you wouldn’t keep as staff.

      3. Amazed*

        Bingo. This ED wanted her to learn, and ultimately taught her how to blackmail her way out of getting fired.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Some people see inaction as a weak point. It gives them a green light to go ahead and have even worse behavior.

      4. Tuckerman*

        I agree, but I wouldn’t assume that firing an intern would necessarily result in a lesson learned. Instead of recognizing that she needed to change her behavior, she might conclude that her manager was unfair or the company didn’t appreciate her. Especially now that her manager has yelled at her, she might believe that’s “evidence” she came from a dysfunctional workplace.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Sure, but if she had been terminated when she did the first most unforgivable thing, we could have prevented her from torturing a young employee who was starting his first job. To be honest, I don’t think she would have learned anything from having been fired, but there would have been much less grief and way fewer resources expended by an appropriately timed firing.

      5. Sprechen Sie Talk?*

        Agree with this. I have a subordinate right now who has some pretty awful work habits that were not corrected during her first work experience/internship and she has, to my knowledge, not been corrected at this place either in the short amount of time she has been here. She came up against me who is holding her to standards and timelines and its been Meltdown City.

        But.. she learned somewhere and was passed along despite producing poor quality work way overdue, missing deadlines, avoiding growth assignments, and walking away from projects before they are fully complete. Maybe if someone had taken her aside in her first role and taught her the ropes or if she had been PIP’d and forced to shape up we would be in a different place now. As it stands I get to have A Conversation tomorrow.

        Poster up-thread with the the Rule of Threes – I think I have been inadvertently following that but I will DEFINITELY be keeping that in the back of my mind from now on!

    2. RVA Cat*

      “When she was unable to peer pressure the one (new to the organization) staff person her age to party with her, she threatened to file a complaint against him saying that he had sexually assaulted her outside of work and was sexually harassing her at work.”

      This is horrifying. It’s difficult enough for real victims to be believed without some loon like her threatening false charges just to bully somebody into enabling her addiction.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Totally agreed—all of her conduct was irresponsible and reprehensible, but that final threat was next-level vile.

      2. tigerStripes*

        Threatening false charges like that is just evil. Makes it harder for real victims, and it’s cruel to the person who is falsely accused.

  8. Josie Prescott*

    I would say you don’t have to fire the intern, but you do need to make it very clear that these are offenses a regular employee would be disciplined and possibly fired for.

    I also disagree with the coffee shop idea, but if you have an office you’ve been meeting in, moving to a conference room can sometimes help.

    Good luck.

    1. AcidMeFlux*

      Agree with firing now. Letting him go with only a month left on his internship sends a message that “no, we’re not just going to shrug and let it go”.

  9. The Other Dawn*

    I think the intern should be fired. He’s insubordinate, is performing poorly, argues everything…yeah, I’d fire him even though there’s only one month left. I’d argue that it doesn’t matter how much time is left. He needs to feel the consequences of his actions.

    1. NonProfit Nancy*

      Yeah you’re doing him a favor by letting him see the consequences of poor performance in a relatively low-stakes situation. This isn’t going to ruin his life but doing this in a future job might.

      1. lionelrichiesclayhead*

        This is what I wanted to say. If I were an intern, I would much rather be fired as an intern than have to learn my lesson when I was fired from a “real” job down the line for the same stuff.

    2. Bork*


      It sounds like even one more day with this dude is one day too many.

      I have a colleague that makes me think at least once a week (it was daily when we were on the same team), “If I could fire you, I would do so immediately.” I don’t know if this guy works with a team and if his actions/behavior are affecting other employees, but in my situation seeing “Jane” not improve, get away with constantly making major mistakes repeatedly, get defensive, act unprofessionally with clients, etc. even after being spoken to by management over and over again…and yet she’s still here. It makes me think management is lazy and just wants to sweep things under the rug.
      Do not suffer one minute longer. Do everyone a favor and let this person go.

    3. fposte*

      Yeah, I think the only reason not to fire him is to avoid having the firing conversation, and that’s not good enough.

      He’s not contributing and he’s not learning. The space will be improved by his absence (and if he’s paid, so will the bottom line). Cut him loose.

  10. CCRN*

    I feel for you, OP. I’ve got a bit of a temper, and I find that if I expect to get flak from an interaction, I’m much better equipped to keep it in check. For times when it comes out of the blue, I try to pause and ask myself why a reasonable person would act that way. It helps me not to take the conflict personally so I can better understand the problem and effectively find a solution. At any rate, don’t over-apologize, especially if you were sincere the first time. You can’t take back what was done. You can’t make him accept your apology or his role in the conflict, but you can do better next time.

    1. NonProfit Nancy*

      I’d also say, when you feel yourself entering the “red zone” you should IMMEDIATELY stop the meeting and reschedule it. “I’m sorry, I’m not in a position to discuss this with you right now, I need to come back to this point. Please go back to your desk and we’ll resume the conversation later.” Try to remember the exact moment you lost control and how it felt right before that – were your temples pounding? Your fists clenched? I always feel my pulse in my hands when I’m really upset. When I feel that, I know I need to cut it short and exit stage left RIGHT NOW.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      OP, I hope you understand that apologizing is the least part of this whole story. If you really want to make a second apology, then apologize to the GOOD interns who had to put up with this guy’s crap.

  11. animaniactoo*

    I think that when you do talk to the intern, you should make a point to be clear about a few things from a supervisor/supervisee standpoint:

    1) You don’t need them to defend every action. You need them to hear what you’ve said and REGARDLESS of why it has happened, work to do better. If there is a longterm issue that is a problem, they need to proactively come to you to say that, not wait until you come to them.

    2) They need to take what you’re saying to them seriously, no matter how calmly you speak. Calmness is not an indication of importance here.

    3) A clear understanding of what things you CAN do that are consequences for them. As well as why you have or have not chosen to do those things up to this point, explaining the leeway that’s been granted and a giving insight into why some things were granted leeway as an intern, which would not be granted as an employee.

    Along with the fact that this is what you give from your end. From their end is their best effort to become and act like the most professional employee they can, working on it to the point of seeing clear progress in tone and actions. With a note that failure to see that kind of progress will (not can, WILL) result in escalating consequences, all the way to firing – even up to a week before the internship is supposed to end. So do not think that they can coast their way to the end because it’s almost over. The point they are at is the point where they’ve burned all the leeway and opportunities they’ve been given so no more will be granted without significant, immediate, improvement in time to preserve them from the next escalation.

  12. ArtK*

    This was helpful to me. I’m very reactive in certain situations. Fortunately, not with subordinates, but it still causes problems. I know exactly what my triggers are, but they still get the best of me.

  13. Trout 'Waver*

    “The intern totally failed to take responsibility for his performance and was continuing to defensively litigate every point with me throughout our meeting”

    I’d be tempted to respond to the excuses with “So you’re telling me that the poor performance is likely to continue?” This is a good reason to fire someone, imho.

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        I’d go with “This is not a debate, and my assessment of your performance is the only germane one. If you’re not willing to take that seriously, then I can’t manage you, which means I can’t employ you.” But there’s my damn tendency to deliver a lecture again.

        1. Parenthetically*

          Ye gods, I am an inveterate lecturer. It’s the worst. I’m trying to work on it this year, but as much as I know that a clear statement of the problem and a clear request for a solution actually get better results, I’ll be darned if I don’t still want to shake my finger and look over the top of my glasses for ten minutes. So much more emotionally satisfying.

          1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

            And then you just watch them drop out of the conversation like they’re entering conversational hyperspace, and you’re like….goddammit, I have not fully explained my four-point thesis about why you suck, come back!

            1. NonProfit Nancy*

              Ha there’s comments below how the person who says the fewest words has the most power. I’m going to try to remember that next time I get that Scolding Headmistress instinct.

            2. Parenthetically*

              I’m babysitting some kids who are studying for a test, and I may have just had to stifle a guffaw.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      This is seriously brill, and I am absolutely going to steal it. I love that it keeps the manager from sinking down to the intern’s level and getting into a verbal mud fight.

  14. NW Mossy*

    My boss is a former litigator, and she gave me some great advice about tackling tough conversations: “Sometimes, your most powerful statement is made of the fewest words.”

    Her point was that when you say very little, you retain control of the direction of the conversation. You’re not getting drawn into your antagonist’s worldview or responding to it; instead, you’re focused on what you need to accomplish in the conversation. In the OP’s situation, repeating “We’ve already discussed this” lets you both maintain emotional distance but also give a defensive over-explainer nothing to grab onto to keep it going. Eventually, people tire of coming up against that blank wall of non-reaction and start to sputter out of lack of fuel. From there, you can reiterate what you expect from the other person and close the meeting.

    I was skeptical that this would work the first time I tried it, but it really did work. The approach was a very valuable addition to my toolbox of how to deal with combative people and still get what I need from them.

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      “I’m not looking for your input on this,” is a slightly sassier response.

    2. Trout 'Waver*

      I got a similar tip from a leadership workshop I took. The power of silence is pretty amazing. Don’t be afraid of it. Especially when someone’s trying to bullshit you.

    3. LKW*

      Sometimes I break out the “Yes, I’ve heard your position, but it will not change anything on this subject.”

      1. Anony-Mouse*

        I kind of hate to say this, but, becoming a mother REALLY helped me learn these expressions, this behavior, etc. and quickly! Like Alison stated, its all about really feeling, and KNOWING inside yourself, that you have all the power and control over a situation. So using outwardly calm, quiet, firm expressions and statements almost comes naturally after you fully realize this power is all with you.
        “I’m sorry you feel that way, but you will not change my response.”
        “My answer is the same as it was yesterday.”
        “I need you to do what we agreed you would do last week.”

        I use all of these statements on a daily basis with my kids, and truthfully, some employees certainly act like my very young children!

        1. NW Mossy*

          It’s been similar for me as well – I definitely find myself tapping into that vein of “I care about you, but you’re not acting right and that needs to change” with my employees and my kids both. Kids give you a lot of practice in figuring out how to deal with someone who doesn’t think like an even-keeled, professional adult with a blend of compassion and strength, and those lessons can absolutely be adapted at work. The words I use and the context of our disagreements are different, but the way to constructively guide the conversation is very similar.

        2. Bunny Purler*

          It’s a similar situation when you are training horses. I was always taught that people lose their temper with horses when they have no other resources or knowledge which will help them. The bigger your toolbox, in terms of training ideas, the less likely you will be to go to that place where you get angry and violent. If you know (or act as if) you will always be able to work out a calm strategy, then you never need to lose your temper. Harmony and lightness then rule your interactions. Which is lovely.

        3. Chinook*

          “I kind of hate to say this, but, becoming a mother REALLY helped me learn these expressions, this behavior, etc. and quickly! Like Alison stated, its all about really feeling, and KNOWING inside yourself, that you have all the power and control over a situation.”

          It isn’t just parenthood – anyone who has had to be in charge of toddlers or teens (both of whom are stubborn, believe they are always right and want to negotiate everything) has either had to learn to do this or lose control. Once you accept that they won’t like you and that you do actually know what is correct and for the best in the larger picture (while those who are arguing only what short term pleasure for themselves), these phrases start popping out of your mouth uncontrollably.

  15. krysb*

    I’m not a yeller, never have been. When I get upset, I remove myself from the situation. I have, however, cussed at an employee – once. Don’t get me wrong. I have a horrible potty mouth – but I’ve never cussed AT someone before in my life.

    The way I treat situations like this is to give the person enough rope to hang himself. Well, he hanged himself, now it’s time to cut him loose.

  16. Emi.*

    Princess Consuela pointed out that you have to remember that “you have standards you expect from your interns.” To expand on that, you want to have standards for your internship, right? Part of being a valuable internship that (a) teaches people things and (b) is good for them to have on their resume is enforcing high standards. YMMV depending on how much people talk in your industry, but you want your internship, and by extension your office, to have a good reputation with other (hiring) managers, and that’s not going to happen if your interns get away with this type of behaviour.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Oh, good point. OP, these are your peeps that you are sending out into the world. You don’t want the world thinking that anything goes at your company. You want to aim for a rep of, “Oh, you interned at Great Intern Training Company, then we want to talk to you about working for US.”

  17. Pup Seal*

    This reminds me of two incidents. The first was from a few years ago when I was a swimming instructor. The kid I was teaching wasn’t listening to me, so I was already getting frustrated. Then he kept pushing the kickboard under the water so it would shoot out into the air. I told him multiple times to stop because the kickboard could fly out and hit someone in the eye, but he didn’t listen. Finally, I got so mad that I yelled at him. It caused a bit of a scene, as other teachers and kids stopped and watched. He did listen to me after that. I felt bad for yelling and losing my cool, though one teacher praised me for it…

    The second incident was with my younger sister. She has a history of stealing other people’s things. During one vacation, she stole some of my hygiene stuff, and when I confronted her about it, she refused to acknowledge that she did anything wrong and kept giving me excuses for her behavior. I didn’t yell, but I definitely snapped at her and then walked away. She got so upset that she ended up injuring her eyes. Let’s say that was not a fun vacation.

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      She injured her eyes because she was so upset? I’m imagining this cartoon fountain of tears.

      1. Pup Seal*

        I’m not sure exactly what she did. I think she pressed on her eyes so hard that they got bruised.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          That is crazy!! Isn’t that how replicants kill humans in Blade Runner??

    2. NonProfit Nancy*

      Haha I do hesitate to say it’s never necessary to yell at a child doing something dangerous. It’s so hard to get their attention! They have a lot going on in their busy little minds! They have sort of adapted to ignoring me and my instructions! But they would have to be actively doing something quite dangerous to themselves or others.

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        Just this morning, I was trying to tell my almost-3 year old something. I said it three times. Finally he turned to me and said, very matter of factly, “Dada, I’m thinking about trucks.” Then spaced out again. I died.

        1. NonProfit Nancy*

          My niece at three was known to say “I’m not listening to you right now, please be quiet” – hahaha yikes. Out of the mouths of babes. My poor sister.

  18. Katie the Fed*

    oh, I feel you. There are some people that REALLY push your buttons. It doesn’t excuse it, but I’m pretty sure most of us have been there or been close to there.

    Remember too that you can walk away. If you feel yourself losing control, it’s ok to stop abruptly and say “I actually need to finish something; let’s finish this discussion later.” And then take a breath and get control again.

  19. FiveWheels*

    Is yelling really that unacceptable? Is it a British/American thing, or perhaps an industry thing?

    It doesn’t seem out of the ordinary to me in my field (law), and currently when my boss yells at me I yell back, which seems to work well.

    1. NonProfit Nancy*

      Haha there seems to be some divide, maybe by field. Yelling would be very out of place in my field (we’re sort of a government contracting agency, there’s no emergencies, nobody’s life is on the line and the culture is formal). Law seems to be an exception from what I’m seeing in the comments.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I’m in law, and it’s unacceptable. Bosses still do it and get away with it because of bad management practices and power inequalities, but it’s not considered normal or healthy or professional.

        1. FiveWheels*

          In my geographic area it is totally within the bounds of professionalism – in fact I think it would be considered more strange for everyone to always stay calm. And VERY unprofessional for someone to be upset at being yelled at.

          Thinking about it, professional staff yelling at each other = no harm no foul. But professional staff yelling at secretaries would be completely unacceptable. I don’t think anyone consciously decides this, but yelling at a secretary feels like bullying whereas yelling at another attorney is more akin to picking on someone your own size. And I’ve never worked anywhere where shouting back at a boss would be viewed unfavourably.

          1. AD*

            I’m sorry FiveWheels, but staff or managers or whoever in a professional setting yelling at each other most definitely is not ok, and Princess Consuela above accentuated that this is true for the legal industry.

            I’m not sure where you’re located, but it’s bad practice. And your analogies to “picking on someone your own size” and references to someone being upset at being yelled at being viewed as unprofessional are troubling.

            1. Zombii*

              Princess’ comment actually states that yelling is unacceptable, but then says bosses in her industry (law, same as FiveWheels) do yell, and aren’t reprimanded for it.

              I don’t know another definition for acceptable behavior beyond being a behavior that people do that has no negative repercussions for the person who does it, so it sounds like this is an accepted behavior in law as an industry, but some people personally consider the practice unacceptable—which is a completely valid opinion, but not the same as the behavior being unacceptable within the industry.

              1. AD*

                I think you’re splitting hairs. Consuela clearly said it’s unacceptable, but certain managers who lack good management training or good management practices do it.

              2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                No, it’s definitely unacceptable in the industry, full stop. The fact that some bosses still do it doesn’t make it ok—it just means that a minority of industry players engage in toxic behavior that the profession, as a whole, has condemned as abusive and unprofessional.

                By analogy, it’s like cheating on an exam—not everyone cheats, and not all students who cheat get caught, but the fact that they’re not caught/disciplined doesn’t mean that cheating is ok or is a widely accepted practice.

                In law, a very small minority of high-powered bosses yell, and when they yell, it’s not acceptable, but it’s also not always immediately correctable. The reason they get away with it, in part, is because the culture of law practice is super hierarchical, which makes it hard to remove yelling bosses because they have to be removed by their peers, by a regulatory board, or by impeachment. But the fact that they’re hard to remove doesn’t somehow transform their unacceptable conduct into acceptable conduct.

                FiveWheels’ follow up statement really blew me away, though. The idea that being uncomfortable/upset with being yelled at would be viewed as unprofessional is really astounding to me. It is literally the opposite of all prevailing workplace norms for the legal industry. So perhaps this is where the country context makes a difference.

    2. NW Mossy*

      It certainly does happen more in some fields, but that doesn’t make yelling professional, particularly. Unless you have to yell to be heard over the sounds in your working environment, you can generally find a normal-volume way to express yourself that’s equally (or more) effective.

    3. AnotherHRPro*

      Yelling is so out of character at my company that when someone raises their voice it is a big deal! I can’t imagine yelling at my boss (or my boss yelling at me).

      1. NonProfit Nancy*

        Yeah I’m really struggling to even picture it here. It would make the yell-er look totally out of touch.

        1. Cath in Canada*

          I’ve never heard a voice raised in anger at my current workplace, and only extremely rarely in other labs and offices I’ve worked in, in Canada and the UK.

          I did once have a stand-up shouting match with my PhD supervisor, but that was justified IMO :) (He fought with literally everyone in the group that day, took the next day off, then came in the following day and apologised to everyone). He’s one of only three people I’ve ever yelled at as an adult, the other two being my Dad and my ex-boyfriend!

          1. Cath in Canada*

            I should clarify – never heard a voice raised in anger AT someone. People do get frustrated sometimes and vent about it, and people do sometimes yell at their computer or at uncooperative lab equipment.

    4. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

      I recently learned that a friend of mine has never had a boss (in 20 years of working) that didn’t yell. It only came up because she recently switched teams and her new boss doesn’t yell. She was baffled at some errors that had occurred and “no yelling or anyone getting in trouble”. Then I pointed out that no one should be yelling at work and that a good manager doesn’t have performance conversations in front of everyone. She was FLOORED.

      She’s in IT, in case anyone finds that relevant.

    5. LKW*

      Definitely field by field. I used to work in construction where yelling at people during meetings was pretty normal. Someone would yell at someone and possibly call them an idiot and then everyone would go to lunch, yeller and idiot together and laugh over sandwiches or burgers. Only one argument resulted in a physical fight and they got called on the carpet into the VPs office within minutes.

      1. NonProfit Nancy*

        I could also see this being a safety issue in that environment – inattention at a worksite could cost somebody their lives, and if a truck is backing up towards someone you need to HOLLER. I work with dusty contracts and there are no real emergencies. Someone acting like that would seem irrational and out of touch in my office.

      2. Cath in Canada*

        Yeah, my husband’s in construction and he tells me stories all the time about behaviour that would get you marched out the front door immediately in any job I’ve ever had.

    6. LKW*

      Definitely field by field. I used to work in construction where yelling during meetings was standard. Someone would yell at someone else, possibly call them an idiot and then the whole group would go get lunch, yeller and idiot included, and yak it up over burgers. Only once did it get physical and those two were called on the carpet in front of the VP within minutes.

    7. Tuckerman*

      In grad school, my project management textbook said that yelling back at the boss was an effective way to gain his respect. Not sure I’d try that route, though.

  20. Looey*

    Since you’re hesitant to fire them, it there someone else who can supervisor the intern for the last month?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I wouldn’t do that — it could come across as rewarding the intern for bad behavior (in that he didn’t like the OP’s feedback and now he gets a new manager who won’t have that history with him).

      1. Elizabeth*

        I agree, unless the assigning him to another supervisor is a clear demotion along the lines of “go work in the mailroom, you’re not fit for anything else.”

  21. Science!*

    I have twice raised my voice to an intern. Not yelling but I spoke in a very stern and brusque manner and I know they got freaked out. In both cases I was training/managing them, but had no authority to end the internship.

    The first time was when I was a graduate student managing another grad student who was rotating in the lab. All PhD students do three rotations of about 3 months each. At the very beginning I laid out my expectations that she come in every day and work on the project, but with the caveat that I knew she was still in classes and I wanted to make sure she had ample time to keep up with her classwork and exams. What I requested was that she let me know a couple days in advance of any exams so I would know when she would need extra time to study. She never gave me any advance notice, and more often we would be working together on an experiment that was expected to take a couple hours and suddenly she’s pack her stuff up and tell me she had study group and leave. Finally the last straw was when she was trying to show me her data. I told her she needed to take the images and quickly put them in a powerpoint so that I could look at all the images side by side. Didn’t need to be fancy or polished, just all together. I gave her a whole day to do this (which should have taken an hour tops) and then asked to sit down and look at the images. She informed me that she hadn’t done it yet and didn’t have time to do it until the following day. That is when I spoke quite sternly about my expectations and how I couldn’t evaluate her work unless she provided it to me in the correct format. She did, and the last week or so was fine, but I was pretty glad she didn’t decide to stay in our lab.

    The second time was with a high school intern. Again my expectations were that he set a schedule and keep to it, while allowing for the occasional day when other school commitments would take priority. Problem was he overloaded himself with extra-curriculars* and suddenly he was skipping 2 out of every 3 scheduled days per week. I was very understanding and I didn’t complain, just reiterated that if he needed to miss a day I needed at least 24 hours warning if possible. This translated to him texting me at midnight to let me know he wouldn’t be in the following afternoon **. But then he decided on his own to make up for the absences by coming in when ever he had a spare couple hours, which meant he was texting me at 11am to tell me he’d be in in 20 minutes when I was entirely unprepared for him and had my day fully planned. I finally took him aside and was quite firm about how he needed to abide by the schedule that he himself set, and he needed to give me advance warning about missing days and could not make up a day without getting permission from me. That last about 2 weeks. I had other issues with him (super senioritis kid, he was already accepted to his top choice and the only reason to complete the internship was to not get an F which would prevent his graduation, and even then he procrastinated so badly that he almost didn’t submit his final paper and almost didn’t get his HS degree).

    *I found out later that the program almost didn’t accept him when they found out about his planned extra-curriculars but he convinced them he could handle it. He could not.
    ** I also found out that for most of these absences he absolutely knew at least a week in advance, he would just forget to tell me until the night before.

      1. Science!*

        I should say I’ve had three other interns who were amazing and wonderful and I wish I could have kept longer.

        One was a high school senior who was such a hard worker that she kept me on my toes to keep her day filled and came in every day that she was scheduled to. She was eager to learn and when there was down time, she’d ask for either more work or articles to read.

        There was my favorite college summer student who was eager to learn, took on learning a new task that was also new for me (so I had less advice to give) but excelled at it. And when he was done with his internship at the end of the summer organized his entire folder so all the data was easy to find and access.

        And I had a rotation grad student who knew a particular program I didn’t and so we devised a project together that would utilize her unique skill set to help me with a large amount of data I’d already collected. And she let me know 2-3 days ahead of time when she’d have an exam, and made sure to let me know if there was any other reason she couldn’t come in. She was super independent and I could rely on her to do what she said she was going to do, allowing me the time I needed to work on my other experiments.

        So three out of five isn’t bad!

    1. Trout 'Waver*

      What field was this? I’m cringing at the thought of one grad student micro-managing another.

      1. Science!*

        Biology. It’s actually quite common for an upper level (3rd year or higher) to take on a rotation student if there isn’t a post-doc available. We only had one post-doc in the lab at the time and her project was really intensive so not a great place to throw a first year grad student. My project had the potential to give her independence, but she needed to show me she was capable of doing the experiment first.

        My usual method of training is “see one, do one, teach one” which means first you do the protocol while the student watches (and hopefully takes notes), then they do the protocol while you watch to make sure they understand all the steps, and finally the teach one means either you do the protocol while they tell you every step or they teach someone else the protocol. I usually skip the last one, it’s impractical for short durations. In this students case though it took half the rotation for her to make it past the second phase since she kept leaving in the middle and I had to finish for her, so it took awhile before she’d done the entire protocol by herself all the way through.

        The reason I needed her schedule is because these protocols are often 3-4 days long (with each day consisting of anywhere from 1-4 hours of work) so I needed to know if she would have the time to complete the whole protocol. You can’t just stop in the middle.

        1. Trout 'Waver*

          If I did a rotation in a lab and found myself being micromanaged by a grad student, I’d probably focus on other areas of my education as well. Not to excuse her, but the point of a rotation is to get to know the professor and how the lab works. It also helps builds connections between students by giving them shared experience, and get be a great training tool for people to learn new methods. Actually accomplishing projects of value isn’t really the point of a rotation.

          It’s a lot of work to create rotation-student projects. I think your professor is ignoring a key part of her job if she’s foisting that directly onto other grad students. It’s one thing to have a grad student teach a method. It’s quite another for a grad student to have stern words with another and manage their time.

          1. Science!*

            It’s actually very common in my field for upper level grad students to oversee a rotation student. It’s actually part of the whole getting to know the lab. They still get to know the professor, but it’s not like the professor still does bench work (99% of all PIs I know stop doing bench work once they become an Assistant Professor) so they can’t teach the protocols. And you can’t just throw a protocol at a new student and expect them to do it if they’ve never done it before. Part of a rotation is also about learning new techniques and doing them. And a good rotation project should have some goal that they are working towards. My rotation projects always involved working with other post-docs or grad students and they would train me on the technique I needed to know to do the project we’d decided on. Once I was trained, I could have independence as long as I completed the work assigned. These projects gave me a taste for the kind of work done in the lab as well as the people I would be working with, and culture of the lab. In return, the grad students working with me got the experience of managing and working with another person.

            As far as micromanaging, I would have let her have more independence but she never did the protocol all the way through. Also, when you are working with someone, you need to know when they are going to be around so that you can plan the experiments. I needed to know she would be available for a block of time so we could do that day’s part of the protocol.

            1. Trout 'Waver*

              It appears we’re using the term ‘manage’ quite differently. I think you’d be more accurate calling what you did supervision. It is never appropriate for one grad student to discipline another.

              1. N.J.*

                If the grad student is set up as a supervisor, responsible for scheduling, training and work assignments, as described here, it is indeed appropriate for one grad student to discipline another, aa this hard is serving the entire “boss” role.

              2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                What Science! is describing was pretty common at my university. More senior grad students often managed the lab, including younger grad students and undergrads doing rotations. There was little expectation among undergrads that they would have regular interaction with the professor for that lab until they “earned” the right to that interaction. And the lab managers/senior grad students definitely had discipline and firing authority over junior grad student employees.

    2. Artemesia*

      I don’t know why programs accept students who do this. I have never seen someone who claims they can take an overage of classes, while working and doing extracurriculars or whatever actually succeed at doing it. And so often they are weak to start with and get overwhelmed within a week or two. There are reasons programs have time requirements.

  22. Faith*

    I have yelled at someone once. This person was my peer, and we were working jointly on the same project. They got in way over their head and rather than asking for help, they made several changes to the tool we were using, which rendered it completely useless. We lost several days’ worth of work with a very time sensitive deliverable. I was already running on too much caffeine and not enough sleep (working 18+ hour workdays for a couple of weeks), and I just snapped. I raised my voice and I criticized them rather harshly for their decision. I felt terrible once I had a chance to cool off, so I went back over to their desk and I apologized for losing my temper. Later that day another employee told me that it was so good to hear me apologize. Apparently, my initial outburst has not gone unnoticed, and would have done some serious damage to my reputation had I not admitted that I was in the wrong in the way I handled it. That just reinforced the message that I cannot lose my cool when dealing with people.

  23. Chickaletta*

    My yelling story: I once got into a yelling match with a coworker. It was 7 or 8 years ago and I still remember all of it. After our fight she spent 2 hours with our manager behind a closed door. Our manager just came out to me afterwards and asked me to try to get along with S going forward, it was probably the best I could have asked for because I’m pretty certain my coworker was making a case for getting me fired.

    It was so out of character for me because I’m usually mellow and soft spoken, but this person had really got under my skin. This person was difficult in general: she got into a fight with a woman from another company over a parking space, would badmouth employees and even our managers when they were out for the day, and even got kicked off her roller derby team for being too mean (I kid you not). Difficult people can get the worst of us, but I’m still not proud of that argument. If I could go back in time I’d handle it differently. I look at it as a lesson-learned for the next time I encounter someone I don’t get along with.

    1. Julia*

      It sounds like your co-worker should be glad it wasn’t her who got fired. Yours was a first offence, hers wasn’t.

  24. BioPharma*

    REALLY loved this advice. I mean, I like all of it, but this one felt especially great with so many specific phrases to use!

  25. Sled dog mama*

    OP you absolutely should fire the intern even if he only has a day left. Why? Because that means he did not successfully complete the internship. If you were considering hiring this guy you would look at a finished internship differently than an incomplete one.

  26. Lissa*

    I wonder if some of the divide comes from how people use the word “Yelling” or perceive it. I have seen people use definitions of “yelling” that I wouldn’t agree with, in both directions. For instance, I had a couple of friends who were a couple and they would *fight*, and to me it absolutely was yelling. But when called on it they absolutely denied there was any yelling going on at all! (surprise surprise, they are no longer together.) I also know someone who is really sensitive to criticism. She would often complain to me that “so and so yelled at me” and so I, picturing a very raised voice and angry tone, would sympathize. Then once she talked about somebody had “yelled” at her, and I had seen the incident — it was just somebody asking her to smoke elsewhere in a really calm way, no raised voice, maybe mild irritation. From then on I took her “he yelled at me!” complaints with a grain of salt.

    1. Regina 2*

      I am one of the latter people. I’m hyper sensitive too, and I basically interpret anything other than the kindest feedback as yelling. Quiet, cutting comments are the absolute worst and utterly destroy me.

      I’m working on it, but it is a huge, huge struggle. I hate conflict and have never been able to deal with it appropriately.

  27. Generation Catalano*

    Giving feedback is hard. It’s okay to need practice and training in that.

    But I’m surprised by the number of people justifying the yelling. Understandable? Sure. Acceptable? Not really. Yes, the intern has things to work on but so does OP and I don’t think it’s a kindness to tell them otherwise.

  28. Venus Supreme*

    I’m really glad AAM posted this topic. I grew up in a household where things got done because my father yelled. For a while I thought that effective leadership came from loud-yelling and intimidation. I am a young adult now and realize that The Real World and Good Management does not come from reckless anger. However, there are rare times where I feel like I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place and I feel like the only way I can gain control (and regain my leader role) is through raising my voice– I wouldn’t say it’s an anger problem… just that my upbringing was a lil different.

    OP, I appreciate your openness and ownership of the situation. I agree with Alison that another acknowledgement/apology to the intern is a good way to go. Although it might agitate the heck out of me if this intern acts like a turd brat, you may never know when your careers may cross paths again so it’d be good to keep that bridge un-burned.

    1. MuseumChick*

      Your post for some reason made me think of the movie The Devil Wear Prada. The boss in that movie never raised her voice, but when she spoke everyone else shut up and listened. THAT is real power, lol. Not that I endorse the management style in that movie but it’s a life goal of mine to be able to get what I want done by never having to raise my voice like in the movie.

  29. Granny K*

    As someone who used to manage an internship program, firing the intern a month early might mean (depending on the program) that the student doesn’t receive units for the internship. If this is a requirement for the student’s major, he’ll have to find another internship before s/he can graduate. A talk with the internship program manager about this student’s behavior might also be an option. That kind of escalation and consequences to this behavior might let the student know s/he was being unprofessional. Or not. They aren’t all gems out there.

  30. Blair*

    It was obvious to me at the very beginning of your letter that OP is female and the intern is male; he is acting this way because he believes he doesn’t have to answer to a woman. I guarantee that if his supervisor were male that he wouldn’t act that way. Fire his sexist, insubordinate ass and stop second guessing yourself.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Maybe, maybe not. There are plenty of dudes who are rude to other men as well. What you’re saying is a possibility, but it’s not a definite and I don’t think it’s useful to inject gender here when we’re speculating.

    2. Statler von Waldorf*

      I’m a male, and I’ve had male employees act exactly like this towards me and their male managers. I’ve also seen a female employee act the same way towards her manager at workplaces past. In my experience, being a rude employee is not a gendered issue.

    3. Zombii*

      I’ve had plenty of coworkers that were just convinced they were better than everyone, and they always had a “reason.” If the manager was female, it’s because women leaders don’t deserve respect (heard this from men and women—gross every time); if the manager was young, they’re too young; old, they’re too old; new, they don’t know what they’re doing; worked for the company for years, they don’t know how other companies are better; have a degree, they don’t understand the real world; no degree, their real-world experience is worthless.

      Respect for all the managers willing to show these people the door. Whatever they’re bringing to the organisation: it isn’t worth this.

  31. OP!*

    Hello, OP here! Thanks so much to Alison for your excellent (as always) advice. This was incredibly useful, especially the reminder that I have tools at my disposal—various consequences, right up to firing—and thus don’t need to resort to yelling. I think if I had kept that in mind, and kept my feedback short and sweet, I would’ve been able to avoid expressing my anger the way I did. And thanks also to all of the commenters, who’ve offered lots of helpful advice as well as much appreciated compassion/commiseration.

    After I wrote to Alison, I got a long, long email from the intern apologizing for all of his errors as well as his behavior, and laying out a plan for how he planned to improve his work during the last month of his internship. It didn’t strike me as sincere so much as strategic, but I appreciated that he was at least recognizing that he needed to make an effort. (I did tell him at our meeting that if things didn’t improve, firing was a possibility, so he knew his job was at risk.)

    His work improved somewhat over the next couple of weeks, but not a ton. Right before his internship ended, he asked me to grab coffee. The first thing he said over coffee was that he was sorry for his behavior, that he’d been working on improving his work, and that he had come to the realization that, in the weeks leading up to the yelling, he’d been “acting like a teenager.” I had not yet apologized to him (other than my apology in the moment, right after I yelled), so I took this opportunity to reiterate that I was sorry that I had yelled at him, that I never should have done that, and that, while I’d felt frustrated by his work and his lack of accountability, yelling has no place at work. He finished out the internship soon after that coffee meeting, and we parted on good terms (though I will have to be honest about the quality of his work with anyone who calls me for a reference).

    I’ve learned a ton from this post—both Alison’s advice and the comments—and look forward to applying it the next time I have to deal with a difficult intern (not too soon, I hope). Once again, I think Alison’s point was key, and will be so helpful for me to remember: I have the control to implement whatever solution I need to, so there’s no need to get angry!

    1. SL #2*

      It’s not a perfect ending, but it’s somewhat of a happy one? I hope that the intern is truly taking all of this to heart and didn’t just say things to save his internship. And who knows, maybe he’ll be one of the commenters writing in one day about the stupid things they did at their first job and how they’ve learned and grown from it.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      That is more than I would have dared hope for based on the original description of the situation. Maybe he got some key insights as to how boss’ minds work. Hopefully, he is out there somewhere continuing to improve his work ethic.

    3. Brogrammer*

      Hey OP, I’m really glad you got a good end out of this situation. I’m also fairly new in my management career – I’ve had to fire exactly one person, and the situation was very different from yours (she was nice, and she tried hard, but after 6 months she still couldn’t perform the most basic functions of the job without serious handholding). It’s never easy to fire someone, but it sounds like you understand better now that sometimes it’s necessary to do that.

  32. Lily in NYC*

    Thanks so much for the update OP! The outcome here and in so many of the anecdotes in the comments kind of lead me to believe that yelling as a last resort (when it’s not someone usual modus operandi) often works.

  33. newly reading*

    This might be an unpopular opinion, but if this internship was unpaid, I would be pretty tempted to not come back after being treated like this.

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