my boss yells, and it’s scaring my coworker

This week on the Ask a Manager podcast, I talked to a guest whose boss yells — and is making things quite unpleasant. Here’s the letter:

My boss can get worked up when things are not going according to plan and will often end up yelling for minutes on end. This usually happens in group settings, and he’s not yelling at anyone in particular, just about his frustration in general (although sometimes he’ll yell about a person who’s not present). I don’t enjoy this, but it’s also not the worst thing in the world for me to listen to — I know it’s how he processes things at first, and that he’ll calm down and solve the problem reasonably after he gets it out.

Recently, though, one of my coworkers, who is a close friend of mine and a survivor of domestic abuse, confided in me that because of her personal history, his yelling scares her. She’s not actually scared that the yelling about frustrations will turn into yelling at her, or that he’ll escalate his behavior in any way, but hearing someone yell about even an abstract problem is triggering for her. I think if he knew this he’d make a much stronger effort to find healthier ways to process his emotions, but it’s obviously not the kind of thing to lightly encourage her to share with him.

In my opinion, yelling at work, especially on a regular basis, is a baseline unacceptable behavior. I’ve discussed this issue lightly with him before, but he hasn’t really changed anything. In general, he’s open to criticism and we’re very honest with him, and he’s put in the effort to change other things we’ve brought up, but I don’t think he understands the stakes here. How can we address this with him meaningfully without sharing my coworker’s history?

The show is 22 minutes long, and you can listen on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts (or here’s the direct RSS feed). Or you can listen right here:

If you’d like to come on the show yourself, email your question to podcast@askamanager.org … or if you don’t want to be on the show but want to hear me answer your question, record it on the show voicemail at 855-426-WORK (855-426-9675).

And if you like the show, please subscribe and leave a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen.

You can get a transcript of last week’s episode here.

{ 136 comments… read them below }

  1. The Mouse

    I used to work for a guy who’s only method of communication was screaming or intimidation. If he was in a good mood, you’d get the intimidation. If he was in a bad mood, you’d get the screaming.

    I’m glad I don’t work for him anymore.

    1. RJ the Newbie

      On my first week at my old job, the director – who had not been introduced to me – walked straight into my department to scream at me that I had missed a major project deadline and called me an ineffectual idiot (but with more profanity). The project had just been assigned to me that day as a large stack of loose papers. No lists, no schedules, nada. I was in a roomful of people and this was the first impression a group of my new PMs got of me, the new employee. It took me quite awhile to get over this and develop an extremely tough skin (he got over his crankiness and we wound up working together for seven years), but no one should endure it. No one should expect this to be ‘leadership’.

  2. Anonymosity

    Gah, I’m super behind on the podcast. I’ve been working on putting together a garage sale. I should listen while I’m going through my mess. :)

    Yelling is just — no. I’m sorry, but only horrible bosses yell at everyone. The best bosses I’ve worked for know how to express displeasure or assert their authority without screaming.

    Or threatening. Once, I worked for a non-profit where the CEO who canned someone in the general meeting in front of everybody (“We’ve had to readjust our expectations due to our donations being down. Friday will be Sue’s last day. We’ve enjoyed having her with us.”) without telling her first. This was an intimidation tactic to show everyone that they were expendable. Sue was mortified, and it absolutely tanked morale.

    He also liked to come to the development department meetings and say stuff like, “This department needs to do better or we’ll have to downsize it.” It was always negative–never any ideas about how to grow donations, no positive reinforcement, etc. That job sucked.

    1. Essess

      I was ordered to join a morale committee after the company did a mandatory annual morale questionnaire. The questionnaire was theoretically anonymous although they aggregated the results and comments for each department and gave those to the department manager. It was supposed to encourage the supervisors to try to make changes to improve the department…. As part of my duties on the committee, I had to meet with representatives from the other departments. One of the reps said that their boss was toxic all the time (usually screaming and threatening all the time). The result of this questionnaire in their department was that the department manager stormed into their department and informed all of them that if the morale answers on next year’s questionnaire were low again then everyone in the department would be fired.

      1. Jadelyn

        Wow, talk about a classic case study in How Not To Do Staff Engagement Surveys!

        Even just aggregating “anonymous” results and giving those to managers needs to be done very carefully – I’m part of a small team, only 6 people, and while they don’t ask names in the survey they do ask things like location and tenure at the organization. Well, with only 6 of us, and we all know how long each of us has been here, it’s very easy to say “Oh, people who’ve been here under 2 years said XYZ? Well, we know that was Tahani. People who’ve been here over 20 years said ABC, that’s Eleanor, and 3-5 means it’s either Chidi or Jason.” Plus, with a small team, we know each other’s “voice” in written communication, so the comments are super easy to assign to the correct person once you read them.

        Luckily I trust my boss enough to be honest anyway – especially since I’m never saying anything I haven’t already brought up – but I know a lot of people at my company on other small teams who either don’t take the survey at all, or just rate everything “5/5” across the board to avoid their manager knowing they’re unhappy. Engagement surveys are just a super touchy thing and they have to be handled Just Right, or else they cause more problems than they solve.

      2. Cat Lady

        Ugh, that’s terrible.

        We do a survey every year, not necessarily on morale but the company and our teams in general. Ours were supposedly anonymous as well, but each team’s responses (usually 9 or 10 people) were forwarded to the team manager. If our results were low, we had to get together as a group to make suggestions on how we could improve our own scores (even though most of our issues stemmed from our manager). We made honest suggestions based on the categories we chose to address, and anything that required the manager to do extra work (like giving us copies of or at least discussing surveys we received from our customers so that we could use the feedback- something she was supposed to be doing) was shot down, making an already annoying process even harder.

        Then last year, when we had just started being given the ability to work from home part-time, a director came through and casually mentioned that this new perk might be affected if the scores were too low. I did report that comment via an anonymous method that we can use. Don’t know if anything actually came of it, but we haven’t heard anything else about the survey since, other than the email reminder to complete it. I’ll consider it a win. At least my job wasn’t threatened though!

        1. Jadelyn

          This is the other major danger of engagement surveys – people are watching, very carefully, to see what you do with the information they give you. If you do nothing, you refuse to actually take steps toward fixing things they pointed out, you lose every scrap of trust they have ever had in you as a manager and as a company. You’ve demonstrated that you don’t care what they think or what they need, and that is the fastest way to wind up with a bunch of checked-out-minimum-effort staff.

          1. Stranger than fiction

            Well, at the same time, you can’t implement every idea a customer throws at you. We had a customer that kept complaining that the exported reports’ output had date columns with xxxxxx, and we kept explaining that was an excel/Microsoft thing and there was nothing we could do, and repeatedly showed him how to double click to expand the column…but he still complained about it every year on a survey.

    2. Jadelyn

      Holy crap, that’s just cruel. Someone like that shouldn’t be in charge of a basket of vegetables, much less actual other humans.

    3. Close Bracket

      > It was always negative–never any ideas about how to grow donations, no positive reinforcement, etc.

      I once worked at a place where the VP at that location was philosophically opposed to positive reinforcement. My direct manager liked to mention this in group meetings- “Tom is opposed to praising people. I don’t really agree with that, but that’s what it is.” I do believe my manager meant well and meant to emphasize how he didn’t agree with it, but bringing it up in any context just primed me to remember that I should never expect praise.

      1. Close Bracket

        Oh, forgot to mention, Tom was a yeller. There were stories of him pounding on the table, too. Of course.

      2. Hey Karma, Over here.

        The manager next to my department used annual review to list all the ways his staff came up short, where they need to improve and not one positive thing because, reviews aren’t to praise you, they are to show you where you failed/need to improve.*
        Gee, was he missed when his department was merged into mine.
        *corporate guidlines for annual review: rate the employees success in each area. Explain with details how employees missed, met or exceeded expectations. No issue that has not been discussed previously by manager to staff member maybe discussed in review.

      3. Sales Geek

        One of my customers had a CIO who liked to yell and threaten his staff. I still remember attending a staff meeting where he threatened to put a hand grenade under one attendee’s seat. He cursed out the sales rep that was with me at the meeting. He had some kind of military background and fancied his Drill Instructor style as a powerful motivational tool.

        Outside of meetings it was really Jekyll vs. Hyde. Before or after any meeting he would be your best friend and could be very charming. But his staff was visibly afraid of this guy. I could see people in meetings cringe when the exec’s attention turned their way…

        However, someone in his organization committed suicide and this executive’s behavior was cited as a (maybe “the”) cause. The company lost a very expensive lawsuit over his treatment of this employee. The executive was moved to a do-nothing job where he worked for a couple of years before retiring.

        1. JessB

          My god, how terrible that someone committed suicide and the executive’s terrible behaviour may have contributed!

          1. Pomona Sprout

            I worked in a place where an evil boss’s behavior led directly to a suicide attempt, and when the boss learned of it, she was heard to say, “Wow, he [the suicide attempter, who she had been actively hounding for months, despite his being a very productive and conscientious employee] couldn’t even do that right!”

            This boss was a sociopathic, walking, talking, one person hive of evil bees who worked harder at persecuting those she didn’t like than most people do at their actual jobs. Fortunately, the staff member who survived hi
            s suicide atrempt went on to much better things.

            When this boss left a couple of years later, a bunch of staff members had t-shirts printed up with the words “Ding dong, the witch is dead,” which they wore to work on her last day.

      1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone

        No kidding!

        I witnessed someone being told their location was closing and they had lost their job on a company all hands call. It was awful. Apparently they were informing the location at the same time as the all hands meeting was being held, but didn’t account for the people traveling to other locations. This was our former HQ location so it was a big deal.

        The whole room just turned to look at him and saw his stunned expression. Terribly mismanaged.

      2. Snickerdoodle

        That would have been amazing.

        I did something similar once; the bosses were constantly threatening to fire people and went so far as to start boxing up my stuff and my coworker’s stuff. We grabbed the boxes they’d helpfully packed for us, left, and submitted resignations via email effective immediately.

  3. FuzzFrogs

    I’m glad OP’s coworker felt able to confide in the OP–abuse has a way of strangling your voice in your throat, and it can feel very difficult–even embarrassing–to talk about what sets you off. So I guess I’m glad that OP is clearly a really helpful, and thoughtful, friend :)

    1. Snickerdoodle

      Ew, yeah–I’m dealing with a creepy coworker now, and though I have scripts for dealing with it, in the moment, I freeze up. I completely choke in paralyzing discomfort and/or worry that I’ll make it worse. So I asked HR/legal to send me a script of EXACTLY what to say to the creep, which I will then email him and CC my supervisor, and they also know that I need his supervisor to speak to him as well.

    1. Ego Chamber

      Agreed. As far as I know, I’ve never been abused, but being in a room where people is yelling gets my adrenaline up like nothing else and affects my anxiety in a way I’m not interested in dealing with.

      I would probably interrupt that meeting like “Hey. ‘Scuse me, but is this thing that’s happening right now something that happens a lot? Okay, cool. I wish you’d mentioned it in the interviews because this doesn’t work for me at all.” and then walk out and start packing up my desk.

      (I know I’m in a privileged position of having a stack of credit cards I’m willing to run up instead of being mistreated at work and I give a lot less fucks about a lot more things than I did when I was younger.)

    2. Professional Merchandiser

      When I first started working at the company I’m with my boss was new, too. (First-time manager I mean.) We met at one of the stores I was working in and he made some suggestions for some new ways to ask for display space for one of our products. I agreed to try it; we parted company and everything was well. He went to the next store and this one had the same issue. (If I had known he was going there I would have told him and let him know I would address it on my next visit.) When he got there he called me furious and before I could say a word started yelling at me. He was yelling so loud that customers in the aisle could hear and were giving me curious/sympathetic looks. He was saying things like he was not going to jeopardize his position with the company and the future of his wife and children because I didn’t know how to do my job.
      I kept my cool (surprised I didn’t start crying. I think I was too stunned.) But I was LIVID!!! When I got home that night I told my husband about it and said I was going to report him to HR. Well, my husband talked me off the ledge. He reminded me he was a new manager who was probably still insecure in his role, and to give him a bit of time to settle in to his position. Well, this turned out to be good advice because this never happened again, and we worked well together for over three years before he got another promotion. Unfortunately he had write me up one time (I deserved it) but he was very polite and professional about it.

      1. Nerdy Library Clerk

        Wait, what. He literally left one store and went to the next and was surprised that it was set up the same way as the one he’d just left? Were you supposed to have teleported over there ahead of him and changed it?

      2. NoLongerSleepDeprived

        This reminds me of the job I worked at in college. We had a new assistant manager start (we’ll call him Bob). Everybody hated Bob at first because of all the time he spent yelling and generally being unpleasant. It was so bad, everyone had threatened to walk off the job at some point. Two weeks after he started, the general manager made him come in and do nothing but observe for several days. He relaxed after realizing that we all knew how to do our jobs and would seek assistance when needed. Bob ended up becoming a better manager and was one of my favorites to work with.

    3. Not Today Satan

      100% agreed. I’ve worked at some toxic places and even I have never witnessed yelling in the workplace. If someone yelled at me at work I’d probably walk out for good on the spot. Not remotely acceptable.

    4. sheworkshardforthemoney

      My partner grew up in such a dis-functional home that even as an adult when someone yells at him, he freezes and shuts down. He’s been fortunate with his career but if he was ever yelled at he would be out the door.

  4. I'm Not Phyllis

    Yelling is a hard no for me at work – there’s never a reason to justify it. We’re all adults, we’re all professionals, and there’s no reason we can’t have a calm but frank discussion. I do appreciate that this boss isn’t actually yelling AT anyone, but it can still negatively impact team morale and make people (not only survivors of domestic abuse) fearful of making mistakes. Even venting can be done in a normal volume.

    If my boss is giving you negative feedback he’ll say “in the future, I wouldn’t mind …” or if he’s mad about something someone else has done it’ll be “I was a little bit annoyed that …” – both are said in the most calm, non-threatening way possible, but you still know he’s pissed if he says either of those things to you.

    1. Jadelyn

      Agreed. My boss has yelled at me *once*, and I was lucky because a coworker I’m close with who is on the same level as my boss was present and was able to intervene and tell her not to talk to me like that. I was too much in shock to say anything; it really just short-circuited my brain – I was sitting there stunned, like “cannot compute, what is happening, this is not how people behave at work”.

      If you can’t control your emotions enough to deliver your requests, orders, feedback, discipline, or anything else in a calm voice and controlled tone – because I had a manager who would say “I’m not yelling at you!” and it was true his physical volume was normal, but the tone was 110% anger and aggression, so tone matters as much as volume does – then you don’t have the emotional intelligence to be managing people.

      And if you need to vent, as a manager, I get it, we’re all human and need that sometimes – but FIND OTHER MANAGERS TO VENT TO. People who have the authority to end the conversation when they’re done listening, or rein you in because you’re off the rails. Or vent to your family at home. Don’t vent to your staff, who can’t just walk away or cut in and tell you to chill out. Choose the appropriate audience.

      Managers are human and are allowed to have emotions – but they’re not allowed to take those emotions out on others just because they’ve got the higher title. That’s unacceptable.

    2. Rosemary7391

      I wouldn’t say never – immediate safety concerns spring to mind as a justifiable reason. That should be incredibly rare though. And if yelling is commonplace, what do you do in an actual emergency?

      1. President Porpoise

        I’ve yelled at someone at work exactly once. I was on the phone with him while he was on his way to attempt to commit a felony. I had to yell at him to get him to stop.

      2. Free Meerkats

        Back in my time as a sailing instructor, one of the things I’d say in the first lesson was, “I won’t raise my voice unless absolutely necessary. I I do, do exactly what I say, and do it immediately; we’ll talk about it after.” I think I only had to do it once or twice, to avoid someone being injured.

    3. Lil Fidget

      Definitely agree. My job is not dealing with critical life or death issues. We are all paper pushers in various ways. There is really no excuse for yelling ever at work in my office. If I was yelled at even once I would probably quit, or quit as soon as possible. Even if someone was just yelling around me (not at me), I would think that was quite unprofessional and bizarre. There’s an icy tone that’s used for professional disapproval, and that should be more than sufficient IMO.

    4. Snickerdoodle

      Yup. I’ve walked out of jobs (plural!) because of that. They were retail/fast food jobs. Apparently my predecessor at my horrible old job walked out due to yelling. There was no yelling while I was there, but there was plenty of other toxic crap that was just as bad. It was like they decided to go for passive aggression, underhanded scheming, and threatening to fire people for tiny mistakes instead. Yelling would almost have been better.

  5. SheLooksFamiliar

    I grew up in an extremely abusive home – physically, emotionally, sexually – and even raised voices directed at other people can make me clutch. Yelling definitely takes me to a place I don’t want to go, even though I’ve been told I’m fairly calm on the outside when I deal with loud belligerence. Thankfully I’ve not had many screaming bosses to deal with, but I would NOT want them to know about my past.

    First, I don’t want my personal history bandied around at work. Good intentions aside, it’s not their history to share, it’s mine. Second, I would worry that the yelling boss would either escalate the yelling because I’m now a target that reacts – something yellers tend to want – or that my boss become extremely quiet and solicitous. Because, third, people who manage by intimidation tend to manipulate situations and keep their audience off-kilter. Yes, I’m generalizing and I don’t like doing it, but this situation isn’t about logic. This is about conditioning, and I experienced this with my parents as well. As bad as they were when they were yelling and beating me, they were far more sinister when they spoke quietly. Just trust me on that.

    I hope the organization can coach this manager to vent his spleen outside of work, and to share his concerns in more relatable ways. He doesn’t need to know someone on his team is a victim of domestic abuse to change his approach, he should do this because it’s the right way to lead and manage a team.

    1. Iris Eyes

      I like the idea of the OP using the toxic effect that this is having on the coworker to give them courage and tenacity to deal with the yelling without having to bring the domestic violence into it. That’s not why this is unacceptable but it might be why someone decides to confront it and advocate for change.

    2. Anon7

      First, I’m sorry that you had to deal with all of that growing up.

      As bad as they were when they were yelling and beating me, they were far more sinister when they spoke quietly.

      I also grew up in an emotionally abusive household, and I know exactly what you mean with that sentence. The yelling and open abuse were bad enough, but anytime one of my abusive family members went from loud and unrestrained to quiet and controlled, it was a sign that much worse things were coming. It meant that they were plotting, and that the treatment I received would no longer be “in the heat of the moment”, but planned and timed for maximum impact.

      I would worry that if the boss was ever made aware that it affected this coworker in particular, and tried to rein it in around them, it might actually trigger a worse reaction than the yelling does. It certainly would for me.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar

        Thank you for your kind words, Anon7 – and I’m so sorry you know what I meant with that comment because of your own experiences. It’s a terrible see-saw, isn’t it? Unrestrained rage and violence, and also calm, carefully planned abuse, from the same person…wishing for healing for all survivors of abuse.

        1. Khlovia

          The “unrestrained rage” was also deliberate. The fact that they could go from “unrestrained” to “calm and careful” shows that it was 100% under control and intentional. Abusers always know what they are doing and know what effect it has on their victims. They are doing it on purpose because they want to.

          Sorry you lost the parent lottery.

  6. Jenna Maroney

    I grew up with parents with a temper and I *immediately* shut down entirely if someone is yelling or visibly angry. Sometimes the reaction feels unstoppable and that’s really frustrating :/

    1. Seespotbitejane

      My kneejerk reaction to any yelling, even just strangers on the street downtown, is that 1) They’re yelling at me specifically, 2) They’re angry at me, 3) They’re angry at me for a legitimate reason, I’ve done something accidentally that has upset them. Obviously, 99% of the time none of this is true and I realize it pretty quickly. But I still get that anxiety spike every time. What did I do, how can I fix it?

    2. Anon for this

      The same, though I worked hard to reprogram my knee-jerk reaction toward shrugging off if mild and pushing back if harsh–My husband is a very reasonable person and doesn’t deserve the “you can never sound tired and short, no matter what happened elsewhere, I’ll take it personally and freeze” response. (Fortunately the one time my angry parent tried this on one of my children, it turned out my instinctive response was “Stop yelling. Right now. And never try it on my child again.” It’s mostly gone now, either mellowing with age or recognizing that it wouldn’t work on me any more–I was a financially independent adult, I’d walk away, I’d take the grandkids with me.)

      At work–this would be a hard line for me, but I know there are people who come from families where yelling is something that people shrug off.

    3. Papyrus

      I get the same thing, plus my eyes immediately start to well up with tears, which I hate. It feels like something I should have grown out of by now, but I can’t help it. As a result, I’m also pretty conflict avoidant, so I usually end up going along with the yeller just so they’ll stop. I’ve gotten better about that recently, but it’s still tough.

    4. Persimmons

      Same. I can’t even stand yelling that I know is fake, like on TV. My spouse adores Curb Your Enthusiasm, and I cannot be in the house when he watches it. That show is nothing but people screaming at each other. I start to sweat just hearing the theme music.

    5. The New Wanderer

      I don’t have any history dealing with abuse or challenging childhood issues, and people yelling is extremely uncomfortable for me. I can imagine it’s so much worse when you have a history of the consequences of someone else’s lack of control. Angry yelling or sudden violence brings out the fight or flight in all of us, but some are much more primed because of their experience. :-( It really sucks if you can’t even escape it at the workplace.

  7. BusyBusyKitty

    Raised voices and pounding on the table/desk takes my anxiety from 0 to 90 really quick, and can trigger a panic attack. I find it difficult to get back on track for the rest of the day.

  8. RKMK

    My old workplace, a toxic cesspool, had zero-tolerance on yelling. You could triple workloads, passive-aggressively set people up to fail, and all sorts of things, but as soon as someone yelled, you got written up on civility. Multiple infractions lead to dismissal.

      1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone

        A great policy that allows for general mistreatment of employees as long as they don’t yell? That doesn’t sound great to me. I’d rather be in a place that didn’t triple my workload, surreptitiously set me up for failure, or generally mistreat me. If my trade off was to hear a raised voice from time to time I’d be happy for that trade.

        1. RKMK

          I will say that an actually non-toxic work environment instead of a toxic one hiding under a facade of civility would have been preferable. I will also say that, because I wasn’t in a position to just leave, that having that zero-tolerance shouting policy eventually worked in my favour when my asshole director blew up, in front of witnesses.

  9. ragazza

    I once told a manager known for yelling (who was confiding in me that he felt bad about yelling at HIS boss) that he might want to look into anger management training. Right on cue, he yelled, “I DON’T NEED ANGER MANAGEMENT TRAINING!!”

    The boss eventually fired him, years too late IMO.

  10. McK

    I also have a history of abuse and also have zero tolerance for yelling, but I think that history doesn’t make us more ‘sensitive’ it just makes us smarter. That is – nobody should tolerate yelling in the workplace. So if abuse victims are picking up on how wrong it is more than non-victims, then that’s evidence that we’re better at making the correct call on this issue.

    I don’t like bringing up my abuse as a reason why someone shouldn’t yell, or should get consent before touching me, etc. Because I want them to understand that its just the right way to treat people, not think it’s a special favour they’re doing to not offend me in particular. It’s not some arbitrary phobia they couldn’t have guessed (like a fear of being given flowers because it figures in your abuse history, or something like that, something ordinarily acceptable).

    1. Turquoisecow

      Yes!

      Abuse victims don’t need special treatment – all people need to be treated with courtesy and respect. That means no yelling or inappropriate touching. Don’t just avoid doing those things around certain people, don’t do those things at. all!

    2. Lissa

      I agree! Either yelling is bad, or it’s not. If it’s not, then the only way for the coworker to argue against this is for a special accommodation for her due to her history. But this should not be necessary. The person who mentioned above that hearing yelling makes them immediately think they did something wrong is me as well. This doesn’t mean I can ask for nobody to ever yell in public or on TV. But I think at work it’s just…not acceptable. Maybe if you’re a drill sergeant. Though I have no idea how much of what I have seen of that is real vs. media ;)

      I personally do separate yelling in general vs. yelling at a person, ie the first one is unacceptable but forgivable, the second one is a hard no. I could never ever work in an environment where yelling at people was considered reasonable. It’s almost always an abusive power dynamic. I think there may be some environments where peole yell at each other a lot like maybe newsrooms (again I could be getting my impressions from TV)? and those may not be abusive in the same way as it’s more equal but there’s no way I could ever be in that environment without needing to leap out a window.

      1. Parenthetically

        I agree with your last paragraph! “Argh this situation is so frustrating ARGH ARGH LOUD VOICE” is very different from insulting or berating a person. Not that it’s good to yell in general — I think anyone who regularly raises their voice from frustration or temper needs a reminder that adults need to manage their emotions — but as you say, it’s forgivable.

  11. michelenyc

    The reason I am leaving my current position after only 7 months is because of my boss/owner. It isn’t healthy and has caused me so much stress. I found out after being here 2 months that no one lasts in my position because of how abusive she is. I am submitting my resignation in about 3 hours and wish I could see her face when she reads it. She is traveling so I have to send it e-mail.

    1. Bea

      I’m so glad you’re quitting. You deserve better.

      I still remember the look on my former bosses face when I quit. It was fantastic. The look of shock on the face of the devil himself wouldn’t compare. I’m sorry you don’t get that satisfaction.

  12. Traffic_Spiral

    Yelling at work always struck me as the worst combo between bullying and self-indulgent. Yes, no one likes being yelled at, and it doesn’t fix anything, but you wanna do it, so you’re just gonna go ahead and shriek. It’s like watching someone throw a fit and shit themselves – I just can’t respect them after that.

    1. Lora

      THIS.

      I hate it when people yell. But you know what, if yelling makes you feel better, if that’s what makes you happy in yourself, you can yell…just know that literally everyone around you thinks you’re a giant raging batsh!t crazy a-hole with Issues, and you have instantly lost everyone’s respect and will take years to recover from even a single instance.

    2. Amber T

      Yup. I get it, the actual act of yelling or screaming is cathartic and feels good, but that’s what your pillow is for, or your car (as long as the windows are rolled up), or hiking to the top of the mountain, or any place truly private. As much as Bob might be an idiot or an asshole or incompetent, screaming that to his face only makes you look like an awful person.

    3. Parenthetically

      Ahh yes, self-indulgent is just the word!

      I can overlook the very occasional rant of frustration in a genuinely frustrating situation, but it’s still not very professional, is it?

    1. Jenna Maroney

      Men on the whole feel more free to behave badly in public than women. If that statement makes you uncomfortable, good. Lean into that and wonder how you can help.

      1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone

        Huh?

        Women can and are equally horrible as men. If you don’t believe that then I would really encourage you to examine that particular blind spot. The main difference that I’ve found is that men are more likely to be overtly horrible, but women tend to ‘hide’ their actions under a layer of civility which in my opinion is worse and more destructive.

        Let’s just say that there is a reason we have the ‘Mean Girls’ phrase and not a male equivalent.

    2. Katniss

      Men are much more likely to engage in this kind behavior, think it’s okay, and get away with it. Men’s anger is accepted/normalized. Women’s anger is seen as abnormal and dangerous.

      Yelling isn’t okay no matter what one’s gender. But men are just more likely to do it in inappropriate settings.

      1. Jenna Maroney

        Particularly middle class and up men (I grew up in that kind of environment, and the entitlement and condescension is sooooo real. I work in a finance firm and sometimes it’s strange to see the dots that get connected.)

    3. Jenna Maroney

      Middle class white guys were the ones who started/owned/ran the businesses, and their practices and views have trickled down since.

    1. Lil Fidget

      It’s hard because I’d hate to frame this as a male/female issue, even if there’s an element of that at play – I wouldn’t want to play into the stereotype that “women are fragile flowers who can’t handle the rough and tumble world of this office.” I think it’s better to stick to the argument that yelling is unacceptable for a professional environment and is upsetting for all staff. But that’s just my two cents.

        1. KR

          Definitely not saying the article is amazing. Just offering it up as something that was helpful to me as far as finding vocabulary to explain why male anger creates a panic for me.

    2. Jennifer Juniper

      When someone, regardless of gender, is angry with me, I always feel guilty for provoking them. I immediately say something like, “I’m sorry sir/ma’am. Thank you for correcting me. I really appreciate it.” After all, if anger is caused by provoking someone, then I’m in the wrong and need to make it right.

      1. LizC

        I find this tragic, actually, and I’m sorry something in the past has conditioned you to feel that someone else’s anger is your fault or problem. Individuals choose to respond to a frustration with anger, and they choose to express it outwardly. They have other choices. Their choices are entirely on them, and NOT on you, Jennifer Juniper.

        When I worked in phone-in customer service, I handled irate people a lot. None of the situations were of my doing, but even if that was true, it’s still the irate person’s choice to vent irately.

        I got a lot of mileage from this phrasing: “I can hear how frustrated you are. Let’s get some more information, and I’ll do what I can to help fix it.”

        But at no point is someone else’s choice to respond with rage YOUR fault, and I’d really encourage you to stop apologizing and thanking them for their abuse.

  13. Bea

    Nope nope nope. Even in a male dominated industry we don’t do yelling. I make it clear now when I’m interviewing it’s my deal breaker.

    I’ve only ran across it once and was gone the next day.

    I’m not from an abusive childhood or anything of the sort. I can’t start to imagine the people with that background dealing with these screaming messes. Learn to deal with frustration better, yelling is for emergencies only.

  14. CS Rep By Day, Writer By Night

    We have a manager here who’s volume is permanently set at 11, whether he is mad, sad or happy. He’s also a big, burly dude, and even though I know he’s a super nice guy sometimes in meetings his voice triggers my flight or fight response. I actually was up for an internal promotion where he would have been my direct supervisor, and during the interviewing process I did question whether I could come in every morning to him yelling GOOD MORNING FORMER CS REP HOW ARE YOU TODAY at top volume. It’s probably for the best that I was passed over fpr the position.

  15. Snark

    So, I am a dude with a boomy voice and, historically at least, a fairly short temper that I struggled to manage in productive ways – in short, I was, and occasionally am, a yeller.

    So….OP. This thing you said.

    “I know it’s how he processes things at first, and that he’ll calm down and solve the problem reasonably after he gets it out.”

    No male human being on Earth actually requires this to “process things.” Take it from one of them. This is not actually a necessary prerequisite to solving a problem rationally and reasonably. It’s like overusing profanity: it’s nothing at all but a bad habit and a self-indulgent lack of personal control and emotional sphincters. It is eminently possible for any grown-ass man to process and express intense frustration, anger, impatience, or disappointment without his voice rising above a conversational level and without scaring the shit out of people. This is how he currently processes things at first. That does not mean anybody needs to particularly tolerate that ongoing habit, or that it is an acceptable way for a man to cope with stuff.

    1. Anon From Here

      Thanks for this. Mr. Anon From Here comes from a similar-sounding place, and (to get all into his personal business) it was a huge breakthrough for him to figure out that it was a choice to indulge in ranting and raving before sitting down to solve a problem. Lucky for him, he fixed that before we met!

    2. JSPA

      Snark, I don’t know if this was a hard post to write, but if so, triple thanks. If not, double thanks. Because a single helping of thanks doesn’t do it justice.

      1. Snark

        Why thanks! Though it was not very hard to write, so I’ll take two and you can save the one for something more searing.

    3. Parenthetically

      Absolutely. I’m a recovering ranter, and I completely resonate with the idea that it’s a choice. It feels GOOD to rant, in the moment, because I’m letting the brakes off and just rolling downhill. But it’s basically always unwise, impolitic, and makes me look foolish.

  16. Jerry

    In full context, it sounds like he’s ranting/venting. While that is still yelling, still intimidating, and still unacceptable, it makes it sound like a much easier fix than Allison’s characterization as an intimidative abuse of power. Of course he rants and vents to his team in a way he wouldn’t to his superiors… no one vents to their boss. I’m betting he’s seen this modeled somewhere in his life as normal self-soothing behavior: a dad who yells at TVs, a coach who breaks his clip-board, a boss who throws papers. Anyone who’s grown up around that would consider it normal and not especially dangerous. This is still unacceptable workplace behavior, but it sounds like he has enough self awareness and enough regard for his employees for the fix to be as simple as, treating it like it’s weird, light mocking, or just making him aware that it’s frightening to people.

    1. Kella

      Even if it’s just venting with volume and emphasis, it’s still an abuse of power because his employees cannot display the same behavior to him without the risk of getting in trouble, and they cannot easily set boundaries for him to make him stop without the risk of getting in trouble. He displays an unacceptable behavior only in front of people who don’t have the power to stop him, which is an option his employees don’t have access to. Using your position of power to do something you want and avoid the consequences is an abuse of power, even if it’s not the intent to hurt or control others.

    2. Khlovia

      What Kella said. There’s a *reason* he vents “down” rather than “up”. He can get away with the one, but not with the other. And, since he is apparently physically and psychologically able to control himself when in the same room with one of his superiors, he is also physically and psychologically able to control himself when in the same room with his reports. He simply chooses not to, because he doesn’t want to, because in his opinion his feelings are more important than everybody else’s.

  17. HereKittyKitty

    Yelling is a hard no for me too. Yelling, loud noises, angry outburst really trigger me, and I don’t feel like I should have to tell everyone my personal history to get them not to do that. It’s unprofessional, fullstop.

  18. Summerisle

    Pleased to see this bullying, aggressive and unacceptable behaviour is being called out for what it is. I endured a year and a half of shouty bullying in a toxic cesspool and even now, months later (and in a much happier situation), I still flinch at raised voices or aggression – though I never hear it in my current workplace because it’s functional and professional.
    I sort of wish I’d shouted back but I think I just went into shock and shut down when it happened. That place was terrible.

    1. Snark

      If you catch ’em early, I don’t know that I agree, but the more power they get, the less they feel like they need to cater to anyone.

    2. Bea

      It depends on very specific details.

      I had one boss raise his voice and I looked him straight in the eye and told him to remember he wasn’t talking to “the guys”. He was horrified and never happened again. Meanwhile in the shop, they all yelled at each other. Partly noisy machines but mostly just a bunch of unsocialized brutes.

      But the constant stream of screaming and desk bangers, yeah they’re pretty far gone at that point.

  19. Ruthie

    My old boss would yell and pound his fist on the table when he got upset, and usually, his anger was unwarranted. I worked there for two years and am one of the only people who never got blown up at, but it was still very much one of the reasons I left. One of my relationships with a colleague I worked closely with rapidly deteriorated after she was yelled at. She began retreating from her work, and I was sympathetic and didn’t blame her, but eventually, it got in the way of my work to the point I just became so frustrated I started looking for other jobs. I think her reaction to the abuse was perfectly reasonable, so it was all on his shoulders and not hers, but man it was a bad environment.

  20. Seifer

    Ahhhh. I am that coworker. I was in a meeting with executives and one of the C-Suite called me and my boss out for not prioritizing her stuff and made it so she couldn’t get another one of the C-Suite the numbers he wanted. He friggin’ lost it on us and started yelling. I was sent back to my cube like a misbehaving child in order to get this done instead of attending the meeting but I was shaking so bad that instead I had a panic attack and someone else had to do it. All that to say, yelling in the workplace should be unacceptable. It does not lead to good results.

  21. Jam Today

    At the first job I had out of college, two women were chronic yellers, especially to people they viewed as lower status (namely: me). I was only there for nine months before I got a marginally-better job, and I unloaded during my exit interview. I found out after I left that they were both sent to a multi-day “how-to-act-like-an-adult-in-the-workplace” professional development seminar, which was moderately satisfying. The fact that it was publicly known that they had been sent to the adult version of detention was extremely satisfying.

    1. Khlovia

      Thanks for spreading around that extreme satisfaction! I’ll take it vicariously if that’s the only way I can get it.

  22. Jen

    I was in a very similar situation to this – my old boss would shout and thump his fists on the desk. As a DV survivor too, it was genuinely upsetting.

    I would say this example’s ‘good points’ mean absolutely nothing if he behaves like a toddler. Alison has some good advice. This is workplace abuse – I left before I confronted my old boss and I still wonder if I should’ve said something to at least make him consider his selfish actions.

  23. NB

    Based on the letter writer’s description of her boss, I get the sense that he will be a great boss as soon as he can get this under control. I hope we get an update. I’d love to hear that she discussed this with him and that he got lots better.

  24. voyager1

    Seeing this podcast, was there ever an update on the podcast participant with the employee that yelled and banged the desk?

  25. Lynn Whitehat

    You guys, this whole comment section really made my day. My husband has yelling tendencies, and in the past has often portrayed me as “too sensitive” or “damaged”, like nobody normal would have a problem with it. He did eventually stop doing it, but it really feels good to see other people being anti-yell.

      1. Triggered Too

        Normal people DO have a problem with being yelled at. If someone has so little discipline and emotional maturity that they can’t keep from yelling, at what point does this behavior escalate? Based on experience, I do know that it can escalate into physical abuse.
        And the next time your husband portrays you as “too sensitive” or “damaged”, call him on it. What exactly is too sensitive and who gets to decide what that is? There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a sensitive person. And damaged? So you have had some experiences that left you as “damaged” and yet your husband thinks that yelling at you is ok in light of past trauma and then denigrates you for that? Where is the respect, the care, the concern for the person he proclaimed so much love for that he married you?

  26. Kay

    Man I’m so used to bosses yelling about everything. But then I come from an Italian family so raised voices is pretty normal so it doesn’t affect me the way it would for many people I think. The amount of conversations I’ve had that go along the lines of “don’t yell at me! You’re yelling at me! I’m only yelling at you because you yelled first!”

    Still even if it didn’t intimidate and scare people, it’s still a bad communication tactic because they come across irrational!

  27. cncx

    Yeah i used to work for yellers. It’s scary, for some people it can be triggering, and those who yell may win battles but they never win the war.

    i’ve worked for my current boss for over five years. i have NEVER heard him even raise his voice. it can be done.

    Also, there’s a very strong correlation between “stayed in a job 5+ years” and “boss not a screamer”

  28. Krystal

    This would scare me and several women I know. I don’t think me realise the power their raised voices have.

    1. Loud Noises

      I think that most of the time, unfortunately, that they do, which is why they’re doing it. They like the results they get and therefore continue the behavior because it’s working.

  29. LittleLove

    I quit my last job because of the stress of working for a boss who liked to yell at people. I had been very happy at the job with the previous boss and I tried for a year to learn to adapt to the yeller but finally, for my health and my sanity, quit.

  30. Lis G

    At my last job, a newspaper, I worked with a guy who was a yeller. He didn’t manage anyone and was normally very soft spoken, but if something went wrong, he would completely flip out — swearing, yelling, slamming his phone down, etc. He never yelled at anyone but still, it was very awkward. It was a male-dominated field and this was basically the norm when I got there. As a reporter, you weren’t supposed to be afraid of yelling, I guess. For me, it was more annoying than scary but still, who wants to work around that? Our boss would occasionally tell him to knock it off but did nothing more about it. For awhile, one of our other co-workers (one of his friends) could say, “Dude, lighten up” and he’d calm down right away, but then that co-worker left the company. I confronted him once because he’d been loudly dropping the F-bomb right behind me while I was on the phone talking to one of my sources. This helped for a few weeks, but then back to normal. Eventually, we hired a young woman right out of college and she had to work with this guy, often by herself, at night. She told me that it really scared her that he might eventually escalate, especially with no one else there. Her father never yelled. Her boyfriend never yelled. She just had no experience with this kind of behavior. She complained every time it happened and my boss finally had to actually do something about it because I think he was afraid she would go above his head. Or quit.

  31. Triggered Too

    I just had an encounter with my top boss who yelled at me because he assumed something that wasn’t accurate. I turned and walked out of his office. The next day we had a meeting to discuss the very thing I’d come to him about and we opened opened up the meeting by discussing his yelling at me the previous day. I also asked my immediate boss to join us as I was very uncomfortable with him, and top boss tried to keep her out of the meeting (I insisted she join). I made it clear to him that his yelling at me was not ok. He apologized but then doubled down by yelling his justification at yelling at me.
    I’ve always had a low tolerance for yelling, but due to specific life experiences, I am very triggered by yelling – to me it indicates an unstable personality, a lack of discipline, emotional immaturity, and an indication of potential escalation. Yes, it scares me too.
    Quite frankly, I’m unsure of how to handle this situation but it’s definitely destroyed my trust in him and right now I’m staying as far away from him as possible. I’ve also lost a lot of respect for this person.

    1. Khlovia

      Send him the URL for this post and discussion.

      If prudence counsels otherwise due to current finances, then wait until you are on your way out the with a better job in hand.

  32. DB

    I worked for a screamer when I was younger. Now, if I somehow would run across another one, I would walk out of the room and tell him I’ll come back when he’s calmer and wants to act like a professional.

    Age, maturity, and doing field work in the rent-to-own industry has left me giving zero effs about caring about somebody acting like a D.

    Having 9 months of expenses in the bank helps.

  33. church lady

    Ugh. This post brought back painful memories of a temp job I had four years ago that still takes up room in my head. It was the first and only time I quit a temp job before my assignment was completed, and the recruiter was furious with me for not sticking it out for the entire five weeks (I made it half-way through). Small law firm, tightly-wound, apoplectic senior partner, who liked to shoot from the hip. A phone call from a potential new client didn’t go through and bounced back to me at the switchboard, he was standing next to me when I cheerfully apologized to the caller and re-transfered the call. He. Lost. It. Started yelling at me at the reception desk, windmilling his arms, slammed his hand on the counter near my head. Screaming that I should have checked to make sure the warm transfer went through. Stalked off to his office. I was in a daze, trying to hold back the tears. Brought me right back to my emotionally and verbally abusive ex-husband. He later buzzed for me to come into his office where he calmly explained, without looking at me or apologizing for his outburst, that new clients are the life-blood of small law firms, yadda yadda yadda. It never got better, and he was awful to everyone in the office. They didn’t seem to care. I thought it was me and felt guilty for quitting.

    1. Khlovia

      Oh, man. That article is so very sad.

      Not saying I’m not going to use it; but it’s so very sad.

      Also, talk about emotional labor!

  34. MarfisaTheLibrarian

    On top of the yelling issue in general, it seems incredibly inappropriate that he’s yelling ABOUT other employees who aren’t present.

  35. Saucy Minx

    My sister was chief of HR in a law firm headed by a fellow in his 70s who liked to indulge himself in tantrums fairly frequently.

    At one meeting he had a few tantrums, & she informed him: “Mr Bigbaby, one more outburst like that & I will leave the meeting.”

    And about 10 minutes later she rose, gathered her papers, & departed w/o another word.

  36. StressedAtWork

    When I’ve tried to address my manager’s yelling, she’s said that she’s loud and that’s how she is. If it makes us uncomfortable we just need to get used to it, as if it’s a badge of honor to be a yeller. She’s called me out for leaving the work area when she is yelling at another co-worker and that she knows it makes me uncomfortable and I need to “suck it up.”

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