how to deal with a boss who flips out and yells

A reader writes:

I work on a team of four – our manager and the three producers. Our manager is not very experienced with managing, and we tend to pick up a lot of the slack for clarifying directives, managing vendors, setting plans, etc. Personality-wise, our manager is typically very playful and her goal is for us to all be friends. However, every now and then, she’ll flex her authority in a very authoritative fashion, as if to say, “Look. This is not up to discussion. It’s the way it is.” It’s not the words, but the tone of voice, the anger, and power that she flexes in the moment.

Today in a meeting, she asked how necessary a particular vendor was because she was wanting to cut the resourcing. We let her know how vital their work was and started brainstorming how to cut costs. She fumed and went off on us about how “THIS IS THE WAY IT WILL BE” and stormed out. We were completely befuddled and confused about what happened. I felt extremely disrespected and protective of my two team members, who are younger and less experienced. I don’t believe in taking verbal abuse from anyone, especially when unwarranted.

How can I nip this in the bud with my manager without coming across as threatening or overstepping my role? Also, if I do address it, how do I ensure I do not place myself in a place where she might hold it against me?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 108 comments… read them below }

      1. Yet another Kat

        I don’t know that it’s fair to classify “remove yourself from a toxic work environment” as “run away from problems.” Problems have varying degrees, from the minor annoyance level to completely unacceptable. A boss who actively yells and storms out may not be completely unacceptable to everyone, but would be for many people, and those people wouldn’t be somehow amiss in terms of perseverance or “stick-to-itiveness” if they chose to leave.

        1. AMT

          Yeah, I would put “prove your mettle by allowing a boss who won’t change to mistreat you” firmly into the “gumption-related advice we shouldn’t be hearing in 2019” category.

        2. irene adler

          Are you saying that manager must behave professionally 100% of the time or else he is considered toxic and one must leave their employ? OP writes that the manager is not very experienced with managing. Maybe they need a few “hard -knocks’ lessons” where they realize they need some outside instruction to learn to become a good manager. Very few people are born managers.

          Not a fan of anyone who raises their voice to me. Clearly it is a sign of someone inadequately trained to manage people. There’s other ways. Maybe Allison’s scripts will prompt the manager to search out ways to get across her wants from the team without yelling or becoming less than professional. In addition, maybe manager will seek the training to become a good manager who finds the proper ways to manage her team. So we should brand this manager toxic and write her off completely? Seems harsh to me.

          Granted, if this manager refuses to improve, scram.

          It just seems that every time someone presents a difficult work situation, the advice is to quit. What if the OP can’t (for whatever reason)?

          1. Delphine

            Behaving professionally is a really low bar. By the time a person becomes a manager, she should be able to manage that at the very least.

            1. Yet another Kat

              I agree that behaving professionally is a really low bar.
              I’m also trying to point out that different kinds of unprofessional behavior/environment rise to the level of being toxic for different people.
              I know that I personally have a hard time being in environment in which people yell and snap at each other (even if the behavior is not directed at me) because I am unable to simply brush that off, and it increases my overall level of stress and anxiety to an unhealthy degree. There are other types of unprofessional behavior that bother me, but that do not rise to the level of toxic (e.g., cliques or over familiarity between colleagues, diet culture/body shaming language during meetings/work functions, inconsistent managerial oversight) FOR ME. But I wouldn’t judge someone else for finding those behaviors to be too toxic for them.
              I’d also point out that a manager losing their temper in this way on a regular basis is not a common enough workplace occurrence that OP would be likely to encounter it again if they left for a different job.

          2. hopeful prospective retiree

            Or just wait it out. Starting over just to get away from people just puts you with different people. Folks leave, retire, die, all of that. Unless the entire organization is toxic and full of evil bees, don’t leave a job that is otherwise beneficial for you. I have outlasted several bad managers, and am having the last laugh.

          3. SarahTheEntwife

            If this was a one-time thing in an otherwise reasonable boss, I’d say not to leave a decent job just because your boss is human and lost her temper once. But this is clearly a pattern, and the LW shouldn’t have to teach their boss basic people skills if they don’t want to.

          4. Pescadero

            “Are you saying that manager must behave professionally 100% of the time or else he is considered toxic and one must leave their employ?”

            No.

            I’m saying that a manager SHOULD behave professionally 100% of the time or else he is considered toxic and one SHOULD leave their employ.

      2. Parenthetically

        What a strange response, since this problem is unlikely to follow OP. This isn’t, “I can’t get along with this otherwise-reasonable person because of my own personality quirks so I’ll run away and hope it’s better next time.”

        1. hopeful prospective retiree

          But you never know if you are going from the frying pan into the fire. It’s still running away and the next manager may be no better. Leave if a new employment situation offer several advantages, not just a new boss. Bait and switch does happen, where you interview with someone expecting to be their direct report. Then you come on board, and find out that a reorg has taken place and you are reporting to someone new that you never met! Happened to me. The first manager was great, the replacement not so much.

          1. Parenthetically

            I’m absolutely not advising OP to leave. I’m just saying, “No, don’t leave because your problems will follow you” is a very odd take on THIS particular letter. It has nothing to do with the issue.

          2. MassMatt

            You could say this about any dysfunction. “Well, sure, this manager screams and throws things and steals from the employees. But the next job might be worse, ya never know!” Seems like a recipe for just taking whatever craziness gets dished out.

            Not sure this manager rises to the terrible level but some comments here seem to be suggesting it’s up to an employee to train or otherwise change their manager, and given the power dynamic that seems really unlikely for the most part.

    1. Observer

      Not always so easy. And it’s not clear that the situation is irredeemable.

      Of course, the OP could try Allison’s advice and discover that the boss is indeed not going to change, in which case, they can start looking. But I don’t think there is enough information here to come to that conclusion yet.

    2. Sandman

      This seems hasty. Every now and then most of us have to work with a new manager. It can be trying, but this seems to soon to call it a lost cause. (I did leave the last job where I had a new manager. Sometimes it comes to that.

      1. Fergus

        I wasn’t being dismissive, if their boss is who she said she is it is unlikely she will change, anything is possible, but again unlikely.

        1. Où est la bibliothèque?

          The question in the letter was “how can I nip this in the bud?”

          Telling the LW “you can’t, just quit” is dismissive.

          Doing it with two words, an acronym and no punctuation is even more so.

    3. Vermonter

      Seconding. I just left a job I’ve had for a long time with coworkers I really liked because my boss was like this: friendly and playful until I suddenly got long screeds about why I’m the worst at my job. I mostly failed to do things exactly his way, and my grandboss disagreed and said my work was fine – great, even – but “he’s just like this.”

      So I quit. I spent like three years trying to make it work, but he was never going to get better. Zero regrets.

  1. narwhal of a tale

    A bit off topic, but I am a bubbly person by nature and gravitate towards a more playful management style. My goal isn’t to be friends, but more to have a warm relationship with my cow-workers and direct reports.

    Is it possible to be playful yet authoritative? Also, what are the boundaries that should be in place to ensure the “playfulness” is professional?

                1. Statler von Waldorf

                  We should cud them a break over that typo. After all, to err is human, to moo bovine.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch

      It’s absolutely possible as long as you can switch it off for sensitive subjects and serious issues. I’ve never had a problem being naturally chill and playful. It’s about keeping emotions and playfulness out of the picture when a situation is volatile.

      I’m not friends, I’m friendly.

    2. Alfonzo Mango

      My last boss was like that! She was fantastic, easily my best boss ever.

      She accomplished it by truly knowing her work (a mastery of all areas of operations), caring for her team’s personal life (there were five of us) which built trust, and straight up hard work. The only person that worked harder than her was the younger woman that she was grooming to replace her.

      I miss her.

    3. Mrs_helm

      It sounds like you’re intentional about this, which I think will make you more successful at it. I think I achieved this as a parenting style, so I think it can be done. (Ex. My son invited me to play board games with his groomsmen on his wedding night.)

      Lay out the boundaries. Know what things are fair play, and what is not. Nip it in the bud when it crosses the line – be consistent with that. (i.e. disrespectful is not playful) Have very clear specific rules around some things, which are consistent. (We don’t joke about X.)

      Don’t be involved in EVERY thing your reports do/discuss. They NEED to be able to talk about you sometimes. They need to be autonomous.

      Have cues! Make it really obvious when something is “all business”. Maybe it’s a tone of voice, a verbal cue (we need to talk…), or change of location (let’s take this in my office).

      You’re way ahead of the managers people write in about, because it has occurred to you this is a thing to consider.

    4. Bopper

      I think I had a boss like that….at some points there had to be decisions made…he would make them and once they were done I would go with it. Turns out I was always right.

    5. Sleepytime Tea

      My current manager definitely is friendly and warm and still authoritative. He cares about us on a human level. Asks about our families. Makes sure he has regular 1:1’s with us all and listens to our concerns, our ideas, and helps us when we need it. He’s hands off but always available when we need support. He also organizes regular team events where we can hang out and have fun outside of work. We respect him and feel that he has our best interests at heart. And so when he says This Is The Way It Needs To Be, we say ok, even if we have reasons why we want things to be done differently. Because he respects us and we respect him. Having a positive personal relationship is a huge factor in the Respect area.

      He also walks the “personal information” boundary line really well. If we have sports team memorabilia at our desk, he talks to us about that. I moved from another city and he asked me how I liked it here, how my boyfriend was liking his job (I had volunteered that we had moved together), and things like that. If I say I’m sick and can’t come in, his response is “get well” and not “what are you sick with? what’s going on?”

      Best manager I’ve had in a very long time. He takes his cues from each person on what types of personal things he can ask about, and lets us bring those things to the table, so he’s never overstepping. When we plan team events he takes into consideration things like someone has a bad hip and so hiking is not the best activity to be inclusive. When it comes to work things, he will explain why we need to do something the way he is saying, not just dictates to us when we are trying to explain our own reasoning. And when I made a mistake at work the other day, my first one, his response was “I’m less concerned about you making a mistake than I am with how this got all the way through the process without anyone catching it.” This is a man I will follow when he leads.

      1. CM

        This is a fantastic summary of how to be an effective leader while keeping friendly relationships with your team members! I think mutual respect is really the key — and that includes listening to people and taking what they say seriously, not just flexing your authority because you can.

        1. Sleepytime Tea

          I was in a super fortunate position to have multiple job offers when I moved to this city. This one wasn’t the highest pay or the best benefits, but I just KNEW I wanted to work for this man, and I was totally correct. I also got to meet the whole team in the interview process, and I could tell they had a really good dynamic. I have had jobs where I loved the work but management was insufferable, and I eventually left them because of that. In this job it’s not my “dream” job as far as the work goes. I like it, there are a few things I don’t like, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. I would rather have a few aspects of my work that aren’t my favorite thing to do and have an amazing manager and team then have a terrible work environment where I enjoy every aspect of my job. (And work changes over time anyway so it’s not likely that would last forever.)

      2. John

        You are very lucky! I think true “people managers” are becoming harder to find as corporate culture moves towards the sweatshop model of management/labor relations. The last several managers I’ve had were essentially gatekeepers, who spent more time focusing on moving up the ladder than developing talent or getting to know the team. What the point? They’ll be somewhere different in a year or so.

    6. fposte

      Speaking from another angle–I’m a manager, and I like playful too. But I think it’s important for me to remember that people are mostly playing with me because they have to–while they may enjoy it, it’s not the same fun-driven thing for them that it is for me, because I have power that they don’t.

      1. Sleepytime Tea

        While I think that’s true for some people, it’s not true for all. I agree you should always keep that in mind, but I’ve had managers I truly enjoyed and would have regardless of whether or not they were my manager. And I’ve had coworkers who do refuse to engage in that “playfulness” with their manager because they don’t want to, and a good manager respects that and is ok with it.

        But yes, there is a power dynamic that I think all managers should keep in mind. There are people who aren’t great about setting boundaries when it comes to people higher on the ladder than them and they feel obligated even when it’s uncomfortable, so a good manager needs to make sure they are mindful of that. Every person is different and so when it comes to some things they do need to be treated differently.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          The thing is, as a manager you don’t know if someone is laughing at your jokes (or whatever) because you’re genuinely funny or because you’re their boss. You always have to be cognizant that the power dynamics may be really obscuring what someone really feels.

    7. Treecat

      It’s totally possible to do this–my supervisor is definitely playful yet authoritative–but I think it depends on the people you’re managing. I deeply respect my supervisor and she is very accomplished in our profession so I don’t see her playfulness as undermining her knowledge or authority in any way; she has the career receipts and I know it. She also has a good instinct for when playfulness is appropriate vs. where it’s not. From my end, I am also a fairly playful person so I just enjoy the dynamic. I don’t want to be serious all the time at work, ugh, working life is a drag enough already, I’d be miserable if I couldn’t joke around a bit. Bottom line, I think if your situation meets all those criteria: 1) demonstrable career chops, 2) social awareness of when playfulness is and is not appropriate, 3) subordinates who appreciate a playful attitude when it’s appropriate, you’re fine.

      Big potential caveat is that I think the playful but professional attitude is harder to pull of for women who manage mostly men, unfortunately, because of sexism. Obviously that’s not universal, but there are a lot of dudes out there who will look for excuses to disregard women’s authority, and playfulness or informality in management style is often used as that excuse by that type of man.

    8. TW

      One of my favorite managers was playful a lot of the time, but serious when the situation merited it. She was really, really good at her job – at the work we were doing as well as the work of managing folks. Friendly but not *friends*. We went out for a team building event once a year or so (once it was lunch and seeing a musical), but when one of us organized a viewing of Office Space, she didn’t attend. She cited the alcohol as why, but I also think she wanted us to have non-boss-team-time.

      She also had a quality sometimes referred to as being “a shit umbrella” – as in, a protector from bullshit raining down from the higher-ups. She kept us updated on things but also was very protective and really enforced things like deadlines for when we needed stuff from other teams.

      1. Treecat

        The “shit umbrella” thing is SO CRITICAL. I have a good friend who is pretty high-level management in his (unfortunately completely dysfunctional) company. He definitely sees the shit umbrella aspect of his job as being critical for his team and does his best to protect them from the bananapants antics of the C-suite.

        (Just in case anyone is wondering–yeah, he’s looking for different employment but he’s in a very niche industry and there aren’t a lot of openings.)

  2. esra

    Like, is she also not very experienced being an adult in public? I don’t understand why people ever think this kind of behaviour is okay.

    I really like the language Alison suggests, and seconding the always calm. It can really cool a conversation down.

    1. Dust Bunny

      Right?

      I was in the middle of something awkward and a coworker asked me something. I wasn’t actually annoyed but realized later that my tone of voice, because I was distracted, was probably kind of snippy, so I went right away and apologized. It turned out that Coworker hadn’t thought anything about it, but, yikes, I did not want to be that person who bites people’s heads off over things that aren’t emergencies!

      1. Justme, The OG

        I did that too the other day. I was up to my ears in budget stuff, people were seriously annoying me by not doing what they needed to do, and I was snippy in an email to another person. So I apologized.

    2. Labradoodle Daddy

      I wish I understood. My first job out of college was working for a Broadway producer, and he was a screamer. It made me think of all the times my father lost his temper when I was a child and scared the shit outta me.

      1. fposte

        I think there are fields where it’s historically more normalized–performing arts can be yelly, sports can be yelly. I wonder if it’s easier to rationalize in milieus where there’s some legitimate raised voices because of the distance you need the sound to carry. (Though that doesn’t explain the use of degrading language.)

        1. Parenthetically

          I think it’s just more normalized in environments where The Talent is really crucial to success. We talk about it a lot here — the myth of the Brilliant Jerk. And when someone has high-priced, niche skills (or thinks they do)…

  3. Augusta Sugarbean

    Timely advice! I’ve heard from a colleague that apparently we have a new manager who is heading down this road. From what I’ve seen and heard, I have a feeling that he’s not going to respond well to this kind of (appropriate) push back from staff. Should be fun. I guess the upside is that the more he escalates, the easier it will be to involve his manager and get it addressed.

  4. Ann

    I would not hesitate to go straight above her head and have this discussion with her manager. That is not OK at all, and junior staff members should not be responsible for controlling their superiors.

  5. The Man, Becky Lynch

    I hope that a talk will help crush this budding bosszilla. My tolerance for shouting is at zero, I’ll go to anyone’s boss and let them deal with their problem child. I also look at anyone and raise my eyebrows to see if they get the hint, if they don’t, I’ll walk away. If they have the nerve to try saying “I’m talking why are you walking away?” the response is “you’re not talking, you’re yelling and I’ll listen when you calm down.”

    Fire me. I don’t care. Nobody gets to yell at me. You’re my supervisor not my captor.

    1. RUKidding

      Bingo! I have zero tolerance for shouting. If it’s a male it is a trigger thing for me as well. I will Not stand there and be yelled at.

      1. Kat in VA

        Same! My main boss is the best, but sometimes his humor can be cutting. One the few occasions where he’s hurt my feelings, I let him know immediately (or been extremely unprofessional but we have a…weird dynamic). Once he cut me down in a staff meeting in front of all of his other direct reports (I’m his EA, they’re his directors) and I sent him an email DURING the meeting basically saying what he said was pretty mean, I was doing the best I could with the situation at hand, and he really hurt my feelings. He thought he was being funny and just about fell all over himself to apologize. He has a quirky sense of humor so I’m his go-between for a lot of the directors, and sometimes I’m put in the position of having to explain to him that no, even jokingly, you cannot say to a director, “Fergus, if you don’t make your numbers, I’m gonna kill you.”

        On the flip side, I have had executives (although 20ish years ago) who yelled, insulted, and literally threw things. So having a manager who actually APOLOGIZES and tries to be a GoodBoss is somewhat of a novelty for me.

        But like you, it’s a job – I don’t stand there and take abuse from anyone,…not my boss, not my husband, not the random guy who thinks I stole his parking lot. A dude who engages in power plays by looming and yelling brings up some very ugly memories of my childhood, and now that I’m a grown-ass woman, I realized some time ago that I don’t have to put up with that shit from ANYONE and I will not (within reasonable safety bounds, of course – I’ve got enough sense not to flip out on a rando stranger who’s raging outside my window).

  6. TheMonkey

    I manage someone like this, somewhat. She doesn’t yell or fume, but she definitely snaps suddenly from “we’re all friends” to “Respect my authoritahhhhhhh!!” with her team.

    Lack of confidence and insecurity is definitely at the root of her issues. I’m trying to coach her, build up her confidence and provide a good role model of friendly-not-friends management, but boy howdy is it exhausting. It’s been about three years now and I’m finally seeing consistent forward progress rather than two steps forward/one step back.

    1. Susie Q

      You’ve let her get away with this terrible behavior for 3 years. I feel horrible for her team.

      No offense but you sound like a bad boss who is prioritizing one person’s inability to manage the whole team.

      1. DarthVelma

        Speaking as someone on a team that is in pretty much this position (except after 3 years of her boss “working with her” my boss hasn’t gotten any better), I can confirm that not only do I still loathe my boss, but I have no respect for her boss now either.

  7. CatCat

    I hope, but am not optimistic, that OP’s manager will turn it around. This type of thing will only hurt the team and the organization. No one’s going to want to bring ideas to meetings because what’s the point if you’re just going to be disrespected for doing so? People will just keep their heads down until they can leave for greener pastures. I’ve been there, done that.

  8. Bopper

    I just heard about a boss that treated people that way….all of the employees were getting sick of it so they all wrote something about this boss and sent it to a bunch of higher ups. He is now gone.

    This is an example of Allison’s “go as a group” philosophy.

    If this doesn’t work, then you start looking for work elsewhere.

    1. TootsNYC

      that reminds me of the scene in “Band of Brothers” where all the non-coms send a group letter to the brass saying they won’t serve under Captain Sobel (he can’t read a map).

      It’s definitely an “all or nothing” thing–and some of them pay a price–but it works.

  9. The Original Stellaaaaa

    Is it possible that she genuinely feels you aren’t respecting her authority? That doesn’t excuse her approach, but it does seem like your team might not be taking her initial directives seriously enough. She’s your manager; you’re not equal collaborators or decision makers.

    1. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

      +1 “Look. This is not up to discussion. It’s the way it is.” That’s…exactly what a manager needs to do sometimes. Yelling is not okay, but being authoritative is kinda what being a manager does. I’d much rather a boss who says, “this is the way it is,” than a wishy-washy, “oh, I guess, maybe…um well, maybe not…I don’t know…what do you think…I guess we’ll do what you want…no wait, there was a reason why I want something else.”

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

        Agreed, however, this manager seems to switch to power mode randomly and without apparent reason. Like in the one example that OP provided. If she’d already made up her mind to drop the vendor, then why even waste her team’s time asking them whether to drop the vendor?

        1. irene adler

          Because getting the group to declare “dump the vendor” removes the onus from the manager who may have had iffy reasons (or no concrete documentation) for doing so.

          1. First Time Caller

            Yes! My similarly volatile boss (chummy and then yelling-y) will want to “discuss” decisions even when she has already decided what she wants to do, because she either wants to hear that she’s right or distribute the responsibility for making the decision so she’s not on the hook.

          2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

            I had a sneaking suspicion this might be the case. “Well, Vendor, I didn’t really want to cancel your contract, but my group all agrees that I should.”

            1. irene adler

              Yep! Manager probably wanted to use this line so they wouldn’t get yelled at by the vendor.

          3. A380 fan

            Or, to put it less adversarially, the manager may have some pros and cons of retaining the vendor in her mind — the pros and cons she’s worried about. She wants to sound out the team’s opinion *on those criteria*. The rank-and-file take a position, but on grounds she doesn’t care about. So she sees that the team does not share her view of the cons, and she arrives at a decisions then and there.

      2. A380 fan

        +1. Those words are not necessarily meant in an unkind way. This manager is, ultimately, “the decider.” I agree that it’s possible her delivery may — may — need improvement. But we should also be conscious that the manager isn’t here to tell her side of the story.

      3. Dagny

        Yeah, I noticed that, too. While it’s not okay to yell it, the reality is that there are a lot of things that simply are not up for discussion.

        I wonder if a man would be called an abusive, awful manager if he occasionally just shut things down.

    2. MLB

      Based on the letter (and we’re only getting one side of the story), it sounds as if they were trying to explain why they should look at something another way and she flipped. Yes a manager has the authority to make the decisions, but they also have to be willing to listen to potential recommendations because they’re generally not in the weeds day to day, and their subordinates could mention something that may not have occurred to them. Immediately losing your shit is not a good idea, especially if you’re in a position of authority.

      1. The Original Stellaaaaa

        What if the manager wrote in? “I want to create a friendly environment for my team, but it backfires when they don’t want to comply with non-negotiable decisions. How can I get them to respect my position and stop arguing with my decisions, without completely scrapping the comradely?”

        1. MLB

          The answer would not be to flip out and yell. Screaming like a lunatic at work is never ok. As a manager, you have to be able to have conversations with your subordinates without treating them like children and having the “because I said so” attitude, and get your point across without disrespecting them. Respect is earned, not owed just because of a title. As the letter states, it’s not what she says but the way she says it.

          1. The Original Stellaaaaa

            Except when her direct reports are not complying with the given directives. Shecshiyjdbt be telling, but OP shouldn’t be ignoring her managers decisions.

    3. Observer

      What directive? The manager didn’t say “we need to dump this vendor. What do you need to make this happen?” Instead she said “We need to slim down sourcing. What do you think about dumping this vendor?” Responding with “We need this vendor because of >reasonssuggestions<" seems like a very reasonable response to the question that she actually asked.

      Don't ask / say one thing when you really mean something else. If you do, because we all get it wrong sometimes, don't get mad and yell at people for responding to what you said rather than what you were thinking.

      1. irene adler

        Absolutely correct!
        Be direct. Mean what you say; say what you mean.
        Some people just haven’t learned this one yet.

        My boss does this “chasing ’round the bush” stuff. I think he comes from an environment where he was attacked (verbally) at times. So he’s wary when he has to deliver news that he fears won’t be taken well.

      2. Lucille2

        It’s possible the decision had already been made to dump the vendor, and instead of stating that outright, the manager wanted the team to believe it was based on their input. It’s probably due to an insecure and inexperienced manager rather than purposeful manipulation. Sometimes managers don’t provide background information to their staff when it would really make sense to do so. I don’t know why many managers do this, but my favorite bosses have been the ones who provide some background info so I understand where something is coming from. I’m more likely to support my boss in those situations. Even if the statement is as simple as, “There is pressure to dump this vendor, and it isn’t likely we can change that decision. I can’t share the reasons with you, but I need your input to figure out the next steps.”

  10. Ann O'Nemity

    Some managers struggle being clear when a non-negotiable decision is made, versus inviting discussion. I wonder if the OP’s manager is having trouble communicating that distinction with the team. If the manager is already feeling insecure, she may take further discussion as being argumentative.

    1. Marthooh

      Yeah, it sounds like the manager expects all her chums, er, reports, to figure out when she means a question as a question and when she means it as a directive. It also sounds like she lost control of the meeting and thought she had to yell to get it back.

    2. MajorAttitude

      Yes, sounds like that’s right. She wants the approval/assurance and at the same time feels challenged when she doesn’t get it.

    3. teclatrans

      Yes, this is exactly what it sounds like to me. She seems to be inviting collaboration, then gets frustrated when the conversation gets away from her.

    4. MissDisplaced

      I used to have a boss like that. He’d already made the decision, but for some reason would call us in to have these animated discussions and debates. And then he’d get angry we were debating something he’d decided! Like dude, if you made the decision why bother? Just ANNOUNCE it as a fact. It was really perverse and upsetting.

  11. Corey

    I dealt with this issue last year. My team had a manager who would throw yelling fits, always careful to not let his managers witness it. Then he would isolate each of us the next day to explain why he had to yell or what someone did to “make” him yell. Classic insecure abuser stuff.

    During one of his fits, I stopped the meeting right away and, with the whole team there, told him he was done yelling. Making sure to speak only for myself, I told him without a hint of uncertainty that whenever he yelled I would immediately stand up and leave. He started to yell the reasons why he was yelling, so I told him it was completely irrelevant to the issue we were now addressing. The meeting ended there.

    I went directly to his manager and told him what I just told my manager. (De-isolation: An anti-abuse tactic that is extremely effective because it disarms the abuser of his weapon for manipulation and his shield from scrutiny.) I said that it wasn’t negotiable and that I hoped he agreed it was completely reasonable. There was no argument there. Then it was out of my hands and on his manager to decide whether to give him an opportunity to change. He was gave him that, but he reacted exactly how you’d expect someone like my manager to react, and so they fired him.

    I grew up in a house of yelling and decided early that there wouldn’t be any in my adult life. It’s a hard requirement. I recognize that I am privileged to be able to choose whether I have to deal with it, and even more so to be so sure of it in the moment. It would be easy for me to say “you don’t have to deal with it” without knowing your condition. However, I do believe that no reasonable company would force you to suffer a yelling manager, and so if you see your company as reasonable, I hope you choose not to deal with it.

  12. Pam

    I might also push back on the ‘playful and wants us to be friends.’ Don’t join in with over the top silliness. Keep mentions of your personal life casual and don’t give too much detail. As someone else said- be friendly, but don’t be friends.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

        1000%. Anytimes she comes playfully fishing for personal info, give her all the dirt on your cats. If you don’t have cats, invent some.

  13. Please No More Meetings

    You know, sometimes before I delve into the answer that Alison gives and the commentariat’s measured and helpful comments, I take a moment and fantasize about a world where I could/would pull stuff like this. How freeing to do this! How self-indulgent to act like this! (Also how futile, infantile, damaging, etc., yes, but this is a fantasy world without consequences.)

  14. Not An Intern Any More

    I used to have a manager exactly like this at a previous office job. It was also my first time working in an office because I worked as a contractor before and I was my own boss. As a contractor, I was used to working in an environment where people said what they meant, you had firm deadlines and everyone acted reasonable with each other to get the work done. It was a very efficient system.

    Fast forward to my previous job with a manager who refused to train me and then blamed me for not knowing how the company worked, amongst other blatantly abusive things. The manager was eventually fired after nearly eight years on the job. I left shortly thereafter. I saw that once the drama was gone, the workplace was still a disaster. I mean, people get away with this behavior for a reason.

    It’s hard in the moment sometimes to see that it’s better to quit, but when I look at it now, I see it as a bad sit-com.

  15. in a fog

    I could have written this about the job I just left! It took me some time, but I finally started bringing up in our one-on-one recent situations where she had flown off the handle about something with no warning. She would apologize, but would then double-down on whatever it was that had set her off. Things didn’t end up changing all that much because she just couldn’t help it — especially when she was stressed or tired. She *knew* she was doing it too, because she’d be all sweetness and light immediately afterwards, offer to take us out for drinks, etc.

    I went to the grand-boss about this problem with the recommendation that there be management training of some kind, but nothing ever happened (that I was aware of, at least), and now, I’m out. Partially because of these outbursts. So, do what you can, but also start thinking about an escape plan…and try not to let it get to you when the reaction is so much bigger than the situation that caused it.

  16. Jana

    I feel for you, OP. I had a manager who would scream her head off, insult staff, throw books, kick over trash cans, and–my personal favorite–yell, “I’M THE BOSS!”

    She’d always apologize and promise to never do it again, but, unsurprisingly, it would always happen again (often the same day). Honestly, this type of behavior doesn’t crop up out of nowhere and is unlikely to change. Your best bet is probably to look for other jobs if you can.

    1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2

      I once saw a bumper sticker = FIGHT CRIME SHOOT BACK.

      The only way these people respond is if people kick back and reject the tactics. Unfortunately, some senior managers back their front-liners, until they get sued or greatly endanger the operation.

      If bad boss has been there for some time, you’ll get no sympathy from the upper echelon. Just walk – KEEP YOUR DIGNITY – higher than hers, but walk.

  17. JSPA

    Seems to me that it IS the boss’s call, if something is not, in fact, up for discussion. My question to the OP would be, can you find out what words she’s using to tell you that you’re brainstorming the wrong thing (that’s already been decided) instead of the thing she’s inviting you to brainstorm about? Because it sounds to me like you’re not hearing that fact, in what she’s saying, and it’s driving her up a tree.

    She thinks she’s told you that X will happen, and you need to brainstorm about how to deal with it by changing Y. You then instead tell her that X can’t be allowed to happen, and does not need to happen if you change A, B and C. She feels massive disrespect and disregard for her authority, and comes down hard, to assert her authority.

    So: how does she need to couch her “this is how it will be” statements so that you hear them for what they are, the first time? Or are you actually under the mis-impression that you’re all part of the cooperative leadership, and that your boss is one among equals? If so…she’s not the largest part of the problem.

    1. The Original Stellaaaaa

      Yep. It sounds like she’s trying to gently ease them into changes, but her staffers think those changes are up for debate. Tbh (and I hate to go this route) it sounds like this is a young-ish woman who is struggling with how to balance authority with socially enforced pliability. The staffers are blanching at this woman who’s giving directions. When she tells them what her decisions are, their first thought is that she doesn’t have the right to do so. She’s not the one who’s in the wrong.

  18. MassMatt

    But the manager did ask for feedback and opinions. If she had decided to get rid of the vendor (or the decision to do so was made by upper management) she should have said so, and proceeded to a discussion of how we can make this work.

    We have to take letter writers at their word about what happened and in this case the manager asked how vital is this vendor, we need to cut costs. The sane response is to answer her question and then try to look for ways to cost cut. The insane response to someone answering her question is to yell and insist that a decision is final. What decision, the one you revealed just now after asking us a question?

    Bosses that expect mind reading from their employees are bound to be constantly disappointed.

  19. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2

    I once worked in a place – left – then they went over to India, searched for 18 months for someone who could do my job (they couldn’t find someone) and hired someone we had rejected a year earlier.

    The boss blew up at her in a meeting. And apologized later (out of view of everyone, a stunt management tactic – rip someone’s face off in public, then apologize in private, lather, rinse, repeat).

    She accepted the apology – conditionally. BUT DON’T EVEN *THINK* OF DOING IT AGAIN.

    Dumdum did it again. She just said “I warned ya” and walked out. Now not everyone can do that but she was in a financial situation where she valued her dignity over her paycheck.

    If more people could do that, this would be a nicer world….

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