how do I deal with a boss who “yells” in angry emails?

A reader writes:

I was hoping to get your advice on how to approach my boss about the way we communicate when he gets … shall we say, “easily agitated.”

I report to a single manager (Bob) but routinely pick up projects for a number of other managers (all of whom who sit between Bob and me in the hierarchy). As we are rarely all in the office together, standard practice is for a manager to ask me to collate a report, draft a statement, etc. and then let them have a copy for review before we send it out to the general public. Since there’s often a lag between when someone assigns me work and when I start the task (this is normal and expected), it is often the case that circumstances may have changed and so when sending documents for review, I flag these in case amendments need to be made (e.g., “February data referenced, March data now available — do you want to use this instead?”). Everyone except Bob seems to find this a good way of handling things (they have explicitly said so). Bob seems to take every question I ask as a screaming f-you or a direct criticism of his competence.

After the first few emails I got from Bob filled with all caps and multiple exclamation points (“THIS IS NOT NECESSARY!!!!! NOTHING HAS CHANGED IN THE MARCH DATA! JUST USE THE FEB DATA LIKE YOU WERE TOLD!!!”) I decided he clearly didn’t think it was my place to flag these sorts of issues, so I stopped doing it on work I did for him. This only resulted in being reprimanded for not bringing changes to his attention. (It’s probably worth noting that Bob never yells in person, though he does become visibly cross and impatient, and he doesn’t “yell” in emails assigning me work. He only “yells” if I ask a question.)

I know I need to speak directly to Bob to a) establish how he wants me to deal with potential issues and b) ask him to write to me in a less aggressive manner. I find it very unsettling to be “screamed” at for performing what is essentially a normal function of my job, and it is making our working relationship increasingly unpleasant (at least on my end).

My problem is that Bob is not easy to talk to. He takes every question or comment (particularly from women and especially from “junior” colleagues – I happen to be both) very, very poorly. He’s a very senior manager (and as I said, my direct manager). If he takes against me in any meaningful way, my career here is ended.

Do you have any scripts I could use to talk to Bob about this when we’re next both in the office? I’m terrified that I will ask for what I think is a reasonable adjustment (i.e., engage with me professionally) and find myself out on my ear!

Bob is a gigantic ass. Who thinks it’s okay to talk to people that way? (Answer: asses.)

I’m also very concerned that Bob is going to have a heart attack imminently.

And imagine being Bob’s kid.

In any case … in an ideal world you’d be able to tell Bob that it’s not okay to talk to you that way, and you’re happy to do the work however he prefers but he needs to speak to you more respectfully.

In this world, where you’re afraid of how Bob might react to that and where you feel dependent on remaining in his (sort of) good graces, there are other ways to approach it.

If you can manage to emotionally disconnect from it, something that’s often very effective is to approach the person with a sort of detached curiosity, as if you’re trying to solve a work problem that you have no emotional stake in. So you might say something like this: “Usually when someone assigns me work, if anything might have changed by the time I submit it, I’ll flag that with notes in the margins. When I did that with projects for you, you generally commented that you didn’t want that, so I stopped doing it. But then last week you were concerned that I hadn’t. I want to be giving you work that you’re happy with and in the format you want. Can you talk to me more about what you do and don’t want from the work I produce for you, so I can make sure it’s what you’re looking for?”

If he looks cross or impatient, don’t be too thrown off by that. You can say something like, “I want to do a good job with the work I’m giving you and everyone seems to have their own preferences for this.”

Some people like Bob would have a harder time being a jerk in the face of someone so calmly inquiring about their preferences. Or not; he may stay a jerk and blame you for needing to ask at all. But it’s a reasonable conversation to have.

If the email tirades continue after that, then I’d have a different conversation with him, one more like this: “You sound frustrated in your remarks on this project, and I’ve gotten that impression on past projects too. I certainly don’t want to frustrate you and I’m attempting to do the work in the way I understand you want it, but if I’m not getting it right, I’d welcome your feedback.”

The idea here is to highlight for Bob that you are a reasonable person trying to have reasonable conversations with him and to hopefully jog him into realizing that his tone is unnecessary.

This might all sound too accommodating and deferential to someone who doesn’t deserve to be coddled. And that’s true! But since it sounds like you’re concerned about his reaction if you’re more straightforward, this is an alternative approach.

One other option — and one you should seriously consider taking if the above doesn’t change anything — is to talk to someone else about the way Bob speaks to you. Maybe that’s his boss if you have a good relationship with that person and trust they’ll handle your input skillfully, maybe it’s HR, maybe it’s someone else senior to Bob who has some authority. Obviously you’d want to trust that they’ll handle it in a way that doesn’t cause negative repercussions for you professionally, and you’d need to ensure you’re not in a workplace where Bob is valued so highly that he’s permitted to speak to people however he wants, no matter how abusive (which is very much a thing that can happen and in that kind of environment you risk getting written off as overly sensitive). But in a healthy workplace, it’s a reasonable thing to being to someone else’s attention.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 104 comments… read them below }

  1. Count Boochie Flagrante*

    Given that this is, as you note, a gendered behavior on Bob’s part, and how severe the impacts would be to you if he takes this conversation badly, I wonder if it is worthwhile to talk to HR before you have this sit-down with him, as a preventative measure. Not to ask them to act right away, but to flag that you’re going to have a difficult conversation with him and you’re worried about negative repercussions if he doesn’t appreciate you asking for some consistency.

    1. JSPA*

      Unless it’s the sort of company where HR and Bob are buddies, and they’ll go to Bob and insinuate that you’re preparing to take him to court. You probably have some sense whether this is how your workplace operates. If so, and if this is not a good time to be job-hunting, maybe just put a line in the email, when you send the documents, rather than on the document itself:

      “Figures correct as of [date], as given / can update if wished.”

      Some people flip out when there are notes right on the document because it looks more like commentary, or more like a draft rather than a final product, and they find that unsettling. That’s especially true if you date back to when post-its were physical, and largely saved for corrections, or even earlier, to where red pen on your paper meant, “something wrong.”

      When the offer is separate from the document, it probably is less likely to push those same buttons.

      Also, Bob is probably not aware of the psychological process involved, and may be unwilling or unable to unpack why it sets him off. If he were self-aware enough to understand it, he probably would be less of an ass about it.

    2. OP*

      We unfortunately don’t really have an HR department. Our office manager handles recruitment and everything else just gets dolled out amongst the senior managers. I’ll definately be taking Alison’s advice about trying to emotionally distance myself though. I’m hoping that if I don’t get visibly flustered we might be able to have a reasonable conversation about this. *fingers crossed*

      1. Goliath Corp.*

        I’ve been in the same boat with a boss like this and no HR. Unfortunately I don’t think you can take it up the food chain. The higher-ups almost certainly know how he treats his reports and turn a blind eye because of whatever value he has for them. So I think emotionally distancing is your only option here other than leaving. If you can accept that Bob is an unreasonable person and his actions speak to his character and not your work, it’s easier to let things slide. (I use Jinkx Monsoon’s mantra, “Water off a duck’s back.”)

        Good luck with your conversation with Bob — I honestly didn’t have the courage to do that, but in retrospect my Bob would have had more respect for me if I’d been more assertive. (I literally took a course about assertiveness that confirmed this.)

  2. Lisa*

    Honestly, I’d just forward that email, a few others, straight on to HR with a comment that you’re feeling very uncomfortable in the workplace.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      That’s not helpful.

      It is only through the LW’s additional information ( He takes every question or comment (particularly from women and especially from “junior” colleagues – I happen to be both) very, very poorly.) where this gets into areas of legal concern where HR might do you some good.

      I’m not saying that the LW shouldn’t go to HR, but what you’re suggesting doesn’t provide HR with enough information for them to help her.

      1. Alicia*

        So forward what was written in this letter, along with an email, to HR with a comment that you’re feeling very uncomfortable in the workplace.

        1. Avasarala*

          I think if all it took was forwarding a single email from Bob to HR, the issue would already have been dealt with. Either HR doesn’t exist (as we find in the comments here) or it’s not that proactive/competent.

    2. pcake*

      The OP replied to another comment and said “We unfortunately don’t really have an HR department. Our office manager handles recruitment and everything else just gets dolled out amongst the senior managers. I’ll definately be taking Alison’s advice about trying to emotionally distance myself though. I’m hoping that if I don’t get visibly flustered we might be able to have a reasonable conversation about this. *fingers crossed*”

  3. RecoveringSWO*

    Are there any other coworkers that have dealt with Bob in the past who might be able to provide some insight or tips on how they dealt with Bob? Some jerks are jerks to everyone, some jerks are bigots, and some jerks behave once someone stands up to them. I was lucky to have a peer tell me about a manager being in the later category before I was assigned a few tasks under him. I was able to stand up to him and not be taken advantage of. However, I’ve also worked for jerks who wouldn’t react well to that. So, YMMV. But it’s worth asking around if you have a good relationship with some peers.

    1. Cobol*

      I almost said something similar, but deleted because Bob is a misogynist.
      I’ve found some people use the lens of what would it take for me to send an email like this and view things as more angry than they are (not saying OP is doing this).
      The biggest thing when dealing with others is listening to their words from their language, not yours, and understanding what their neutral is.

  4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Part of me wonders if Bob just sucks at emails and how things come across when he !!!!!!!!!!CAPSLOCKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! So many people seriously don’t get it that it’s scream-y and abrasive. I have had bosses who do this but it’s because they’re blind AF and don’t realize that 36 point font and caps is easier for them to read but over the frigging top and looks awful to others *face palm*

    That aside, I think it’s telling that you’re scared of him and how he’ll react. Is there anyone else you can speak to about the subject? I know some are saying HR but perhaps you could speak to Bob’s manager instead of going to HR?

    1. CTT*

      “Just use the Feb. data like you were told” still comes across as harsh in lower case, although I am in agreement that some people don’t get that it can make neutral things abrasive. When my boss does inline responses to emails from her phone, she doesn’t know how to bold her text (or doesn’t want to deal with it which, fair, it’s a pain from one’s phone) she’ll do all-caps instead, and I really had to train myself to remember that “NO WE DON’T NEED THIS DOCUMENT, UPDATE THE CHECKLIST” is not her yelling at me.

    2. Count Boochie Flagrante*

      It’d make sense if Bob were completely fine in person and his wording were normal but formatted angrily, but between the wording of the emails also being rude and his in-person behavior being pretty bad, I think this is a Bob’s personality problem rather than a Bob’s formatting choices problem.

      1. CL Cox*

        I agree. Also, the fact that not all of his emails are capped. The ones where he asks her to do something, for instance, are not capped.

      2. Myrin*

        Yeah, my go-to assumption when the only issues I see are things like “writing in all-caps” or “using way too much punctuation” is that the person in question just can’t email well (because I know a surprising amount of people who really are like that) but with all the additional information we have about Bob, I’d be surprised if that were the case here.

      3. Claire*

        “ I think this is a Bob’s personality problem rather than a Bob’s formatting choices problem.” I love how succinctly this one sentence sums up everything about the letter :)

      4. Brittany Constable*

        I do wonder if the rudeness might be easier to distance from if it wasn’t delivered in a format that’s so viscerally upsetting. It might be worth flagging it for Bob. “Hey, I don’t know if you realize this, but the all caps with exclamation marks in an email comes across like you’re screaming. It’s really disconcerting to get that in a work email, especially since you don’t behave that way in person.”

    3. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I had a colleague at OldJob who was an older gentlemen and used to use all caps all the damn time. It drove me nuts. I politely asked him a couple of times to not use all caps, asked a third time much more forcefully, and he completely ignored my requests so then I tried really hard to ignore his all caps. I think maybe he thought that since he was answering questions or adding edits his responses would be more noticeable if they were capitalized, but oh, my, it got old really fast. That may be part of what this guy is doing here. And the fact that this guy is using excessive exclamation points makes me think that he really does know what he’s doing and is reacting in the moment and being shout-y on purpose.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I tend to agree. I had a colleague who was very nice but still liked to use all caps. I also ended up letting it go, even though it made his emails harder to read (he claimed it was easier). He never *yelled* the way Bob does, however.

        I think this is just Bob being a gigantic ass, as Alison said.

        1. critter*

          I’ve noticed that people who aren’t as good at reading (whether it’s due to vision or simply because they’re a slow reader) do find it easier to read all caps, while people who read fast and well find it harder. When you need to spell out every letter, having the letters be all caps makes them easier to see. But fast readers don’t look at all of the letters in a word, and they take in multiple words at a time while using capitals and punctuation to know what to emphasize, so capitalizing everything forces them to read word by word.

      2. Avasarala*

        We could assume negligence if he didn’t also become “visibly cross and impatient” in person, per the letter. This is a guy who has trouble holding his temper.

    4. CupcakeCounter*

      OP says that Bob doesn’t email her regular assignments in all caps and this only happens when she asks a question.

    5. Tara R.*

      My landlady, who is in her sixties, definitely thinks capslock means “I am saying this with some emphasis” rather than “I am yelling at you”. I suspect that from his perspective, Bob’s email capslocking is the equivalent of his “visibly cross and impatient” in person, but I don’t think that makes it any less of a problem.

      1. JustaTech*

        I really wish there was a way to explain to everyone that all caps means “shouting” in electronic communication (unless you’re the weather service), or it means you’re an internet weirdo telling me about the lizard people from the center of the earth.

  5. Harriet*

    Definitely a personality issue. My boss does this all the time, without regard to how big or small a deal thing are. Including this morning, with something particularly nasty and untrue. Allison is spot on: he is just an ass.

    1. KayDeeAye*

      I hate Bob.

      I realize I don’t know him, but I feel as though I do, and yep, I hate him. He’s a bully with all the temper control of a 3-year-old. He can take his ridiculous caps and crazy-person exclamation point use (“THIS IS NOT NECESSARY!!!!! NOTHING HAS CHANGED IN THE MARCH DATA! JUST USE THE FEB DATA LIKE YOU WERE TOLD!!!” indeed!) and stick it where the sun doesn’t shine.

  6. Crivens!*

    Not helpful advice or anything, but I really do wish we as a society would start pushing back against people like Bob en masse. By all rights, the Bobs of the world shouldn’t have success or be rewarded for their awful behavior.

    1. Suzy Q*

      Agreed. Unfortunately, most of them have the power to ruin people’s lives.

      With this particular Bob, I might try humor.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It’s because Bob’s are the mice of the work world. They seem to squeeze into the smallest frigging openings possible.

        1. KoiFeeder*

          Normally I defend the animals used in analogies but in this case I think mice work well.

  7. Richard Hershberger*

    If you are willing to go the passive-aggressive route (and I gotta say, it often is underrated) then send him an email asking for clarification: Does he want to you flag these? Make sure it is a simple question with a “Yes” or “No” answer, and as general as possible, rather than in reference to a specific instance. Then whatever he responds, do that. Keep the email. Then when he complains that you followed the directive he gave you, reference that email and ask if this is the new policy going forward. This won’t stop him from being a jerk. That is simply what he is. But in the worst case, it gives you a paper trail.

    1. Tiny Soprano*

      It also makes it actively more difficult for him to keep doing what he’s doing, making it more likely he’ll take the path of least resistance and just give up. Especially given he’d look completely silly if he complained to anyone.

  8. Kella*

    OP, please, please keep in mind, however you approach this, that it isn’t in your power to change how Bob reacts to you. If you think it through and choose a tactic you find reasonable, and he still gets mad and yells, that’s not your fault. That doesn’t mean you failed to explain it the right way. Pick a strategy that feels solid to you and stick to it, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you have the ability to stop him from reacting in an unreasonable way.

    1. TootsNYC*

      so true!

      Please internalize this.

      And maybe pick whatever response does the most to shield you.

    2. Veronica Mars*

      For sure. This is very much a “Reasons are for reasonable people” situation.

      I worry that Alison has led you to believe that if you just maybe manage to find exactly the right combinations of platitudes and reasonable things to say, Bob will somehow magically see the light and stop being a jerk to you.

      And maybe that’s true. But maybe, also, Bob will be a jerky jerk no matter what. So absolve yourself of the responsibility to keep trying to find the magic words. Try once, maybe twice, and then decide that Bob Is A Jerk And Isnt Going To Change.

    3. ArtsNerd*

      Yes! The idea that your (exceedingly reasonable) behavior is responsible for someone else’s anger and reaction is… well it’s one of the core dynamics of abusive relationships. It’s insidious and worth reiterating here.

    4. Dust Bunny*


      The problem here is that Bob is a jerk and with people like this you’ll never have the right answer. I don’t even think they know what they want; it’s just not whatever is in front of them. My mom is a bit like this only not maliciously so, and I don’t have to work for her, but there is oh, so much complaining.

    5. OP*

      That’s really really helpful to hear. I know it’s obvious when you think about it, but I have been blaming myself for not being able to solve all our communication issues when, as people have pointed out, this is a two-way street.

      1. tangerineRose*

        I think you’ve done everything right, but Alison’s scripts might be very helpful. Sometimes people like this will treat you better if they realize you’re trying to do your job the way they want you to.

  9. Barbara Eyiuche*

    My parents were like this. If I did x, I got screamed at. If I did the opposite of x, I got screamed at. If I did y, I got screamed at. If I did nothing, I was ignored. Looking back, training a child that the only safe course of action is to hide in her room was not a good way to prepare a child for life.
    My suggestion here would be to calmly point out to your boss whenever his instructions contradict what he told you to do the last time.

    1. Elbereth*

      My approach has always been to create a document like “OP’s Guide to X” – essentially a policy/procedures document meant for yourself – containing what you wish you knew when you started the job. In practice, it morphs into a manual for the accepted SOP, or becomes a handover document should you fall ill or leave for another job.
      Write it up, and get Bob (and other managers?) to review it.
      In other words, if you want clarity on standard operating procedure, it really helps to write it up yourself.

    2. JSPA*

      “I’ve been assuming it’s beyond my level to decide when numbers should be updated beyond what you’ve given me. If you want me to start making those calls, I need guidance on how to decide. If that’s indeed not my job, then how do you want me to flag up that there are new numbers, so that you can decide? Do you prefer a note on the document, a note on the accompanying email, or what?”

      1. valentine*

        Bob sees no difference between asking and questioning, but I wonder if OP already knew the March numbers were the same.

    3. Eukomos*

      I was always a fan of forwarding my old boss the email where she told me to do the thing she was angry I’d done, generally with a single sentence feigning mild confusion. Usually the whole matter was dropped.

  10. TootsNYC*

    I once worked with someone who was wound pretty tightly and could be angry a lot.

    We were editors, and he’d write on the proofs and hand them back to my department. He’d write in firm all-caps block letters with a Flair felt-tip pen (so, wide-ish even marks) and in red.

    I finally went to his boss and said, “This is making the people on my team angry; he often DOES write angry or insulting stuff, and blames us for stuff we didn’t do, so even when he’s just making ordinary edits, it raises people’s hackles. And they’re less productive. Maybe we can forbid him to write in red.”

    Which is what she did.

  11. TootsNYC*

    I wonder if the OP can mitigate some of this by never asking a question of Bob in those notes.

    Like, “FYI: March data now avail.” might be sufficient. And he might not feel he needs to answer then, so he wouldn’t have a reason to write much.

    I also wonder about just always making notes to him be in all-caps. Let him experience how it comes across. And if he says anything, say, “I was just following your lead.”

    1. Aquawoman*

      I think this is a good idea. There may be a “how dare you question me!” aspect that would lessen if she just gave him info instead of asking the question. Then he can be the big boss making the big decisions on his own ::eye roll::

    2. Lily Rowan*

      Yeah, I once worked with a totally unreasonable person and it took me way too long to figure out that I could never suggest anything to her — I could only ask totally open-ended questions. Never mind that making suggestions really was my job! Anything that hinted of a suggestion sent her off the deep end.

    3. tangerineRose*

      Don’t use all-caps; I know this seems like it should be OK since he does, but he doesn’t sound like someone who would take it well.

  12. Marie*

    Continue your practice of asking re any changes. Your practice makes sense. Why change that in the face of his wrongheaded unreason. When this person then writes back in caps, RESPOND to him with an all caps email: I understand that you are saying this project is a go ahead with the old data rather than the new. Thank you.
    I’ve found that responding on my own terms to this kind of person at work (and elsewhere) works. And in so doing you cover your work in terms of projects related to this person.

    1. Marie*

      In other words. Don’t back down. I’m tired of the stance whereby kind courteous people are to play along with rudeness by making the rude person feel uncomfortable and living with or stuffing their own discomfort.

      1. Marie*

        Oops! Should read: by making the rude person feel comfortable. I will also add that there are ways to deal with bullies without lowering to their level. He seems to like caps. I’ll give him caps. But my words are polite.

        1. willow for now*

          I have responded with bigger caps, then bigger bolded caps. It took a few times but it eventually stopped the caps.

      2. Turtle Candle*

        This is true when it’s safe to do, but the LW seems genuinely concerned about making him mad enough to fire her or similar, and to be honest, right now is not the time I’d want to try to job hunt after a firing. It sucks, and I understand why you rankle at being conciliatory, but sometimes we’re weighing the difference between being right and getting an outcome that we can live with. :/

        I definitely wouldn’t allcaps back in that situation, to be perfectly honest, and it’s not because I’m a doormat or making excuses for terrible people. It’s because I’m weighing risks.

        1. Count Boochie Flagrante*

          Yeah, this.

          It sucks and it’s frustrating and infuriating, but when the jerk is the one in power, sometimes you just gotta.

        2. tangerineRose*

          Yeah, what Turtle Candle said. I’d also suggest looking for another job, but this boss doesn’t sound like he’d take this well.

    2. Artemesia*

      Maybe But the OP is in a no win here and the best way for her to deal IMHO is to figure out how to distance her emotions from this. The old ‘anthropologist’ stance as if you are observing a troop of monkeys. Instead of adrenaline when he screams — contemplation and isn’t that interesting — or amazing, I predicted that exactly. Find his behavior interesting, pathetic, odd, primitive, predictable and detach complete from any sense of blaming yourself. I had one boss who terrified me with his aggressive unwarranted tirades; the first time he threatened to fire me over something that I was doing absolutely as required and using SOP (but he wanted to change the SOP but hadn’t directed that) my reaction was physical — my body felt like it was being assaulted. And I generally am someone who can dish it back and who can stand up for herself. After that, I realized in dealing with him I needed to manage my own head as I was not going to be managing his behavior. It did help. It also helped that I had a fair amount of capital so I had some security (not probably enough if he had really gone after me, but quite a bit)

  13. Batgirl*

    I used to have a boss who yelled like this and I kind of accidentally became his favourite person because of the way I responded to it.
    He was a terrible manager, had poor responses to his management style (I wonder why!) and said misogynistic stuff all the time.
    One of my co-workers began by being super afraid of him and later wound up being super hostile to him. This was a pretty reasonable response on her part.
    I kind of saw him as a cartoon, and I think on some level just assumed that yellling was his only interpersonal skill; so when he yelled at me to do x, not y I would just respond: “OK I’ll do x”.
    I did this because I saw there was no way to circumvent the yelling and I just wanted to know the decision; but bizarrely he liked me shrugging it off and said I took criticism well (!)
    It helped that he was indiscriminately like that to everyone and he never went after anyone’s career, he just yelled – so the LW needs to keep those caveats in mind if she thinks her boss is more malicious.
    I just found it amusing and kind of wish it had been in email format rather than done verbally because I would have a folder of Tiger Mike style memos, if so.

    1. Kate, short for Bob*

      I think this is an excellent approach – sometimes arseholes are just going to be arseholes. When I’m dealing with tricky people (and I include toddlers in this) I always try to get into the amateur-anthropologist headspace – so instead of taking random rage personally I’ll think ‘hmm, what’s going on behind this’ or even ‘hmm, he’s gone an interesting colour, I wonder if I could match it on a paint chart’. It’s part of focusing on the end goal – get the report signed off/get the weather appropriate footwear on the tiny feet – and letting the other stuff fly over your head.

      1. willow for now*

        Dusty Mauve? Brazilian Sunset? Too intense for an entire room, but maybe an accent wall…

    2. nm*

      The fact that he liked your response makes me think you’re right that yelling is the only way he knew how to interact with people.

  14. BradC*

    I hesitate to post this because truly, this is Bob’s problem (plus you may already be doing this); but would he react better if you listed them as informational “report notes” instead of as questions?

    A neutral “Report based on 2/13/2020 data” rather than “a new set of data was released on 3/10, should I use that data instead?”

    Lets him either ignore them or, if any adjustment is needed, he thinks it was his own idea.

    1. CM*

      There’s a good chance that Bob is just an angry person, and he’ll be mad no matter what the OP does, but I think this is a good thing to try — if for no other reason than to test for that.

      1. Elbereth*

        Agreed, sometimes being overly-deferential makes things worse. I think this might be one of those cases.

    2. Mockingjay*

      Bob reminds me a little of my old boss. He was a hardass with no people skills and many trembled before him. I finally figured him out. In his view, he hired us because we said we could do the job, so…go do the job.

      He didn’t like questions, especially those that he thought we could (and should) answer ourselves. What he would respond to were: 1) neutral points, like BradC suggested, or 2), problem/solution. “Boss, we’re having problem X. I’ve researched Solution A; need your go-ahead to proceed. ”

      I did like others in this thread suggested and created process docs, which he approved and became the project standards. We established a really good relationship and I worked for him for nearly 6 years.

    3. Nom de plume*

      I had a boss exactly like Bob, who thought every question was a criticism. No matter what I did, I couldn’t win with her. If I had started saying “Report based on 2/13 data” she would have responded “who do you think you are? You’re constantly trying to undermine me by questioning my decisions about which data set to use”

      Definitely still worth trying, but it does go to show that unreasonable people will always find new ways to be unreasonable :)

  15. CM*

    This question is a good example of what’s broken about the current employment system. People are held hostage and forced to tolerate behaviour that should never be acceptable because the alternative is poverty and death. Yeah, you can try to be really co-dependent with Bob and maybe nudge him into leaving you alone sometimes, but there’s no real solution that doesn’t involve huge structural changes to the economy.

    1. Impy*

      This. If you end up with a boss like Bob, your choices, really, are to leave or endure. Leaving isn’t always an option, and enduring can have lasting repercussions for your mental health. You can’t even avoid it through due diligence – I did that at my last place, loved my boss, then a Bob type was brought in over his head. There has got to be some better system than the psychopath enabling tough luck one we’ve got going on.

  16. DCAnalyst2020*

    Just an idea (he sounds awful btw). Perhaps the OP could send out an email to all the managers she assists saying she’d like to schedule meetings to discuss their preferences for the work she completes for them. This is a sort of passive aggressive introduction to the convo that needs to be had with Bob about how she can best complete a project without triggering a negative response from him. This of course is not going to change who he is as a person and maybe won’t change his behavior, but the next time he snaps at her for doing what she was told, she can at least have a clear conversation to reference when defending her actions. Hope that makes sense.

  17. J.B.*

    Ah Bob, Bob. I would suggest that you start looking at him as a particularly gross scientific specimen. If when you raise an issue you will get screamed at 10 times out of 10 but if you don’t raise an issue, it only gets noticed (and screaming ensues) 1 time out of 10 – then people will keep their mouths shut. You won’t know of problems or the good stuff because you are such an unreasonable a$$.

    In the short term, reframing may help. In the long term you may want to move on.

    1. The IT Plebe*

      Well, I wouldn’t be so dismissive of “only” all-caps emails, even if he’s not screaming at OP IRL. At best, he looks out of touch with office email etiquette and at worst, extremely volatile and shouldn’t be managing people at all. More to the point, he writes all-caps emails on top of being terrible at receiving feedback from women and/or junior employees. The emails don’t exist in a vacuum and look to be only the tip of this iceberg.

      All-caps emails from a supervisor would be confusing and/or upsetting to lots of people, including myself. A good manager has an elevated responsibility to conduct themselves professionally…unfortunately, Bobs still exist in way too many workplaces where he has some kind of invaluable skill that makes keeping him around as the missing stair worth more than trying to stand up to him.

    2. EmKay*


    3. Batgirl*

      That might make it easier to adopt a policy of tactically ignoring it (as opposed to putting up with outright abuse) but it’s legitimately a headfuck.
      He’s saying “Just do what you were told”, implying her questions are bizarre and using exclamation marks.
      It’s not calling her stupid, or insubordinate, or using coarse language to shock and upset, but it’s rightnextdoor to the point you don’t need great inference skills.
      She can only ignore it if she diagnoses it as being about him rather than about her.

  18. Jedi Squirrel*

    Alison, I love how you asked a question and then answered your own question! I seriously got an out-loud chuckle over that!

    My state just went into lockdown and I really needed this laugh!

    It still amazes me how many times asses get to be in charge of other people, when they have absolutely no people/soft skills whatsoever. The Bobs of the world need to just sit down.

  19. RVA Cat*

    I can be the only one mentally adding “INCONCEIVABLE!” to Bob’s emails and seeing the February vs. March data as which goblet the Iocane powder is in….?

  20. Oof*

    Perhaps you could ask him if he would like a blanket policy of updating data, and if so, would he want it flagged or no? Look at it as a way to automate the process.

  21. Nerdy Librarian*


    What a friggin’ lunatic. He will probably get arrested in a road rage incident soon and be out of your life.
    Sending hugs!

  22. R*

    Hi Bob,
    I think your Caps Lock key is getting stuck. Would you like me to ask IT to drop by to check on it?

    1. Snark no more!*

      Oh I like this response! And I totally would respond in all caps. The boss likely doesn’t even realize what that means anyway.

  23. Mrs. Wednesday*

    OP, I know it’s a work thing because – it’s happening at work. But it’s not really about the work itself, you know? So I’m wondering if focusing on changing how you do one task will do much for you.

    I once had a young, female coworker (like me at the time) who reported directly to our CEO, who was an older male screamer. When she was still newish, he started in on her again at one point and she told him, calmly, she was done with him yelling at her. If he ever did it again, she was gone. He apologized and – even though he kept screaming at everybody else, which is a whole other thing – somehow managed to behave professionally toward her until she left a few years later.

    This is in no way to say you have control over your boss’s ridiculous behavior, or that you should put your employment status at risk. If you’re gonna threaten to leave, ya gotta have the resources and most people wouldn’t. But this CEO showed how some bullies will fold instantly if you set a boundary.

    1. Impy*

      I read on Captain Awkward that the only two ways to handle a bully are to either stand up to them or remove their access to you. I’ve found this to be true IRL.

    2. Blinded By the Gaslight*

      You have to be very careful with this though. I stood up to my abusive boss, asked HR for assistance, and was fired less than a week later after she lied about me to HR and made it sound like I was crazy. Some bosses can’t handle the truth, and they’d rather fire you than adjust their own behavior.

      Also, OP, keep your job search going. I should have left that shi**y job/boss YEARS ago instead of stay and try to make it better. It was NEVER going to get better.

  24. Heffalump*

    I’m sure working for Bob is no picnic. But I once had a manager (one of the most abusive people I’d met up to that point) who never raised his voice but made absolutely brutal remarks. This was really creepy in its own way.

  25. Random IT person*

    The late Sir Terry Pratchett would have said:

    “Multiple exclamation marks,’ he went on, shaking his head, ‘are a sure sign of a diseased mind.”

    ― Terry Pratchett, Eric

  26. Eternal Optometrist*

    You just need to reimagine Bob’s message in a more pleasant way. He has a problem with his keyboard. It’s stuck on caps lock. He’s the type of guy who really types everything in lower case, because he doesn’t want to be taken too seriously. And he’s really into emojis and had remapped the exclamation point to the heart emoji. But with his broken keyboard, it came out wrong. Here’s what he intended to write:
    “this is not necessary❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️ nothing has changed in the march data❤️ just use the feb data like you were told❤️❤️❤️”

  27. Workfromhome*

    I would make all my emails to this boss all CAPS. If they say anything “Well I assumed this was the email convention you wanted since you use all CAPS. Is there an another reason why you use all CAPS but want me to use regual sized letters” Then be quiet and see what he says.

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