my coworker screamed at me and HR hasn’t done anything

A reader writes:

I’m writing about a situation from last year that in many ways is still unresolved, in the hopes that I can learn to navigate situations like this in the future. Last January, a woman in another unit and a different chain of command, Dolores, gave my unit a small piece of an ongoing project. Over the seven months we were on this project, we had a few blips in our dealings with Dolores, nothing egregious, but a few red flags. She wasn’t the most professional and had made some unpleasant comments about our unit in public settings, but we rarely had to interact with her to perform the routine work we were doing, so it wasn’t a huge deal.

In July, my boss (Cornelius), Dolores, and I had a meeting scheduled for 30 minutes, and it ended up lasting for 75 minutes. It quickly escalated into Dolores yelling, berating, and haranguing us both about all sorts of things, most of which were factually inaccurate (issues she thought she had with my work separate from this project that were really the work of another unit, etc.), and none of which were relevant to the meeting agenda she’d set. Coworkers down the hall had heard her yelling through the closed door. Cornelius and I were both blindsided by this overtly unprofessional and hostile behavior. The meeting was incredibly stressful, made me never want to meet with Dolores again, and left me concerned that I may run into her unexpectedly. (Cornelius’s failure to intervene during the meeting is a whole other issue). Cornelius spoke to Dolores’s boss, Jane, who took us off the project and escalated the situation to HR.

I spoke to HR rep Sybil, saying I wasn’t comfortable working with Dolores anymore. Cornelius had told Dolores’s supervisor that he felt we were owed an apology, and I told Sybil I agreed with him. I didn’t hear anything for months, despite asking Sybil for updates.

Eventually, I got an email from Dolores out of the blue, saying that Sybil had said I wanted to talk to her, and that I could drop by her office whenever. I was alarmed to get this email. I met with Sybil to say I was deeply concerned to be contacted by Dolores directly without warning from HR. Sybil seemed dismissive of my concerns, saying that I’d asked for an apology, and what did I think that meant? I said I thought HR might be involved in a mediated discussion, or that my manager and I might both be involved, since I wasn’t ever planning on having a one-on-one meeting with Dolores again. Sybil said that we were all adults and she had hoped we could handle it like adults. She also seemed annoyed I was taking notes during our meeting, and frustrated that I’d requested an urgent meeting to follow up on this issue. I left the meeting with Sybil feeling dissatisfied with how she had handled it, frustrated that it had taken so long for anything to happen, and disheartened that it seemed nothing had come of it. I did not end up meeting with Dolores, who works in another unit and building, and our paths haven’t crossed since.

What should have happened in this situation? I feel like someone dropped the ball, but was it Sybil? Was it me? I felt that since my boss was also in the meeting with Dolores it was more his responsibility to handle it, or escalate it. (Side note: my boss … is not good, and his boss manages around him rather than dealing with it, creating weird tensions in my chain of command apart from this issue.) I hope never to be in a situation like this again, but I would like to know how to handle it professionally in the future.

Dolores sounds like a disaster, but I think your expectations were at least a little off.

It’s not that Dolores wasn’t rude or out of line; she very much was! Her boss, Jane, should have had a serious conversation with her, clearly told her it’s unacceptable to yell at, harangue, or otherwise be disrespectful toward colleagues, and made it clear this was a serious offense that can’t happen again. (This should have been done by Jane, not HR. If HR were involved, it should have been via advising Jane in the background.)

And maybe that happened. You wouldn’t necessarily know if Jane had that conversation with Dolores. Ideally Jane then would have circled back to Cornelius (and maybe you as well) and said it been handled and shouldn’t happen again, and to let her know if you had any more problems. It sounds like Jane didn’t do that piece, and might not have done the rest of it either. She should have. (Although with Cornelius being so inept, is it possible Jane did relay something like that to him and he never passed it on to you?)

And you’re right that Cornelius should have been talking the lead on all of this. But you already know he’s not a good manager, and it sounds like it’s no surprise that he didn’t. (Speaking of which, it’s possible HR took their cues from Cornelius, since he’s the manager who was present. If he downplayed it or told them it wasn’t a big deal or that he was handling it, that could explain the lack of more visible action from them.)

But all that aside, I think you were looking to HR to manage this in a way they’d signaled they weren’t willing to. It sounds like you pushed HR/Sybil for updates for months. A single tantrum from a coworker — while absolutely unacceptable — doesn’t warrant months of pushing for action. It was fine to follow up on your meeting with Sybil once, but after that I would have dropped it. Be annoyed that they weren’t handling it more aggressively, sure — but it clearly wasn’t going to get addressed the way you wanted, and at that point the smartest thing to do was to move on (including talking with Cornelius about how to handle Dolores in the future).

Basically, you had an unprofessional coworker throw a tantrum at you, and you didn’t see the clear, strong response from her management that you should have seen. That’s not good, but the most practical thing to do at that point is let it go and move on. There’s no point in keeping it alive with months of emails and meetings or mediation — which I think is what Sybil was getting at when she said you were all adults.

Dolores is obviously the one in the wrong here, but you kept pushing on the situation longer than really was warranted.

One thing for the future: you don’t need to stay in a meeting where you’re being yelled at and berated! I know it’s hard to know what to do when you’re blindsided by someone behaving like that, but ideally you and/or Cornelius would have said, “We’re not willing to be talked to like this. We’re going to leave this meeting and we can take it up later, after we’ve had a chance to talk with Jane.” That doesn’t mean you and Cornelius bear any of the blame — you don’t — but if this ever happens in the future, know that you can end the meeting and leave.

{ 237 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Malarkey01*

    Excellent advice! While yelling is not okay in the workplace, a one time tantrum is also not so egregious that it wouldn’t rise to HR in any of the companies I’ve been unless there was some racial/gender/harassment component or if this was a long standing employee. Having HR mediate a coworker apology for one-time behavior would be excessive here.

    Yes, you should NOT be yelled at, but refusing to ever work with an employee again, repeated HR emails, and asking for disagreements to be mediated for a one-time occurrence which was noted and addressed by managers (even if you didn’t get the play by play) would reflect on you which you really don’t want.

    Reply
    1. Cj*

      I think refusing to work with the employee again is reasonable, especially absent an apology. This was 75 minutes of yelling, not 5.

      Reply
    2. Really*

      Hmm. Not sure I see the issue with following up on the matter – I would want answers too after being abused in the workplace. Not sure how it works in the US, but there are laws in Canada dealing with this kind of thing. Yelling is bullying and harassment, and once reported – it must be dealt with. Each province has a WorkSafe agency that can help deal with bullying, and it’s against the law for an employer to ignore this kind of thing. I wouldn’t work with anyone again either if they yelled and screamed at me – it’s abuse, and I’m glad Canada has laws in place to help deal with it.

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      1. Chinook*

        Yes and no. 99% of Canadian workplaces fall under this but the other 1% are technically “above the law” which means, due to their function and how they were created, they are answerable directly to parliament, the Prime Minister or the Queen. As a result, they fall into an unintentional loophole where separate laws need enacted. In practice, they follow the jurisdictional laws but, if they don’t, there is no one to report them too. This is why there were issues with the GG, bullying and unsafe officer practices within the RCMP and CSIS has to relook at their policies on data snooping. The intention is not allow them to have no accountability, just that no one is clear on who should have it and how to keep those watchers accountable (etc.)

        We have come a long way, but it is not perfect. All it takes is a person in charge who chooses not to follow the rules (despite 2 previous warnings) for one to realize that there is not nece8a way to enforce consequences.

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    3. Laika*

      I agree with this, to a point. I once refused to work with a co-worker since he had a full-on temper tantrum in the office (shoving furniture, stomping, kicking, shouting) while we were the only two people in the building, and on third shift–so, very late at night to boot! I didn’t feel comfortable working solo with him after that, since it seemed like such an inappropriately strong emotionally-charged reaction. But I do think that’s fairly specific circumstances and I made sure to clarify that I was happy to continue working with him generally, so long as there were other people on the same shift as us.

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    4. Anonymeece*

      Eh. I got yelled at so bad by an employee that the front desk nearly called the cops. When her boss was informed, she basically shrugged it off, to the point that our VP got involved. It can elevate to that concern, certainly.

      Reply
  2. Serafina*

    I’m not quite sure how I feel about this advice – shouldn’t the complaining worker at least be told that something has been done, even if HR can’t/won’t say what exactly the action was that they took? LW’s follow-ups seem more prompted by the complete lack of information. That would bother me too after a scene like that.

    (Baggage Note: I’ve been on the receiving end of behavior like Dolores’, and it did repeat. Granted, my firm was much smaller than LW’s seems to be, but I think a tantrum like that does warrant strong action to ensure that the tantrum-thrower knows that it will NOT be tolerant and there will be severe discipline/termination if there’s a repeat.)

    Reply
    1. Kali*

      HR isn’t going to discuss any discipline or other personnel measures taken with another employee that doesn’t work for OP, and that likely goes for here too. OP maybe could have expected a, “It’s been taken care of, and please let us know if there are any additional issues” but nothing more.

      I think the problem for OP is the perceived lack of action, but in so many cases – especially when HR is involved – an employee won’t know what has happened behind the scenes.

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      1. Triplestep*

        Yes, because OP wanted a specific thing – an apology – and forced apologies are not under HR’s purview. HR should have realized at some point that the following up was about something they do not do and should have made this clear to OP.

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      2. Serafina*

        I agree that “It’s been taken care of, and please let us know if there are any additional issues” but nothing more was the only appropriate response by HR, I just think it was also inappropriate of them to tell her nothing at all.

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    2. serenity*

      I agree.

      It sounds like there are issues at the managerial level on multiple fronts here but I’m not loving the strong implications that OP is in the wrong. She was yelled at for over an hour by a belligerent colleague – she should expect follow-up from that from someone (even if it isn’t or shouldn’t be HR)!

      Reply
    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes, she should indeed have received some kind of follow-up, like I noted in the “what should have happened” section of the post (see paragraphs 2 and 3 of the response)! And she’s entitled to be annoyed by that, as I wrote. But it also would have been more practical to just move on after it was clear that it wasn’t being handled the way she hoped.

      Reply
      1. The Supreme Troll*

        OK…maybe I see moving on…but first making it clear to HR that they could have handled this situation a whole lot better and then dropping the matter. The OP is right to feel the way that she does (I’m not saying you’re denying that) and I totally can understand her sense of distrust.

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        1. Anononon*

          For what gain? I don’t see how essentially scolding HR at this point would lead to anything positive (or even neutral) for the OP.

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        2. sacados*

          It’s less on HR tho, than it is the managers — like Alison said, the most efficient way of handling this would have been that OP’s boss alerts Dolores’s boss (Jane); Jane has a stern conversation with the Dolores to explain that kind of behavior is absolutely unacceptable, and then Jane updates OP’s boss that everything was handled.

          So while HR was a bit ineffective in this situation, I’m inclined to cut them a little slack because really the whole thing should have been managed without bringing them into it at all.

          Reply
          1. OP here*

            That makes a lot of sense to me! I am seeing more and more how this is a management issue. I do not know why Jane looped in HR, but she did, and I think it gave Cornelius the ability to abdicate HIS responsibility. It made it an HR issue for him, which meant HE didn’t have the responsibility to follow up with Jane. In retrospect he definitely encouraged me to get answers from HR rather than ensure himself that Dolores had been spoken to be her manager.

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            1. Arts Akimbo*

              Is there a chance Jane is trying to build a case to fire Dolores, and your company is one of those where HR has to get looped in with personnel decisions?

              Reply
              1. Pen keeper*

                This is what I´m thinking too. Someone acting out in the way Dolores did to OP probably has done it before, so maybe Jane is now “done” with her and chooses to document it instead of trying to improve her behavior (which, of course, we don´t know since it is behind the scenes for us). At my previous job there was this one employee so dysfunctional that most of us didn´t understand why he was still there/he wasn´t reprimanded. Found out later that they were working on building his file, which takes sooo much time allowing for (needing?) more incidents.

                Reply
    4. Firecat*

      I feel you and I think that the comment about “you’re all adults” is particularly dismissive. I’ve also been yelled at by a coworker at work and then management did nothing. Even though the yelling stopped their bad behaviors continued and I felt I was blamed for them yelling at me a log. The “you’re both adults” comment was thrown around a lot when I complained that I never even got an apology. There was a lot of, yeah she was wrong to yell but … your comment about cost-expense efficiency really annoyed her. It was all BS.

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      1. Not So NewReader*

        “you’re all adults”

        Look for that push back, it happens enough in life in so many situations. When it suddenly becomes your problem alone to fix and you do not have the power to fix it, then you are looking at weak leadership.

        Hey Dolores could have been given a couple days off to think about if she wanted the job or no. That to me would have been ideal but I could be okay with a good speaking-to regarding the episode.

        I think what the real problem here is that a snotty person is escalating and no one seems to notice or stop it. If that was the first tirade that could have been addressed right there, no need for a history of tirades to decide there might be a problem.

        I have worked with some pretty tough people. So I don’t push for apologies, because I know that for the most part they can be pretty empty. All I aim for is “Let’s not repeat this. Ever again.” This is the point anyway, all the apologies in the world are useless if it happens again next week. Sometimes the only way we know we made our point, OP, is if the problem never recurs.

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      2. TardyTardis*

        Nothing’s going to get done. Someone found out (probably HR) that Dolores was bulletproof. And not ever working with her again is the most that OP will get. OP was right to not go to her office, though, God only knows what would have happened *then* (and OP would have been lied about and gotten the blame). We’ve all been there, sadly enough.

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      3. Serafina*

        Ugh, if we’re “all adults”, what’s Fergus/Dolores doing throwing a tantrum like an oversized, out-of-control toddler – who in some cases, is in a position of authority!?

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  3. AndersonDarling*

    I wish I had learned the Walk Away advice earlier in my career. I think I was trained to sit there and take verbal abuse because my mom was the only person to yell like that…and I wasn’t going to walk away from her yelling! There were so many times I should have walked out of work situations where adults were having out of control tantrums.
    To Everyone: you don’t have to take abuse. There is nothing wrong with calmly standing up and walking away.

    Reply
    1. Cheese_Toast*

      I learned how to walk away from yelling coworkers and my yelling mother. I have been chased down, physically and digitally, but I keep establishing my boundaries. People either learn to deal with it or they go spin off in another direction.

      Also — if you walk away from a meeting where you are being abused, as soon as you can send an email to at least your supervisor with a summary of what happened. You don’t want the abuser to control the narrative before you can.

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      1. Anonny for this one*

        Yep, definitely walk away. Being in a closed office with a supervisor who is doing nothing and an out of control coworker is so not anyone’s job. If it didn’t feel unsafe I would recommend waiting for an inhale by the screaming coworker and tell her exactly what IS going to happen. “I’d like for this meeting to be brought down several levels. I’m very uncomfortable and will not listen to any more yelling and berating. If you can’t do this then I will be leaving and heading straight to HR to discuss the matter.
        Although it can be really hard to get your wits about you in this kind of situation I’ve found that being as honest as I can and telling the person (professionally) exactly what I’m feeling is the most straightforward way to handle theses things. Now with someone unpredictable like Dolores the result can be , well, unpredictable, but at least you’ve stayed true to yourself and been honest and professional.
        My experience with this was a male coworker on my team who had yelled at a female coworker in another department for not doing more of HIS job. When she relayed this to me (I asked why she was calling me and doing his job and she told me the whole story including the yelling) I was embarrassed for our team and I apologized to her and said he shouldn’t have treated her that way. Less than five minutes later he came stomping in to my semi-enclosed space and started yelling that I had no right to apologize to her. He kept going for several minutes and when he paused I said. “She does a lot of work for us to be helpful but we should not expect it from her and should be grateful for what she does. I will not sit here and be yelled at by you. “ At this point he yelled at me that he wasn’t yelling (classic) and I told his in my scariest calm voice to “Turn around and walk away” When he started yelling again I raised my voice slightly and said “Stop yelling and turn around and walk away”. He did, end of story, he hasn’t had a tantrum with me since.
        BTW this is the same person who got reported as being a bully in an employees exit interview a few days before the employee actually left. He tried to bully her into going back to HR and taking it back. WOW!

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    2. Delta Delta*

      I did a Walk Away once from someone who I thought was speaking to me disrespectfully. The lasting effect was that the person spoke more respectfully to me from then on and we were able to create a very good working relationship. I was a) proud of myself that I did that and followed through and b) pleased that the other person was able/willing to work on our working relationship so we could be productive in the future.

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      1. Lady Meyneth*

        I walked away once and it had the opposite effect with that guy. From then on he always refered to me as “Little Miss Sensitive” (no joke!), and wouldn’t speak to me directly if he could at all avoid it.

        He had a history as a troublemakes though, and nobody took him seriously. I did notice a change in my other coworkers’ attitude, somewhat towards admiration. People listened to me more quickly in meetings and my ideas tended to be considered more often, that kind of thing. So there’s a definite advantage to standing up for yourself in most half-functional places.

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        1. anon for this*

          This happened to me as well. I got picked on and mocked for walking away. This was because the instigator really wanted me to stay in the room so that they could abuse me more readily, though. I heard they later got fired from several jobs in a row.

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          1. Anon 2.0*

            Don’t you want to send people like that flowers anonymously with a card telling them they are a tool and hopefully they will continue to get fired from their jobs?

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          2. Not So NewReader*

            So very sorry this happened to you.

            With some folks you can only tell how effective you are by how big a reaction (mocking) you get from your own reaction(walking away).
            Here, in this case where the mocking started, they were down to their last tool they could think of to keep you there in the room. Sad to say, but this is what “winning” looks like with people like this.

            It took me years to shed my embarrassment about this stuff. Counter-intuitively, walking away, leaving the door open and exposing these people to other people IS the answer. Let others see this person screaming their butt off. Let others get involved.
            It took me quite a while to reframe this as, “I am not going to cover for your bad behavior by allowing this to remain a secret.”
            The problem is that there is probably an ounce of truth somewhere for example, I did actually make a mistake. But their reaction is not proportionate to the size of the mistake. I am not sure when it first happened, but at some point I realized I could fix the mistake 10 times over in the time wasted by listening to the screaming person. So this person was in total meltdown over something that could be fixed in a matter of minutes. Yet we wasted a half hour or more because they wanted their precious meltdown.

            PS. In order to help yourself along, start thinking of her screaming as a meltdown. You know, like toddlers have meltdowns.

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      2. LizM*

        I hung up on a coworker once. He was yelling so loud that people 3 cubicles down could hear him.

        For a while, he refused to talk to me and insisted that all of our communication be by email so there was a written record (which was honestly fine with me, a little clunky, but I didn’t want to be yelled at again), but once he did start talking to me, he was much more respectful and we were able to maintain a professional, albeit cool, relationship.

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    3. TootsNYC*

      I think I was trained to sit there and take verbal abuse because my mom was the only person to yell like that…and I wasn’t going to walk away from her yelling!

      For almost everyone, the earliest form of conflict or discipline they run into is from their parents, and a child does not walk away from a parent. Depending on most parents, people can learn some not-very-helpful patterns.
      Including the idea that you just have to take it (remember the outrage over protesters showing up with gas masks?! shields?! How dare they protect themselves).

      Or that there’s something morally wrong with you because someone is angry at you, and that it’s appropriate for them to punish you.

      I think it takes a lot of presence of mind and strength of resolve to get up and say, “I’m not going to sit here and take this,” and leave the meeting.

      being able to recognize that it’s OK to interrupt and leave is a major confidence achievement.
      (I might say, “Well, this isn’t getting us anywhere. None of this is really relevant, and I have things to do. If it needs addressing again, we’ll deal with it later.” and walk out. But I’d have a hard time saying “I’m not going to sit here and be yelled at.”)

      Reply
      1. Lady Meyneth*

        Interesting. I absolutely could say (and have) “It’s not appropriate for you to scream at me, and we can resume this meeting once we can do it respectfully”, and walk away.

        But I don’t think I could *ever* say I had other things to do or that a meeting is getting nowhere. May be a cultural difference, or maybe just temperaments. But OP should be aware there are several ways to speak while standing up for herself, and to find the one that works best in her situation.

        Reply
        1. InfoSec SemiPro*

          I have said “When you can control your temper and speak professionally, we can continue this discussion.” I was an intern speaking to a screaming senior engineer at the time, and one who had a Reputation. It worked phenomenally well. There is a certain kind of man who can be brought up short by an 18 year old girl having higher expectations of him.

          … why no one else had laid out those expectations of him is another matter.

          Reply
          1. Lady Meyneth*

            Yes, my one screaming coworker also happened when I was just starting in the workforce. I really think this type of people target the very young to feel powerful, and are often shocked when there’s any pushback (especially from females).

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            1. TardyTardis*

              Of course. People like that choose their victims. I expect Cornelius has been on the firing line often enough that Dolores thinks he’s a good punching bag because he never fights back, and expected OP to be like that, too.

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          2. Middle Aged Lady*

            I once told a prof with a difficult reputation, who started raising his voice, that he looked hot after his walk across campus to
            my office, and suggested he visit the fountain for a drink of water and a cooldown in the hallway. Worked like a charm. Sometimes I can stop them or leave. Sometimes I freeze, though. If they remind me too much of Daddy…

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      2. I Need a User Name*

        I too was screamed at on a regular basis by a stepmother throughout my teen years. I was a shy, troubled teen, and my father sided with her. I only wish I had had the courage to Walk Away back then. (I finally Walked Away, permanently, as an adult.) Thank God I’ve never had to deal with a screaming coworker (although I have dealt with plenty of upset customers in customer service call centers and in retail). I would like to think I wouldn’t sit back and take being screamed at by a coworker or manager. But I know I’d be reluctant to do so. And like OP, I definitely would want the other person’s manager and/or HR to talk to someone like Delores. But yes, OP, you do need to let this go.

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        1. Not So NewReader*

          I walked away as an adult also. I think after that I saw my mother a half dozen times before she died.

          I think one good lesson was I realized that sometimes these situations never get better,no matter what you try. Gradually, my goals shifted. Initially, my goal was to get the screaming to stop. (yeah. right.) The my goal went to trying to survive the screaming. (A bit of a step not the best choice, but given the givens…)
          After a bit my eyes flew open. I finally understood. This. Is. Not. Normal.
          It could be in OP’s story the person was having a bad day (doubtful, because OP indicates she is crabby anyway). It could be this person is having a health issue. (NOT an excuse, but sometimes stuff does eat at people.) It could be that this person thinks it’s okay to talk to people like this because no one has ever said “STOP!”.
          I tend think through all three of these to help myself to calm down and think about how I will handle things. I usually land on the fact that I have to tell them to stop. So the next step would be to figure out how I am going to say that.

          It’s easier to handle with the people we actually like if they are uncharacteristically snotty/nasty. Because then we can leverage the solid relationship underneath the Current Issue and say something like, “hey are you okay?” This can get people to stop in their tracks.

          It’s a lot harder with the Dolores-es of the world who aren’t that likable to begin with. Dolores has no real plan on getting better/nicer, OP. But you can have your own plan, OP. Draw your lines with her and hold those lines.

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      3. KoiFeeder*

        I keep reading all these lovely scripts for things to say when you’re getting yelled at and yet the only thing that ever manages to come out of my mouth is “Nope, not even dealing with this right now.”

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    4. Chinook*

      The walk away advice is good but not always an option. The big news in Canada is about a toxic work environment that included being yelled at on a plane on the way back from international travel and staff meetings with “at least one victim.” Complaints were made but when the boss and her assistant are the culprits and they only answer to the Prime Minister and the Queen, it must feel like there is no one to talk to (especially since the complaint process goes directly to the assistant).

      Some people walked away from a prestigious position that they excelled at for years under other bosses and someone got fed up enough to take it to the press, but I can imagine that the earliest leavers suffered from ruined public service careers and implications that they were whiners or high maintenance. And I bet it was worth very ounce of sanity saved to walk away because they realized their boss was a jerk and was never going to change.

      The only take aways he public has learned is that a) independent complaints pocesses are important an b) just because you are a highly trained individual does not mean you will be a good, or even mediocre, boss.

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      1. Fieldpoppy*

        I love the connection you are making to the GG’s office. Of all the places where there is no “higher up” this ranks right up there. And your analysis of the way the early leavers get pegged vs the ones who can point to the pattern over time is bang on.

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    5. Eillah*

      I think this kind of… therapy? therapy lite?? should be more widely available– a lot of people could do really well to have help in building the foundation that allows them to do stuff like this!

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      1. Alanna*

        People talk about how much we need a high school or college life skills class for things like budgets, understanding how insurance works, etc. This made me think that some basic cognitive/behavioral therapy exercises and an understanding of how to set boundaries would be a nice addition to that class. A mini module on mindfulness, a mini module on getting past fight/flight/freeze when someone’s angry at you, a mini module on how to challenge your own thought patterns when you’re upset… It all would have been really useful to me at 18.

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        1. AndersonDarling*

          I was just having a discussion about this! There should be a Communications class where you learn the best methods of communication for each situation, learning styles, communications styles, how to deescalate situations, negotiations/debates, respect…
          I would have been so much more better off if I didn’t need to learn these things through 30 years of mistakes.

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          1. KoiFeeder*

            I’ve always made the joke that allistics need childhood social skills classes just as much as I did. ;p

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        2. Beanie*

          I don’t know. Those topics are almost too broad for a class. I speak as someone with C-PTSD, and if I were required to take a mindfulness class, I’d probably find it patronizing. As for getting past fight/flight/freeze/appease, I think it’s more normal to understand that those reactions are normal, rather than how to fight them. People adopt those defense mechanisms for a variety of reasons.

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    6. Oryx*

      I had a manager teach me this very early. I worked in a truck logistics call center and was one the phone with one of our customers or trucking companies or someone who was just berating me and I didn’t know what I could do — or if I could do anything. She came and took that phone out of my hand and told them that we don’t work with people who speak to her employees like that and just hung up on them. That taught me that no, I don’t need to put up with that and can walk away (or hang up the phone)

      Reply
    7. DinoGirl*

      I’ve counseled my own staff about this once I realized they didn’t understand that good customer service didn’t mean tolerating abuse. I made it clear what my expectations were for service, and what I considered abuse they had my permission to disengage (professionally) from. Good for managers to keep on the radar.

      Reply
    8. Observer10*

      My mom used to scream and argue with me if I slightly misbehaved or (more often) expressed a political or religious opinion she disagreed with. I remember a really bad year where we would have fights that lasted past midnight, every other night.

      What it taught me was the following unhelpful habits I am still trying to overcome that effect me negatively in the workplace and at home:
      1. Preemptively apologize, assume I did a bad job, or said the wrong thing.
      2. Use caveats to deflect your opinion. “I heard…” “Maybe…”
      3. Immediately back down the second someone questions your opinion.
      4. Sit there and take it when shouted at (which has happened to me at work! In front of coworkers, once!) because trying to escape the situation will make it worse.

      I think the power dynamic of being employed can put you back in this mindset too–I needed my parents to not kick me out. I need a job to pay the bills. There’s a learned helplessness mindset that can really blinker your ability to see you have options. That disagreement doesn’t necessarily mean you are an evil wrong person, and that yelling is inappropriate and you (YOU!) have the power to walk away from bad situations.

      Reply
    9. Amy Farrah Fowler*

      I always liked my dad’s response to this… there were some yellers above him at his work and one time his boss just started screaming for no reason, and my dad just stood there… and when he stopped said “are you finished, so we can talk now?” You have to know your work place, but it definitely checked the guy and my dad didn’t get yelled at as much…

      Reply
      1. Windchime*

        I got publicly yelled at (literally yelling) by a coworker once and I was so shocked that I just stood there. He continued yelling and when he finally stopped, I just kept my eyes locked with his. There was a very, very long awkward silence but I kept staring; I was determined to make him break eye contact first. And he did. He finally apologized after a week.

        The stare-down didn’t really do any good but it made me feel like I was the psychological winner of the event.

        Reply
    10. Pobody’s Nerfect*

      Thank you, yes. Goes for phone calls too, where the other person is yelling at you & getting unnecessarily angry. You do not have to take that abuse. Tell the person you’re ending the conversation and hang up (or walk out, if it’s a meeting). If you feel in danger then trust your instincts and take yourself out of the situation immediately.

      Reply
  4. Not for academics*

    HR isn’t your nanny, camp counselor, mommy, or best friend – they’re not there to force people to be nice/apologize to each other, or to put people in detention for being mean, or to make people feel

    Your discussion to be had is with Jane, not HR, not Dolores, not Cornelius.

    Reply
    1. Sick of Workplace Bullshit*

      Wow. That’s not what the OP wanted at all. She wanted to know that abusive behaviour would not be repeated. I do not blame them one bit for not wanting to be alone with Delores again.

      Reply
      1. Colette*

        I think the OP was expecting things from HR that they don’t do. It’s Jane who manages Delores, and she should be dealing with this. Ideally, the OP or Cornelius would have asked her to handle it. (And maybe Cornelius did! It sounds like he talked to Jane.)

        But Jane looped in HR, and I think the OP then expected HR to get directly involved – while HR might have just helped Jane figure out how to deal with Delores.

        I also think the OP got hung up on the idea of an apology, and that HR would be involved in an apology, and I don’t think HR had the same focus on that. (There may be situations where that would happen! But it’s not guaranteed.)

        I agree that the OP could have walked away – it’s OK (and good) to do that. She also could have said something like “I’m not going to have this conversation with you while you’re yelling.” She spent a lot of time waiting for HR to take action; it would be to her benefit to spend some time figuring out what she needs to be able to speak up or walk away in those situations.

        Reply
      2. Triplestep*

        No, OP wanted an apology, and she wanted to make sure the yelling coworker’s views on her unit’s work would not have credibility. It sounds like the finger-pointing by yelling co-worker is not given any weight, but this is the reason OP was taking notes in her meeting with HR.

        I get it; no one wants to be unfairly criticized, but I think OP would do well to take into consideration that a.) Forced apologies are worthless anyway, b.) HR doesn’t make people apologize and c.) Someone who yells at you in the office has low credibility and you don’t need to worry that anybody believes her when she criticizes anyone’s work. She is a problem employee and this whole thing is a result if some conflict-avoidant management.

        Reply
      3. Lady Meyneth*

        Except it kinda was what she wanted. I read OP as really young and without a clear knowledge of what HR is there for (and we’ve all been there). In a way she was expecting the authority figures to fix everything and be there to make the coworker apologise, when in situations like this you’re expected to resolve things yourself. Either by poiting out the problem at the moment it happens, talking to the coworker once they calm down, or just letting it go.

        It’s not at all that she was wrong in thinking this wasn’t acceptable, but HR usually only interferes when there’s a pattern of harassment or if it becomes physical. Otherwise, that’s on you or at most on the manager to handle.

        Reply
      4. Aquawoman*

        I think this would be fair except that she was taken off the project and didn’t have to work with Delores. So, problem solved. The forced apology doesn’t accomplish anything, and the fact that someone was awful and you might in the future run into them in the hallway just doesn’t seem actionable to me. This is not the Minority Report.

        Reply
      5. BRR*

        I think it’s fair to say the LW’s real want is for Dolores’ behavior to be addressed and I think the LW’s (completely justified) frustration has ended up being channeled to HR on this, which is what Not for academics’ comment was addressing. It’s a tough situation for the LW because Dolores obviously is in the wrong, Cornelius isn’t good at his job, and Jane dropped the ball. But it’s still not an HR issue. It’s only an HR issue if Jane sought guidance or if Jane was making a more serious issue of this (I can’t imagine this is completely out of the norm for Dolores). HR can’t fix the bad management.

        I also feel bad for the LW because Alison’s answer and the comments doesn’t give a strong vibe of “you were right LW” but I want to make it clear that the LW is in the right. While I wouldn’t have pursued an apology (it would be meaningless anyways) and would have not kept trying to involve HR, everyone the LW is dealing with sucks to some degree.

        Reply
    2. Mazzy*

      Note: Update from OP below.

      Also, this is too harsh, but there is a grain of truth to it. I’ve worked quite a few jobs, at one place I only lasted a year, they had alot of HR reps. As in, I had no clue how they kept that many HR employees per person. People would stop in and chat with them. Sometimes when I walked by, they’d wave me in and we’d joke. A year later I was fired for “not a good fit.” I often wonder if they took any slightly negative comment as me complaining, when I was raising issues with them to show I was picking up on stuff and finding problems and working through them.

      I also know someone complained about me complaining about money (in private!) and a couple of other things at lunch. I was so mad that I would get ratted out like that. Nothing I said was untrue or that big of a deal (“I don’t get why new person was hired when they lack experience in basic things” or “I do a task but it’s pointless because something…” type stuff), they also vented, but I guess if you work in HR and hear a bunch of negative comments that other people exaggerate while not saying anything they think, it looks bad.

      My point being, having an active HR that gets involved in too many situations can also cause other problems. It might be useful in individual situations, but in other situations, they’re going to feel like spies!

      Reply
    3. Uncle Waldo*

      That’s very harsh. OP wrote in to ask for advice that they could apply to future situations. They weren’t the one who involved HR, Jane did. Not everyone understands the role of HR in every single situation (clearly Jane could do with some advice as well). The letter read to me as an attempt to understand how everyone should have handled that situation, including OP.

      Upon reading Alison’s response and the replies below, OP seems to now understand why their expectations were not what they should have been.

      Reply
      1. Not So NewReader*

        I had a boss who told everyone that HR is here for “us”. We could go to them with anything, she said.
        Sadly even management doesn’t understand what HR does.

        Reply
  5. Erin*

    I had a similar situation many years ago when someone screamed in my face in front of my boss. I said nothing to them, just turning to my boss, and said, “You’re just going to let them talk to me that way?” My boss stared at the ground and said nothing.

    This is something that ate at me for a long time, but Alison’s right, you have to let it go. Accept that you’re not crazy, you’re in the right, and just hold your head high. And you know, maybe start job searching.

    I do so wish I had taken her advice in the moment though and said something like, “I’m not going to continue this conversation right now,” and walked away. It’s tough to do when you’re completely blindsided. And they’re in your office, not the other way around.

    Reply
  6. WellRed*

    OP, Dolores sounds awful as does your manager. But I’m afraid you’ve given yourself a reputation for being difficult yourself. Pushing for months, becoming ALARMED by an email (what did you expect?), etc. Take a deep breath and let this goooooooo!

    Reply
    1. Eillah*

      I want to gently push back on some asking why OP: it’s pretty common for people who have a history of dealing with angry people (specifically those who shout at them) to shut down or even be frightened when that same person attempts contact again. It’s certainly not an ideal reaction but it is a very real & very common reaction. I’m still working through my tendency towards having such a reaction due to that kind of history. It sucks, but it’s common!

      OP– I would start looking for a new job. You deserve a better company than this, and your company appears to be in no rush to grow.

      Reply
      1. Eillah*

        **why OP was alarmed upon getting an email from Dolores, as a couple people have commented on it

        I should really re-read comments before posting. D’oh.

        Reply
    2. EPLawyer*

      If the last interaction I had with someone was them screaming at me, I would be alarmed at an email that said “hey stop by my office to talk.” Dolores doesn’t talk, she screams and acts unprofessionally. The screaming might have been a one off (although I would bet it was the only the first time she screamed at OP since she sure seemed comfortable doing it), but the unprofessionalism was ongoing. I would not want to meet with this person either.

      I also would not work with them again either. You get ONE chance to scream at me. You don’t get a second chance to do it.

      Reply
      1. Dust Bunny*

        This! I don’t understand why everyone is acting like this is no big deal. It sounds like they’re sending the OP into the lion’s den to handle it herself, face-to-face with Dolores. That’s not reasonable. This wasn’t a dust-up, it an hour of screaming at the OP.

        Reply
        1. Altair*

          I think a lot of people are acting like it’s no big deal because they identify with Dolores rather than OP, and/or because they have not had life experiences that would make them wary of someone who’d scream for over an hour.

          Reply
          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I think you’re over-simplifying it because of the frame of reference you’re bringing to it (the very toxic experiences described in your other comments). A lot of commenters and I are saying that Dolores’s behavior was 100% not okay (and certainly aren’t identifying with Dolores — ?!), but the OP also needed to drop it after a point.

            Reply
            1. Altair*

              That’s entirely possible, which is part of why I try to make it clear where my opinion on yelling comes from. One person’s life experience is triggers another person’s incredulity and so on.

              Reply
  7. Mazzy*

    Oh this is interesting because I thought my opinion would be different from AAM’s but we are on the same page. So I will preface with, I hope others give the OP the sympathy they need. I do sympathize with them, but that feeling won’t help them that much.

    A few things:

    1) This does not yet rise to the level of HR intervention and mediation. Yes, someone yelled. But it was once and IMO you either go to HR for egregious cases of harassment or patterns of serious behavior, not one time events. They apparently spoke with Sybil, which could have helped you, maybe it did, but then you were afraid to speak to Sybil. What were you afraid of? The worst thing that could happen is she yells at you again, and in that situation, you’d now have a clear case to go with HR because it is now a pattern
    2) She thought you did shoddy work but it actually belonged to another team – this is precisely why you need to talk, even if she unpleasant. This might be a catch 22. She might be unpleasant precisely because she thinks you did all of this other shoddy work, and now doesn’t want to deal with you – which is totally reasonable. You need to clear that up! That’s why there were gaps in your communication. She doesn’t trust you because she thinks you worked on those other projects. I’ve been Sybil in this case. I’ve overlapped with a group that consistently didn’t take ownership of issue in their area or dropped the ball, and I stopped giving them the benefit of the doubt, because whenever I did, they’d just drop the ball and make excuses again.
    3) You seem to want to be right or seen as the good side. So do we all! But pushing this very particular solution where Sybil somehow gets reprimanded is not the way to get it. You get it by doing good work in general, and actually, and maybe ironically, by trying to get along with Sybil. People will see if she’s being unfair to you even if they don’t say anything right away. But right now, the onus on you is to clear up the miscommunication in point #2. You can’t expect someone to want to work with you when they think you have a history of dropping the ball.

    Reply
    1. londonedit*

      Yes. I’m imagining that what happened was that Sybil thought the matter had been resolved, OP kept pushing for ‘updates’, Sybil eventually said to Dolores look, can you please speak to OP and iron this out, Dolores emailed OP, OP was ‘alarmed’. Of course Dolores was in the wrong, and of course she shouldn’t have behaved like that in a meeting, but I don’t think her behaviour rises to the level of ‘must not contact OP without HR being present’ – to me, that would be reserved for really serious accusations of bullying or harassment. In the vast majority of cases I think HR would expect two employees in this situation – where yes, someone has shouted, but it’s a one-off and the first time it’s happened – to attempt to resolve the issue between themselves before it was escalated to any kind of mediation or formal process.

      Reply
      1. Mazzy*

        I just realized I mixed up the names. I thought Sybil was the yelling one, and it was a reference to the Sally Field movie from back in the day.

        Reply
      2. Jennifer Thneed*

        I don’t think OP needed HR to be present, she just didn’t want to be alone with Dolores. (And nor would I ever want to be 1:1 with her.) And Dolores could have apologized in the email! And then asked to talk more in person, but she did not. Instead, “Oh, Sybil said you wanted to talk to me, so come on by”. That’s pretty disingenuous.

        But this: “She [Sybil] also seemed annoyed I was taking notes during our meeting” — nope, that’s just OP’s impression, unless Sybil actually said something. Otherwise, I think Sybil might have been annoyed by the whole interaction, rather than specifically the note-taking. And maybe she was annoyed by something else entirely but OP happened to walk in at just that moment. (We don’t know if the meeting was a walk-up or a scheduled thing.)

        I think that OP reads a lot into things and doesn’t try to imagine alternate explanations, which is just a good skill to have in any circumstance. OP, I strongly suggest you read “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High” because it gives you lots of tools for handling events like these, and ways to not be working from assumptions when you don’t actually know stuff.

        Reply
        1. OP here*

          Thank you for that suggestion! That book seems like a valuable resource, and I’ll definitely check it out. I always take notes in meetings (and it’s not uncommon in my profession) because I’ve been in situations before where I’ve been gaslit by managers or colleagues. Having a record of what we talked about helps ME feel more grounded, even if it doesn’t necessarily impact anyone’s behavior. But it’s possible it makes me less articulate in the moment if I’m focusing on jotting things down, so resources on improving that aspect of it would be very helpful. 

          To clarify: She specifically asked me, “why are you taking notes” in what I interpreted to be a frustrated tone. That, coupled with her dismissiveness of my concerns, led me to believe that she was annoyed by the entire meeting though, and not just the note taking. Understanding now that we had very different expectations for what her involvement would look like, I can see how she might have been frustrated in meeting with me about this again, when she thought it was resolved, especially if she felt that she was being pulled in to mediate interpersonal conflicts that should be handled by individuals or managers.

          I also think you hit the nail on the head with your first observation about how I felt about Dolores’s email!

          Reply
    2. The Vulture*

      Mmm, I very much disagree with the implication that 1) because it was once it doesn’t rise to the level of HR intervention and mediation and 2) and 3) you owe it to her to clear up her misunderstanding because it’s…understandable…that someone would scream at you for an hour about their own misunderstanding/people won’t want to work with people who drop the ball = it’s okay to scream at them (or whoever it is you erroneously think didn’t do the stuff you thought they should do.

      You say you’ve been Sybil – do you vent your spleen at these groups of incompetents you overlapped with? Do you think that their poor work gives you the right to not just “not give them the benefit of the doubt” but to rip them a new one? AND it’s the job of the person being yelled at to clear up your misunderstanding?

      Being yelled at is SCARY. Being yelled at, or hearing someone yell at someone, will mean people do not trust the yeller, will not want to work with them or talk to them, will not take it upon themselves to clear up any misunderstandings. It’s just not a good way to handle things, and it should be unacceptable.

      Reply
      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Those things are all true! And it’s why Jane (not HR — the person’s manager) should have dealt with this very seriously (and maybe she did, we don’t know). But the OP can only control her piece of this and at some point she’s got to see that it’s not being handled the way she wants and move on.

        Reply
      2. Mazzy*

        No of course it doesn’t give you a right to yell at people, but if you understand where people are coming from, you can convince them to change more quickly.

        Also, I think we’re all confusing Sybil since we’re associating Sybil with the movie and thinking that’s who did the yelling. Apparently Dolores in the yeller and Sybil. I meant to say, I’d been the Dolores in that particular regard (without the yelling)

        Reply
        1. KittyCardigans*

          Pretty sure the names used in this letter are from Harry Potter. Dolores is a very unpleasant character, Cornelius is rather ineffective, and Sybil is not entirely helpful.

          Reply
  8. Caliente*

    Was glad to get to the end because the whole time I was thinking, if this happens to me I’d just walk away.
    Unfortunately my husband is a yeller and gets very angry and hot headed – infrequently – but its so effing tiresome. We finally got to the place where I was like, ya know what I’m done with this and I just walk away and I don’t say anything. When people do this, I don’t even feel threatened or emotional any more, I just feel like they’ve turned into a flailing idiot and oh hell no. If you cannot handle your emotions, too bad for you, but I am not dealing with it. Get a hobby, workout, scream at yourself in the mirror, call your mother – I don’t know what you need to do but this ain’t it.
    So the result was he basically does this no longer, I guess because he doesn’t have an audience but also because I told him how GROSS and RIDICULOUS and UGLY he looks to me when he does this. Its disgusting for people to behave this way.

    Reply
    1. dddeee*

      hm that sounds really stressful re: the husband stuff. i hope you are ok. imo it shouldn’t be normal/a pattern for spouses to yell at each other.

      Reply
      1. Caliente*

        Oh thank you – but yeah, that’s why I was finally like look WTF?! If you have anger issues deal with them or whatever but…over there. This isn’t my issue.
        He came from that kind of culture, sadly and unbelievably had gotten away with that type of crap for years.
        It was finally when I was like listen buddy this is boring and stupid AND its verbal abuse that he had to take a hard look at himself.

        Reply
    2. Third or Nothing!*

      My grandmother used to tell my grandfather “I can’t hear you when you talk to me that way” and walk away. From what I understand, he was always a bit of a curmudgeon, but he was beloved by his family and community so he must have learned a lesson.

      I think you can apply a similar concept in the professional world. I like Alison’s script in the last paragraph about not willing to be spoken to like that.

      Reply
  9. Free Meerkats*

    “We’re not willing to be talked to like this. We’re going to leave this meeting and we can take it up later, after we’ve had a chance to talk with Jane.”

    Don’t bother speaking for Cornelius here, just change the “we’re” to “I’m” and the advice is perfect. If you say “we” and walk out while Cornelius continues to sit there getting berated, you’ll look like the crazy one.

    Reply
  10. Hudson*

    What is a demanded apology intended to accomplish? Insincere statements of contrition hardly seem worthwhile unless it’s a tool to overcome the embarrassment of not walking away or standing up for oneself in the moment.

    Reply
    1. Caliente*

      Great point – I don’t need your apology, but I’m outta here. If she didn’t stand for it she wouldn’t have cared about an apology because she would have handled it. I think we all need to stop expecting so much outside help on handling basic problems and this is basic. Yelling = no thanks.

      Reply
  11. TootsNYC*

    I think I disagree.

    To my shame, I once yelled at someone at work. I was angry; he was generally always annoying, I was struggling to manage a workflow in a shitstorm I hadn’t created, and he was lecturing me, and asked me a question that basically boiled down to ” don’t you know how to do your job?” I just lost it. I was totally fueled by the fact that I had some level of contempt for him in the first place, and it was completely wrong of me. It was really mean to him.

    HR mediated that. They called me in first and laid out the problem. Made me see how serious it was, made me admit how wrong I was. Laid the groundwork for me to truly apologize.

    Then told me that they felt I should apologize to him, with them there. He got his chance to tell me how badly it had affected him–and he got to do so in a SAFE environment. Where there was a higher authority, higher even than my boss (who was not involved directly in any of this, but was consulted behind the scenes and then worked with me after the apology), to “keep me in line” (not that I needed it at that point, but he deserved that reassurance).
    And in neutral territory. Actually, neutral for me, friendly for him. Not his office, where he’d have power, or perhaps where I’d be invading. Not my office, where I’d have power, or he’d be out of place. In the company’s territory.
    The end result was that because of his getting the opportunity to lay out HIS grievances, and to tell me about how it affected him, I was not just willing to admit that I was wrong, but I was SUPER remorseful. It forged actually a much closer relationship, erased that underlying contempt, and turned us into friendly allies.

    I just think yelling at someone at work is such a huge verbal violence. Having done it myself, I think it’s really serious.

    I think having a mediated apology is required here. HR should finish this off; they were called in, after all.

    Also–what a shitty way to apologize: “I hear you want to talk to me, you can come to my office.”
    That’s NOT neutral territory. If you are truly going to apologize, you don’t approach it like that. I wouldn’t be interested in receiving that sort of apology.

    Reply
    1. Lexi Kate*

      Wow, I’m not sure what field you work in but I’ve never worked anywhere where this would happen. It did happen at my kids elementary school, when my daughter was being bullied but never for an adult. While I don’t like the way OP’s issue went, this option would not work for me as an adult either.

      Reply
      1. The Bill Murray Disagreement*

        I’m not sure what industry either you or TootsNYC are in, but in my workplace, something similar would likely happen. I don’t know if our HR would necessarily *mediate* everything, but someone in our leadership would absolutely step in and advise the yeller why their behavior was unacceptable. I think the follow-up conversations TootsNYC describes having with their coworker is phenomenal, but I can see where a lot of places might not mediate it and so it might never happen in a safe space for both involved. Whatever else folks might think of HR’s level of involvement, the effect seems to be significant: TootsNYC gave an earnest apology, heard how their behavior affected their coworker, and their coworker felt listened to and acknowledged. Most importantly, TootsNYC took a deep look at their behavior and its effects and changed. Those are all 100% positive in my book.

        Reply
    2. Madtown Maven*

      I think your conflict resolution experience with your HR rep and coworker was excellent! This is the type of work HR professionals should be trained and willing to do. Thank you for sharing!

      Reply
      1. anony*

        That kind of thing can quickly become boundary violating and overstepping in unskilled hands. Or even in skilled ones, it could still feel that way. It’s lucky it didn’t to this OP but it would have to a lot of people. I don’t want my HR people doing this type of thing. It’s far too heavy handed. This isn’t summer camp.

        Reply
        1. Busytrap*

          I was going to say – it works great when it works (and they have the correct who’s right/who’s wrong), but man, I’ve seen this go completely the other way in my old Toxic Job where HR was the arbitrator of all.the.things, based on who they liked and who they didn’t. Took a new COO and a giant company merger to finally get rid of that culture, but man, it was oppressive. This was a company where the HR and SLT had a list of “mangers who get it, manager’s who don’t …” and if you were on the don’t list, you could expect to be sat down and your employees given the opportunity to berate you for all sorts of things you were doing that weren’t “fair.” Awful. Took me a solid five years at that place (and this blog!) to realize it was Not Normal and toxic … I still have nightmares, not to mention really awful triggers when someone asks me to chat without context, and I’ve been out for three years!

          Reply
        2. DCompliance*

          Where I work the “This isn’t summer camp” mind frame would be considered toxic and unprofessional. Apologizing when you are wrong and not having a temper tantrum are expected- as you were supposed to learn those things when you were a child. HR would enforce that.

          Reply
    3. It's mce w*

      I agree. And I have concern over the fact that Dolores wrote an email saying that OP wanted to meet her to ask her about something. It causes an even more uncomfortable and tense situation. HR and/or a manager should be present.

      Reply
    4. AndersonDarling*

      This really goes to show how different the outcome can be at companies.
      Toxic Company HR Response: “OP, Delores yells all the time. If you want to work here then you need to learn to work with Delores’ communication style.”
      Supportive Company HR Response: “Employees cannot work their best when they are disrespected by their peers and managers. Delores, you are not displaying the values of our culture. You will apologize and correct your behavior, or leave the company.”
      Delores’ outburst would have led to an immediate termination at my current company. My last company would have tolerated the behavior for a while before terminating Delores, and my previous toxic company would have ignored it.

      Reply
    5. Dust Bunny*

      All of this.

      This wasn’t a blow-up, it was a sustained attack. After a history of smaller attacks. I don’t think itwould have been beyond the pale to fire Dolores, but I definitely don’t think it’s acceptable to expect the OP to face her in Dolores’ office for an apology that the OP has zero reason to think won’t turn into yet another attack.

      Reply
      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Eh, if it’s another attack, then the OP can leave and has more data to take to Jane and Cornelius. (Dolores doing it a second time is likely to be treated as a much bigger deal than doing it once.) She’s not walking into a situation where she’s in actual danger (and I think this is partly what HR was getting at with “we’re all adults”).

        I’m not saying this was ideal — as I wrote in the post, it 100% was not — but this language feels awfully hyperbolic to me.

        (And agree with others that what TootsNYC described isn’t something you’d normally expect from HR or something most HR does.)

        Reply
      2. The Bill Murray Disagreement*

        I agree, Dust Bunny. Dolores exhibited a series of red-flag behaviors culminating in an hour-plus long screaming fit which was never (apparently) addressed. While the OP *maybe* overdid things by asking for repeated updates (maybe it is more apparent that the company will not do anything and perhaps is not a great company to work for given the weak management, shitty berating colleague, and ineffectual HR department), I don’t see how the OP warrants getting 3 paragraphs of what they did wrong (though the part about not needing to tolerate being yelled at is an exceptionally good bit of advice).

        Reply
    6. Lady Meyneth*

      I’m glad your HR at the time was so on point, and good for you for seeing you were wrong. I think what most people are saying is just it’s not usual for HR to be that involved, and OP should expect to handle things like this herself with coworkers.

      Also, were you by chance a manager in your situation? Excellent as it was, I’ve never worked anywhere HR would mediate this much if this happened between peers.

      Reply
    7. All the cats 4 me*

      Thank you for sharing that. I have been on the receiving end of the raised voice/screaming/ swearing/denigration in many different industries, and while the minions quietly pass the word to each other “psst….be careful around MrYellingMan….”, not once have I experienced this behaviour being called to account.

      In fact, in many of the industries, there is a culture of–oh, we All work SO HARD and SO MANY HOURS that its to be expected that we lose our temper, shout and curse at those below us in the hierarchy.

      I once was in a meeting with two partners of the firm, Shirley and Laverne. I reported directly to Shirley. Laverne had, and has, a reputation for being chronically shouty, abusive and rude to those “less important” than her. Laverne gave me a lovely sample of this for giving her a report that Shirley had directed me to bring to every meeting, a copy for each person. Shirley said nothing.

      My reaction to these unexpected word barrages is to freeze. I always regret it later and wish I had said something, but I was also SO disappointed that Shirley was complicit in allowing this to go on, by not addressing it in the moment.

      I wish I had the resources to respond appropriately, but there is also a duty to the peer of the shouter to intervene when witnessing an incident, is there not?.

      Reply
    8. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      In your case, I don’t think it warrants getting HR involved just because you yelled at your co-worker. Managers should get involved and apologies should happen, but unless it’s repeated (or egregious/abusive) behavior, it doesn’t reach to the level of an HR situation IMO.

      Reply
      1. The Bill Murray Disagreement*

        It probably depends; HR might have been called by the person who got yelled at — in which case HR likely would need to stay involved.

        Reply
    9. fhqwhgads*

      I don’t think HR told her “OP wants you to apologize” or “apologize to OP” or any variation thereof. We know the email came after OP told HR that’s what she wanted, but there’s no reason to assume Dolores was given anything resembling that message. It’s very possibly HR literally said “OP is still bringing up X, would you please hash it out directly”. And the email was the result of that directive to work it out with each other.

      Reply
    10. Not So NewReader*

      This is the problem with yelling. The person who yells is automatically loses any ounce of credibility that could have been available.

      I remember one time a boss dragged me in the office to ask me how long it was going to take me to wrap up this thing with my father dying and get back to work.
      I knew if I made one wrong move, I was hosed. I had to handle this PERFECTLY.

      Sure enough:
      HR: Did you yell at him?
      Me: no
      HR: Did you cuss at him?
      Me: no
      HR: Are you sure you did not raise your voice even a little?
      Me: Yes, because I knew if I spoke it was over. So I chose not to speak. And I have a witness to back this up.
      HR: (drooling in anticipation of what they are going to do) I WILL be able to help you here.

      Sometimes it just seems to me that in order to get help a person has to allow themselves to take a verbal beating.
      I may have won the external issues on this story, but internally my insides were a mess. My ability to trust this boss was totally gone. The very sight of this boss made me queasy.

      The episode I reported came on the heals of this boss timing my phone calls from the hospital; telling me to put my father in a home and forget about it all; and telling me I needed handle things like he does that is I should let my wife at home handle all this stuff.(I am female, married to a male. He knew that.) The wrapping up thing was the last straw. I reported him.

      Reply
    11. Middle Aged Lady*

      I did it twice at a toxic environment where I was being persecuted and lied about. I yelled at my boss for not helping me and siding with them. She fired me for it. And she was right to. She told me the first time she couldn’t tolerate it personally and it was unprofessional.
      Of course the lying bossss yelled all the time. But I should never have stooped to their level. And I know it damaged my timid little boss to be yelled at. She had abuse victim written all over her.

      Reply
  12. employment lawyah*

    Honestly I’m not seeing the issue here, and I think you may need to adjust your expectations. This is a single incident and the facts fall somewhere between “Dolores is a total jerk” (at worst) and “this was all a miscommunication” (at best.) Nothing here warrants alarm; refusal to work with (much less speak to) Dolores; repeated calls to HR; anything with the word “demand” in it; or anything else similar.

    So you got yelled at. Move on.

    And remember: there’s always the “Dolores was having a really really bad day” excuse, which is always helpful to consider as a possibility. If you had just gotten really horrible news, might you do something which others wouldn’t like? If you knew Dolores has just gotten really horrible news, would you excuse this? You can always assume she was having some sort of horrible day.

    Reply
    1. Altair*

      I could not possibly disagree more. Yelling is verbal violence and not acceptable, and should not be normalized. I would never want to work with Dolores again after being berated for over an hour. Whether I would would hinge on whether I could reasonably refuse to or not in my particular workplace, but I would never say a non-work-related word to her again after this. Why risk having my attempt at friendliness flung in my face?

      AS for a bad day… the day I found out about my father’s heart attack a coworker came to bother me about the filing afterwards. I said to her, “I can’t talk about this now.” She went to my supervisor, who wrote me up then called me into her office to make me sign the written warning. I said, “my father had a heart attack and I was shaken.” She said, “you refused to do your work.” I needed to keep my job, so I had to sign. I really don’t think many people are sympathetic, especially to those they view as of lower status.

      Reply
      1. Caliente*

        That’s terrible. And yep – people have no sympathy or respect for those they deem lower than them for whatever reason. Hello systemic racism, classism…sexism…

        Reply
      2. employment lawyah*

        Eh. Yelling is just loud. And of course there are gradations and it’s frankly very rare for someone to shout at full volume. A mere raised voice is not a big deal, it’s just, well, loud.

        I agree that people should generally try not to raise voices in the workplace but seriously, we are all adults and a job is not required to be like a library. Not to mention that “yelling at” is also a common colloquial term for being angry at–and open anger is also a normal way to communicate, and is sometimes fully warranted, even if it’s unpleasant to receive.

        You don’t have to work at a place where people yell at each other (or you) either in a colloquial or literal sense. And you can also refrain from yelling ever, in your whole life, if you want. But most people raise their voice pretty often; most people get annoyed at folks sometimes; a job is not a safe space; and it isn’t usually reasonable to freak out if someone does it to you.

        Of course there can be consequences. You don’t have to ever speak to someone socially if you don’t like them. But you DO have to work with them, including talking to them if need for work, and the OP seemed unwilling to do that. That is a mistake.

        As for a bad day:

        I am sorry that someone wrote you up. That was not a friendly move.

        But it sounds like you expected to have been granted a bit of slack–which I agree you should have gotten, FWIW. So I don’t understand why you are arguing that other people shouldn’t get it. Do you want everyone to have the same bad experience you had?

        Reply
        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I think you’re being way too cavalier about yelling here. Yes, it happens. It’s never appropriate to happen at work. If it does happen once, you might need to eventually let it go (as in the OP’s situation), but it’s entirely reasonable to see it as utterly unacceptable. (If I had an employee who yelled at someone once, we’d be having a Very Serious Conversation. If it happened a second time after that, I’d be genuinely thinking about whether I needed to fire them.)

          Reply
          1. employment lawyah*

            Can I politely disagree without annoying you too much? I hope so.

            1) I agree yelling is bad, or at least “not ideal.”

            2) Certainly an employer can choose to create whatever workplace they want, and they can, for example, require everyone to use formal address and speak in hushed voices, at all times. Or they can simply ban yelling. Or they can permit yelling, but use some sort of higher cutoff, like “not often” or “unless it’s really needed” something similar.

            3) I don’t think it is at all true that yelling should “never” happen, that it is “never” appropriate, or that work should be a guaranteed yell-free space.

            4) I do not think yelling is inherently any different than other forms of negative interaction, whether it’s whispering or shunning or insulting or punishing or quitting or firing. I don’t think it makes sense to treat it as something special.

            5) To be even more specific, I think the ban on yelling tends to privilege people who have highly-developed social skills and a great command of language and tends to screw over people like my clients.

            We are in the first category. I don’t need to yell and neither do you: We can be perfectly aggressive or firm or whatever we want, and we can talk rings around most people. But people who lack those skills tend to express their anger or frustration in different ways. I think that is fine.

            6) I also don’t think that the current growing trend of equating words w/ violence or inflating the slippery-slope maybes (the whole “yelling? What if someone starts yelling and then does something else which they didn’t actually do? let’s judge them on that instead!” thing) is an especially healthy trend, or likely to make for an overall better workplace.

            Reply
            1. Amykins*

              “But people who lack those skills tend to express their anger or frustration in different ways. I think that is fine.”

              Sure, it’s not necessarily a moral failing that someone hasn’t learned these skills yet. But the effect of yelling at other people is a harmful one, and individuals who yell at other people need to take responsibility for the harm that causes. You can understand why someone would yell, and even empathize with it, and there’s a useful conversation to be had about how we teach skills of self-regulation and expression to people who lack those skills. But it is not okay to be yelled AT, and no individual needs to subject themselves to it, and no workplace needs to allow it. As Alison says, it is abusive.

              Note: am biased. As someone who was in an emotionally abusive marriage where I was yelled at for over a decade, there is zero chance I would tolerate being yelled at in the workplace.

              Reply
            2. Not So NewReader*

              Respectfully disagreeing.

              In light of all that is going on now, it’s tone deaf not to recognize yelling as a possible precursor to larger problems.
              Just some random thoughts here:
              #2) Yes, employers can create what ever work space they want. Unhappy employees are less productive, more mistake prone and I believe long term they can have higher health care bills. All of these things drive up employer costs and shows the employer’s lack of understanding about the long term impacts.
              And who is going to keep track of how many times a month each employee yells?

              #3) People do people-y things. Bans can be ignored, true. All a company needs to do is have a policy of sit-down meetings if a complaint has been received about yelling.

              #4) This one is actually a strong point you pose here. I do agree and I know first hand, people can say scathing things without raising their voice or using cuss words. If you can commit murder with words, these people know how to kill. And this type of behavior can be addressed in an anti-bullying policy and an anti-discrimination policy. These policies should include clear action steps so everyone knows what they need to do to report these problems.

              #5) I know a few people who have not even made it through high school. I would not want to get into a war of words with them. I have seen these people successfully beat unscrupulous lawyers and doctors at their own game. Level of education or life experience may or may not be a concern.
              I see you mention your clients. I assume these are folks of a protected class possibly due to disabilities. I know first hand that the rules are very different in this arena and I believe Alison is not trying to address this type of setting.
              I don’t think we do anyone a favor by saying if they lack skills in a certain area that is okay and they should expect to have a good job anyway. I can respect that you are fine with that, but there are plenty of folks who are not fine.

              #6) I am not really clear on this point. However, it’s not fair to people to let them think they are not responsible for their words and their actions. We are all responsible. Having a job is a privilege. And every day we have to re-earn that privilege again. To tell people anything less is okay, is depriving them of the information they need to obtain and sustain any quality to their life. My old boss said, “We are paid, in part, for our willingness to get along with others.” It’s a basic skill needed for jobs and for quality of life.

              Reply
            3. NotAnotherManager!*

              With regard to #6, the connection is loss of control of one’s words and actions. If you cannot control yourself verbally, it’s reasonable to question whether or not one can control themselves physically. And, when the person doing the yelling is substantially larger than the person being yelled at or is getting too close to them, that is physically intimidating.

              I work in an industry where yelling used to be normal and, in some cases, a badge of honor. It was unpleasant, and some of the yellers were also people who were verbally abusive (calling you stupid or insulting you personally in some way) or would throw things in anger. Frankly, it was nearly always older white men with a lot of power based on their client base within the organization that could get away with it, too. It is no longer acceptable in my organization and has not been for quite some time – yelling, insulting someone personally, or hurling office supplies at a coworker are going to buy you a trip to HR and some sort of corrective action on behaving professionally.

              Reply
        2. Altair*

          Yelling is not “just loud” to someone who has experienced it escalating either into physical violence or disciplinary action against the yell-ee.

          To be honest, I’m going to point out something that’s likely to make you dismiss all my opinions: I’m Black. If I *ever* yelled at someone in the workplace I’d likely face security if not the actual police. In my personal life I once cried noisily on my boyfriend’s doorstop and his roommates threatened to call the police on me. So occasionally it makes me a little bitter to see people treat yelling as jolly fun, blowing off steam, everyone does it once in awhile. I *can’t afford to*.

          And building on that: I’m not saying that people shouldn’t get sympathy, I’m saying it rarely if ever happens. To use a metaphor, you’ve described a unicorn, and I’m saying they sound beautiful but as far as I know they don’t exist.

          Reply
          1. Taniwha Girl*

            I completely agree that yelling is the kind of thing white people and men are given leeway on, but Black people and women are disproportionately punished for, and branded as Angry/Hysterical for it.

            No one should yell in the workplace.

            Reply
        3. stiveee*

          I disagree that most people raise their voice pretty often. I’m curious about why you see the world this way.

          Reply
          1. Amykins*

            I wonder if employment lawyah is interpreting yelling/raising one’s voice differently? Because like – when people are speaking passionately about something (not necessarily with any kind of anger), voices tend to raise. But that’s not what’s being discussed here. Also, some people describe “being given criticism” as being “yelled at” regardless of delivery. So I think that muddies the waters a bit, too.

            But I agree – most adults know perfectly well how to navigate conflict in ways that does NOT involve raising their voices in anger/frustration at someone else. (Something I wish I knew before I spent 10 years in a marriage with someone whose voice raised at every tiny annoyance, and he was annoyed OFTEN.)

            Reply
        4. AndersonDarling*

          There are absolutely places where full volume yelling, throwing things, punching the air, and all other extreme outbursts happen. Companies that allow this behavior will collect people who fit the bill. I have worked in these places. There’s a point where a loud voice turns into yelling and that’s when you can hear the rage in the speaker and it instills fear in the recipient.
          And it’s not OK. Never OK. “We are all adults,” should mean that we control our violent tendencies, it should not be a pass to misbehave and expect others to accept it.

          Reply
        5. Giant Squid*

          So, in my household growing up, there was a lot of yelling. There was also a fair amount of physical violence. Physical violence was always preceded by yelling.

          Because of this, if I get yelled at, I have very intense stress responses that make me freeze up. It makes it difficult to talk, difficult to think. It’s a problem.

          Now, I’ve worked to make this not an issue in my work life by taking jobs well below my skills that are low stress, and just generally by being meticulous. The only time it’s been a problem is when people, like Dolores, yell for things that I have no control over (this has only happened once in my career).

          So, yelling is a big deal. Yelling is an even bigger deal when it’s indiscriminate; not because anyone “deserves” to get yelled at, but because people who are particularly sensitive to it work hard to avoid being yelled at.

          Growing up in an abusive home is not a rare experience. I wouldn’t say it’s common, but it’s not rare either. I think consideration for people who do grow up in that circumstance is enough justification for treating yelling seriously.

          Reply
        6. RussianInTexas*

          Raising voices often at each other at work (and even outside of it) is in no way normal way to communicate. Open anger at each other at work or outside of it is in no way normal way to communicate either.
          It is seriously unprofessional thing to do at work. And really crappy thing to do in personal life.

          Reply
      3. Colette*

        I don’t think friendliness is required – but requiring people to work with their coworkers is reasonable, which I don’t think one instance of yelling negates.

        Reply
    2. Ominous Adversary*

      If I had gotten really really bad news, and as a result blew up at a co-worker and berated her for things that weren’t her fault, I’d apologize. (Really apologize, not summon her to my office.) And I wouldn’t pretend it’s an “excuse”.

      Reply
      1. Krabby*

        Yeah, I think the duration of the yelling also matters. If she had screamed, “Get your sh$$ together!” at the end of the meeting, okay, maybe I give her the benefit of the doubt that she’s having a bad day, especially if she apologized right after. But screaming for 75 minutes? That’s a different story. That’s not someone having a bad day, that’s someone on a power trip.

        Reply
        1. Emily*

          I completely agree. I’m feel like any leniency granted by it being ‘one instance’ should be lost when that ‘one instance’ was over an hour long. That’s not a single slip up where someone has got a little overwhelmed by their emotions and forgotten how to behave professionally. That’s a sustained attack.
          I don’t particularly like chsracterising it as a temper tantrum either. This is not a toddler that hasn’t had a chance to learn to regulate their emotions this is an adult and at work no less.

          Reply
    3. Kaaaaaren*

      Eh… screaming at someone at work is REALLY not good and it’s a bad precedent to set to allow Dolores to verbally abuse her coworkers without any consequences at all. Also, since Dolores *set a meeting* to do this, I find it hard to believe she was just having an awful day and exploded.

      However, I do agree with you that expecting HR to do something about it is probably misguided. OP probably would have been better off 1. Shutting the yelling down there and then by ending the meeting and leaving the room as Alison suggested and/or 2. Contacting Dolores herself the following day to say “What happened in our meeting yesterday was totally and completely unacceptable. Mature, competent professionals don’t scream at their colleagues and you will never speak to me that way again.” This would have shown Dolores that the issue isn’t settled just because the moment passed and OP could have made it clear that she won’t tolerate that kind of treatment, but it would also have given Dolores the chance to apologize and explain herself and the whole thing could have ended there and then.

      Reply
  13. Jubilance*

    Instead of going back and forth with HR, I think you would have been better served by speaking up in the moment – “Dolores, I do not appreciate being talked to in this way. Let’s reconvene when we can all speak respectfully to each other”. This may be uncomfortable to you, but learning how to speak up for yourself in the moment is a skill that will serve you well.

    Reply
  14. Altair*

    I think being yelled at for 75 minutes straight is not the same kind of one-time incident as a single yelled sentence would be, but I don’t tend to follow the general consensus here on yelling at work in general.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      To the extent that I’ve seen any consensus on yelling here, it’s that it’s unacceptable. I want to state for the record that yelling is always unacceptable at work (unless you’re warning someone of a fire, etc.). It’s abusive and never okay.

      Reply
      1. allathian*

        True, but there’s also a difference between loud shouting, as in “Fire!” or “Someone’s collapsed in the North Wing, call 911!” and aggressive yelling/verbal abuse. The latter activates some of the same parts of the brain as physical abuse or pain does. So the old adage “sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me” is definitely not true.

        Reply
  15. JR*

    I’m confused about the timeline here. Is this an old letter? It sounds like the screaming incident was in July, but it’s July now, but the letter-writer was waiting to hear an answer for months?

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Huh. The letter is a few weeks old. I just went back to look at it and realized the LW included a note to me ahead of the letter that said, “I’m writing about a situation from last year that in many ways is still unresolved, in the hopes that I can learn to navigate situations like this in the future.” I’ll add that to the start of her letter.

      Reply
  16. Quinalla*

    I agree, generally you don’t involve HR for a one-time incident. Ideally you and your boss (or just your boss) would have handled this when Dolores had a chance to calm down. I get why you involved HR since your boss sucks (personally I think that is the much bigger problem for you here). However, I agree that I would not have done more than one follow up on the issue. They handled it poorly, but something like this doesn’t need this level of escalation. Repeated yelling behavior, yes!, but a one-time incident, no.

    I would think about getting transferred internally out from under this boss if possible or look for a new job. Your boss is bad :(

    I have to remind myself it is ok to walk away from someone yelling at me, it can be hard in the moment to do that because it is so shocking and sometimes we freeze up in response to that kind of thing. If this ever happens to you again, hopefully you’ll be able to walk away.

    Reply
    1. The Bad Guy*

      I would feel very uncomfortable continuing to work for this company. I feel like HRs seeming ambivalence towards this incident is a massive red flag. If, for instance, Dolores was Dan I would expect that person to be let go. Generally I try to give people the benefit of the doubt but there’s a big difference between having a bad day and being passive aggressive and having a bad day and berating a manager and their employee.

      Reply
    2. Lord Gouldian Finch*

      While yelling is never appropriate, I’d also say there’s a difference in degree. If it was a five minute screaming session, I might be more likely to go WTH and let it go. A 75 minute screaming session is such a massive degree that I’d argue raising it with HR actually is warranted. It’s the difference between finding your colleague stole a pack of pens from the supply closet and that they stole a desktop PC.

      Reply
  17. Marie*

    OP, I wonder if you’ve had toxic workplaces or even some toxic family situations. I say that because I did, and it caused me to develop some bad habits/misunderstandings around how conflict works for most people, as well as make assumptions about what people mean or how they’ll behave that were way off-base.

    Being told we’re all adults so are expected to handle things would have been phrasing used when somebody was gaslighting me or protecting an abuser, or tossing all responsibility on me to manage somebody else’s emotions. And being somebody who is expected to maintain your own complete regulation at all times while others are allowed to rage makes it much harder to understand when others are just having a bad day, or when you’re allowed to be upset and expected to handle that upset directly. I would have reacted to this situation the same way, earlier in my career, down to constantly following up with HR — that would have been a plea that somebody else *see* this is wrong behavior and finally *handle* it so I didn’t have to like I always had.

    It took me a while to learn things like, I can walk away from a heated disagreement, I am not in danger when somebody else is having a huff, somebody showing emotions (even inappropriately) doesn’t mean they’re out of control, I’m allowed to show my feelings, too, and two people can be upset and still have a direct conversation with each other. And, most importantly, authority isn’t responsible for managing other people’s emotions — I went to my boss with a lot of things that weren’t appropriate because in previous life experiences, authority toxically and inappropriately controlled everybody and dictated how they were allowed to feel, so I thought it was the responsibility of authority to do that, and past authority had just done it badly.

    There are still situations where I come to the conclusion that, yes, this person is so toxic and unreasonable that I won’t follow up with them directly, but it’s now one of many options instead of the assumed only safe and reasonable default option.

    This may not apply to you, but in case any of that’s helpful!

    Reply
    1. Altair*

      Your comments are always really insightful and wonderful on these issues, and I’m glad you weighed in here.

      “Being told we’re all adults so are expected to handle things would have been phrasing used when somebody was gaslighting me or protecting an abuser, or ”

      In honesty, is there any other way this phrase is used? That’s also my experience, that it’s used in the service of gaslighting, protecting bullies, etc.

      Reply
      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes. There are situations where it’s true that the people involved all do have the maturity/agency/responsibility to figure out how to handle it on their own and don’t require an outside referee. Think minor spats, stuff where the solution is to roll your eyes and let it go, and even things that are genuinely upsetting but don’t rise to the level of your employer stepping in to manage something for you. So not harassment or discrimination or serious bullying, but interpersonal annoyances and plenty of other stuff.

        Reply
      2. Not for academics*

        Yeah…??

        “Solve it like an adult” means if someone is yelling at you, you say, “I won’t be yelled at” and walk away. Or come back later and say, “You behaved really rudely to me. I would appreciate an apology.” Or, go to the person’s manager and say, “Hey I wanted to let you know Person was really rude and yelling in a meeting. Maybe someone could talk to her?” or “Hey Person, that was extreme behavior. Have you considered anger management?”

        or basically *anything* that shows one is capable of handling conflict in the workplace without involving everyone in two command chains and HR, and bugging those people for months.

        Reply
        1. bleh*

          I have seen the whole I’m afraid to be in the room with you used by victim-bullies, when no yelling or anything untoward ever even happened. She didn’t want to be a mature adult and didn’t speak to three people for 7 years. When asked by another colleague to work it out, she cried/ignored. When approached for normal work stuff, it was always “I don’t feel comfortable” nonsense. She cried her way to tenure with this approach. So once in a while, it really is someone refusing to be an adult… usually because it benefits their narrative.

          Reply
        2. Altair*

          Unless I knew my boss was in my corner, I would expect that walking away from someone yelling at me, saying “I won’t be spoken to that way,” and so on, would result in that person going to my boss and demanding I be formally punished, and getting their way. And being told just “solve it like an adult” is an announcement by the boss that they are *not* in my corner and will gladly punish me for standing up for myself.

          Not everyone is allowed to walk away and/or stand up for themself.

          Reply
          1. Anononon*

            I’m sorry you’ve had to work in such places. Your experience sounds like an outlier, though. In the vast majority of workplaces, people will not be punished for walking away from a coworker yelling at them. And if (general) you are in a workplace where that is normal, I think that’s one of the times where it makes sense to leave without a job lined up if necessary.

            Reply
          2. Might be Spam*

            “Not everyone is allowed to walk away and/or stand up for themself.”

            This is more common than people want to believe. I grew up knowing that walking away or standing up for myself only meant greater punishment or abuse. Siblings and peers don’t speak up for fear of getting the same treatment. I’m 60 years old and my family still works that way.

            Reply
          3. Middle Aged Lady*

            Solve it like an adult means the person who did it apologizes and makes sure she gets the help
            She needs to not do it again. Solve it like an adult means when someone verbally attacks you, you demand an adult response. Delores’ boss is the one who got HR involved. Dumping the OP after that and expecting OP to deal with all the fallout alone was the childish part. Adults own up to their stuff. Adults don’t take jobs as supervisors then sell out their emoloyee the way Cornelius did. Adults don’t expect that their adult coworkers will pitch hissy fits, and when they do, THEY will fix it. Adults clean up their own messes.

            Reply
      3. Malarkey01*

        Well I’ve used this phrase and not in a gaslighting or protecting the abuser way, but to communicate to employees that they were not behaving within professional norms. I’ve used it to say people don’t need to ask permission to go to the bathroom in a meeting, or people don’t tattle on each other’s coming and goings and to tell two team members that complaining to a VP about their preference for overhead office light on versus off was not appropriate use of his time or their reputation.

        Reply
        1. Katherine*

          I, too, have primarily been told I’m an adult when what the person’s actually saying is “I don’t want to deal with the person who is in the wrong here.” In my experience, it’s giving two parties equal responsibility for something that’s primarily the fault of one. No, a forced apology wasn’t a reasonable request, and no, HR shouldn’t have been involved, at least at first, but I also think that phrase should rarely, if ever, come out of an HR rep’s mouth. This whole problem arose because one party was not acting like an adult.

          Reply
          1. Altair*

            “In my experience, it’s giving two parties equal responsibility for something that’s primarily the fault of one. ”

            Yes, this! Once again someone else says what I’m trying to better than I managed to. :)

            Reply
          2. Taniwha Girl*

            Yes, in my experience it usually means “I don’t want to mediate this, figure it out.”

            Sometimes that’s acceptable, as in “you need to sort out how to behave professionally”, and sometimes it’s passing the buck of responsibility when authority does need to step in.

            Reply
            1. Katherine*

              I think there was a Simpsons episode where a police officer said “Ugh, can’t you people just take the law into your own hands?”

              Reply
      4. Marie*

        Ha ha, it’s been a few years, didn’t know if anybody would remember me!

        In the past few years, I ended up promoted to a supervisor role, and it’s given me a new perspective on how often fear and past experiences of abuse and trauma can show up at work and complicate basic interactions.

        Abuse starts with such small signs that can look like ordinary behavior, until they become a pattern, and by then it’s hard to extract yourself or convince others of what’s happening. It leads to mistaking what’s uncomfortable for what’s unsafe, because unsafe often started first with uncomfortable. I had so few experiences of uncomfortable just… being uncomfortable, and survivable, and not escalating, and sometimes not even worth fixing.

        I always thought I was asking for help in having a safe workplace so I could work better, but I was often asking for help in not having to feel uncomfortable. I just didn’t know how to explain or even identify how terrifying it felt to sit in discomfort, when I suspected at any moment it was going to turn into something worse. I also wasn’t aware of how much self-loathing I was battling internally, because the only skill/framing I had for tolerating discomfort was submission — to sit with discomfort made me feel like I was “allowing” the abuse to happen again, just like I had as a victim, and I still hated that part of myself so much.

        I can see my employees doing small or large versions of this sometimes, when every inch of their nervous system is screaming UNSAFE UNSAFE, and I’m telling them their senses are wrong, and they will survive this. That’s especially difficult, knowing what it’s like to be disbelieved and dismissed, or asked to tolerate what isn’t humane.

        Sometimes I’m staggered and furious when I think of how many people across a lifespan are recruited to undo the damage one dedicated cruel person can do to another. But sometimes I’m so touched and heartened by the same.

        Reply
  18. OP here*

    Hi, OP here-
    Thank you all for your advice and input. I want to specify a few things – I didn’t go to HR, nor did Cornelius. Cornelius reached out to Jane immediately after the incident, she said she’d look into it, and, after not hearing anything for about 6 weeks, he asked her for a follow-up. She responded to him saying that she sent it to HR. So HR called me in to the meeting, I didn’t seek them out. And my follow-up this was 1-2 emails over the course of 3-4 months, and she said she had no updates but would let me know when she did.

    The other thing I wanted to clarify is that in the background of this, was the fact that Dolores’s unit kept trying to give more work to my unit on a permanent basis, and this would have involved working with her more closely. It felt like we were stuck between my grandboss pushing this work on us, and my boss saying we needed resolution on her behavior. So there were definitely discussions behind the scenes that I wasn’t privy to, but my follow-up with HR wasn’t so much demanding that something be done, but wondering if there had been any resolution that would allow this workflow change to happen.

    I am also ready to walk away from situations where I am being yelled at and mistreated now. I hadn’t experienced that in an office setting and was taken by surprise, but I feel more empowered to do that going forward (I hope!). Not that I want to be in this situation again, but hopefully I could handle that aspect of it better in the future. 

    Reply
      1. Box of Kittens*

        Her main question was “What should have happened in this situation?” I think Alison typically writes the headlines.

        Reply
      2. Jude*

        Probably because all management involved appear to have washed their hands of it, and left everything in HR’s court?

        Reply
      3. Delphine*

        That is not a complaint that is anywhere in the letter. All OP wants to know is who dropped the ball, if anyone.

        Reply
      4. Not So NewReader*

        It sounds like OP was lead to believe that the whole problem was going through HR. If the bosses were saying they would handle it and did not handle it, perhaps her question would have shifted to, “Why aren’t my bosses handling this?”
        It could be everyone is playing pass the buck.

        Reply
    1. Altair*

      Thanks for the update, and FWIW, I don’t think you’re at all culpable. I’m just one commenter but I thought I should say so.

      Reply
    2. Lady Meyneth*

      OP, I wish you the best going forward, and I hope you realize this is not normal behavior at all. I’ve been yelled at by a coworker, but it’s only happened once in my 13 years in the workforce. So here’s hoping you never have to deal with this again!

      Reply
    3. BRR*

      Ah, thank you for the follow up. I appreciate the clarification because I was getting a different takeaway from the letter. Jane sending this to HR is kind of buried in the letter but she’s getting off easy in the comments. Jane needs to manager her employee (I mean really Dolores needs to not be a jerk).

      I’m glad to hear you’re ready to walk away if needed. In addition to walking away, you have the power to address Dolores’s behavior whether she is yelling at you or making smaller snide comments since it doesn’t sound like she’s a lot higher up than you or something like that. It can be tough to think in the moment so I’d probably figure out some scripts ahead of time to have ready.

      Reply
    4. AndersonDarling*

      Hi OP! Your letter hit a nerve with me because I worked at a toxic company where I was constantly yelled at and belittled by my boss. It’s 15 years later and I still feel anger at HR for accepting it as a normal “communication style.”
      For the record, Delores’ email was a jerk move. I interpret it as “Hey, if you want an apology, then march yourself over here and I may give you 15 seconds of my time to barf some words at you.”
      The biggest takeaway is that your company has shown you how it treats its employees. My current company would not tolerate someone berating another employee. Nope-er-ino. No excuses. So I hope things get better at your company, or you find another company that deserves you.

      Reply
    5. Alli525*

      From my perspective, Delores’s email to you – “I heard you wanted to talk to me” – indicates that she has learned nothing. She’s putting the burden on you to start the conversation, rather than coming to you in a straightforward way and saying “I owe you an apology, can we talk when you’re ready?” I think you’re within your right to not want to be in a 1-on-1 situation with her ever again… maybe the only issue was how hard you pushed HR to be involved, but I don’t feel I know enough from your letter to judge that.

      Reply
      1. Not So NewReader*

        Yep. She could have launched that email with, “I am sorry.” Then said, “Can we talk?”

        I had a problem at work the other day where I made a decent sized mistake. I had found the mistake, I knew what was wrong and how to fix it. I just had not called the injured party in my mistake. Sure enough, I walk into a voice mail and predictably Injured Party is NOT happy. When she answered the phone, I introduced myself and the very next thing I said was, “I. Am. So. Sorry.”
        That opening changed the whole tone of the conversation. I ended with, “Would you like something in writing from me to explain that this was an error on my end and not yours?” She said, “No. We’re good.”

        Dolores needs to think on this a bit longer.

        Reply
  19. The Bad Guy*

    I would feel very uncomfortable continuing to work for this company. I feel like HRs seeming ambivalence towards this incident is a massive red flag. If, for instance, Dolores was Dan I would expect that person to be let go. Generally I try to give people the benefit of the doubt but there’s a big difference between having a bad day and being passive aggressive and having a bad day and berating a manager and their employee.

    Reply
  20. EvilQueenRegina*

    As someone who once was managed by a “Cornelius Fudge”, and whose next manager was so determined to avoid making her mistakes she went too far in the other direction and became “Dolores Umbridge”, I am loving the pseudonyms and find them relatable!

    Reply
    1. Pomona Sprout*

      I can’t believe those pseudonyms flew right by me without even registering! I REALLY should have caught those.

      If I could, I’d paste a picture of a sheep here. Because I’m feeling sheepish! ;-)

      Reply
  21. MayLou*

    It’s really interesting to see responses split between “being yelled at once isn’t a big deal” and “shouting is violence and is always a big deal”, and I think it really depends on what you’re used to, what you’ve experienced in the past, and how you relate to raised voices at an emotional level. Some people work in environments where yelling is commonplace, and it doesn’t trigger a deep emotional terror for them. Other people can’t handle any kind of raised voices and would be badly shaken by someone yelling a warning that something dangerous was about to occur, even if there was no aggression involved.

    Personally, I once had a panic attack after a colleague suddenly shouted at me across the room. I had been having a conversation with another colleague and shouting colleague wasn’t involved in it but could hear it. Something I said irritated him, he yelled at me in a way that might have been meant to sound jokey but didn’t, and it just pushed a button. I froze, managed to say something but I don’t recall what, and a few minutes later realised that I was breathing increasingly fast and about to burst into tears. I gathered my stuff and left, to the sound of my colleague (genuinely mortified) trying to apologise and get me to stay, but there was no way I could have continued to work in that state. Thankfully there was only an hour of the work week left. I did tell my manager, but mainly because I wanted to explain why I’d left the office early (there were only the three of us involved in the situation in the office that afternoon).

    Anyway my point is basically that whether you see this as a big deal or not is going to be hugely dependent on how you personally experience being shouted at. But I’d say that if someone is really upset about being shouted at (and shouting really isn’t an acceptable way to communicate professionally, unless the background noise is high enough that talking would be inaudible) then a genuine apology is warranted even if the shouter doesn’t understand why the shoutee is upset and thinks they shouldn’t be. People’s feelings are valid and unless you’re actively trying to upset someone, in which case you’re a nasty piece of work, you should apologise when you do so inadvertently.

    Reply
    1. AndersonDarling*

      I think this is part of the puzzle, but there is also a line where you hear the hatred in the voice. I’ve seen people get upset about work stuff breaking down and they are loud and knocking things over, but the actions aren’t directed at anyone, they’re just bouncing around in their own bubble. But then you have people who turn that frustration on their co-workers.
      Someone can be venting at me, or they can be attacking me. One creates sympathy and comradery, but the other instills fear.

      Reply
      1. JSPA*

        Anger at a situation can morph into anger at a person in two different places.

        It can happen in the mind of the person who’s angry about the situation, and making noise about it.
        It can happen in the mind of the person who’s hearing the noise.

        As a default, the second one almost always happens, whether or not the first one does. Because, biologically, we’re primed to take other people’s emotional reactions personally. (Evolutionarily, it’s the right answer. Survival and procreation punish type 2 errors more harshly than type 1 errors.)

        The idea that someone can be white-hot angry about a concept, or about an organizational format, or about a product design, but only somewhat irate about a particular person’s role in making it happen–that’s something we intellectually understand, but it’s not something we’re really emotionally set up to process. If we’re there, and there’s yelling, and the yelling is negative, most people who are on the receiving end are going to feel the whole brunt of it as a personal attack.

        Even if it’s 2% personal “ugh, why do you guys not care that this is so crap” and 98%, “this is an unusable set of figures expressed in a bafflingly bad graphic done in an eye-shatteringly off-putting color, and as the person who OK’s the expenditures, you should care that there’s are not multiple steps early in the process where someone would notice and demand fixes.”

        Glossed over: OP seems to agree that there was, in fact, a problem. And that Dolores caught the problem.

        Let’s therefore stipulate: There’s little enough clarity in the process that “who owns what” isn’t obvious.

        Let’s even hypothesize: The system doesn’t seem to be set up to catch the “whatever it was” before it becomes a problem, too far down the line.

        That’s a situation that breeds frustration, and structurally, it prompts misdirection of anger. “How do you guys not notice or care” is a common way that frustration surfaces, even if the core error lies in a different department.

        If OP is in a lovely workplace with exemplary product, I withdraw all of this!

        But if OP is in an opaque workplace run by people whose side interest is “CYA” and whose defining slogan is “not my job,” such that bad core information travels far before getting squelched, then the problem goes beyond the immediate problem of, “Dolores didn’t figure out the core source before getting loud.” Which still isn’t OK…but context and big picture matter.

        Reply
  22. Hallowflame*

    So I was actually a witness to a very similar event a couple of years ago, and the HR response was very different.
    One co-worker began shouting at another co-worker in the presence of their manager (in this case, they both reported to this manager). The manager just stood there silently and made no attempt to intervene, then accompanied the person who was shouted at to HR to report.
    In this case, HR spoke to everyone that same day, including me to get a by-stander’s idea of what exactly happened, and resolved the issue quickly. I don’t know the details of the resolution aside from what both parties told me after the fact (a genuine apology was, in fact, issued) of course, but under the circumstances I appreciated knowing that kind of unprofessional behavior would be addressed.

    All of that said, the fact that nothing happened for months was a clear signal that, in this workplace, HR is not interested in interpersonal conflicts that don’t rise to the level potential legal liability, and Delores’s manager isn’t willing to mediate the relationship between you. It’s time to move on. You can avoid Delores if at all possible, but HR isn’t interested.

    Reply
    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yeah here, actual meltdown tantrums like that are marched right to HR and someone’s going home for the day at very least.

      Jane would have heard “this happened”, would have spoken with Delores and then would have filed the report with HR, while Delores took a breather for the day to show her that if she’s acting like a toddler, she gets a time out.

      However our culture here is strong on “we don’t yell unless the building is on fire or we’re trying to be heard over the air compressor.”

      Reply
  23. OP here*

    I also want to say thank you to Alison for giving me this framework of what an ideal scenario would have been. I appreciate you helping me see this as more of a management issue than an HR issue. I wanted to get my expectations calibrated so I’d know how to handle similar situations going forward, with clear expectations of what to expect in terms of follow-up, and without feeling like I needed to rely on my boss to advocate for me, or HR to “fix it.”

    Reply
    1. The Supreme Troll*

      OP, I honestly, truly wish you all the best. Alison’s advice is correct, and I hope that in the future, more people come to your work environment that you will be able to have confidence in. I know it’s obvious, but never take verbal abuse or demeaning language from anybody.

      Reply
    2. JSPA*

      Here’s an automotive analogy. “Management functions as the steering and the brakes. HR is the airbags. If the brakes are pretty bad and the steering linkage is dodgy, relying on airbags isn’t a valid, everyday backup plan.”

      Sometimes that means doing what you can to get the parts to work right. (Pumping the brakes = prompting the boss to prepare them to do the right thing).

      Sometimes it means a period (ideally, a very brief period) of hyper-aware behavior. Driving slowly and with great care, looking out for dips and turns, and thinking through contingency plans = getting mentally equipped to deal with the idea that when management is inadequate, there may well be accidents, and lowering your functional expectations accordingly…yet without buying into the idea that this is normal and fine.

      Sometimes it means taking on a larger role or going beyond your role boundaries (Clearing brush at the bad intersection nearby, where cross-traffic is obscured = checking in extra with people you’re working with, to find out if there are any festering problems. It’s not your job, but doing it can make your job easier and safer.)

      Sometimes, in both situations, it means walking.

      I wasn’t there, so I don’t know exactly how bad the yelling was. Someone can be firmly irate at volume levels that are too high, without being either threatening nor out of control; someone can be incredibly threatening, boundry-crossing and even out of control without being loud. “Someone used their outside voice and blamed me for problems not of my making” isn’t usually a reason to walk. But if it goes beyond, “it was unpleasant and unprofessional and I felt disrespected” to “this was downright frightening,” or if you have a low tolerance for unpleasant / unprofessional / disrespectful,” you may choose to look elsewhere, at some point.

      But “someone was an A-hole at work” is something that sporadically happens.

      I’d also question whether “someone female was loudly unhappy, loudly accusing, and also wrongly assigned blame” is popping a stronger reaction than you’d have, if someone male did the same thing. Not because I suspect you of some deep, individual bias, but because it’s such a broadly societal thing. Especially if she was right, about there being a significant problem, and only wrong in assigning the blame, and in doing so both loudly and directly. See the study referenced and parsed out in today’s NY Times opinion piece, “Women Can Have a Little Power, as a Treat.” (Not linking, as it’s not hard to find.)

      Reply
        1. Pen keeper*

          While I also find angry men more threatening than angry women, I think what JSPA was referring to is the tendency for people to view male workers as more professional/levelheaded than women, resulting in dismissing female worker´s reactions as “over the top” even though the same reaction made by a male worker would have been viewed as appropriate. It might feel like a long time ago, but being male was a big aspect of the dominant conception of work that only started to disintegrate the 70s, and it is still very much affecting how we view work today.
          That said, judging by the info from OP´s letter I don´t think this is a situation where Dolores is just misinterpreted.

          Reply
  24. stiveee*

    I left a job because the owner of the company would scream at other employees in my presence at least once a week and would sometimes throw things. I’m a survivor of physical abuse where the perpetrator yelled constantly. When someone yells at work I either freeze or dissociate. I really sympathize with OP and think this goes a bit beyond “you’re all adults.” Maybe HR isn’t the best avenue, but if it happened to me I would want reassurance from someone that it wouldn’t happen again. I get that it’s a psychological issue, but should I have to request accommodation to be treated with basic decency?

    Reply
  25. Public Librarian*

    I had a supervisor who raised her voice and berated me in anytime she felt it was warranted. In front of the public, in front of staff etc. It was a huge trigger and stressor for me. I did seek professional help. One, no one needs raise their voice. Period. Language that was given to me.
    ” I have experienced abusive behavior in the past. When you raise your voice like that I shut down and am unable to hear anything you are telling me. ”
    I worked for her for two more years. She never raised her voice to me again.

    Reply
  26. Archaeopteryx*

    When someone is yelling at you, not only do you not have to sit there and take it or even stay in the room, but you also don’t have to let slide any missed information, even if your manager is. You can definitely say “that actually wasn’t our department; that was department X that was in charge of that”.

    And you don’t have to keep talking about the subject matter when they’ve violated such a major workplace boundary as yelling. Even if they’re still yelling about the project, you can respond exclusively with questions and concern about why they are yelling in the office.

    Reply
  27. RussianInTexas*

    I personally cannot stand being yelled at (thanks abusive alcoholic step-father!), I get anxiety and fear, even if it’s not directed at me (like my boyfriend yelling at a non-cooperating computer). I did learn to control my issues and to walk away.
    However, I am not sure if there is anything more you can get from HR here. I think you need to move on.

    Reply
    1. I'm Not Phyllis*

      Yes. If my boss yelled at me (he is both the President and the CEO) I would walk out. But I also know my relationship with him well enough to be confident in doing that, knowing that I would still have a job the next day. In other cases, it may have consequences if you do. But I think that it’s still important to teach people that you won’t stand for being treated that way.

      Reply
    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I’d love someone to fire me because I refused to listen to them yell at me.

      But given my position and relationships with a CEO/President setup, it would be unwise of them to yell at me in the first place.

      But you have to know your setup. You have to know that walking out on someone in a higher ranking role than yours, especially at that level, may result in termination or other consequences down the road.

      But leaving an abuser is hard in every way and a CEO/President can indeed be an abuser. And I always advocate to remove yourself from risky positions, it’s bad for your mental health and you can get physically sick from that kind of behavior.

      You want to form a serious exit plan if it’s someone in the top brass that’s doing this.

      Reply
    3. JSPA*

      Morally, sure. Could still get you fired.

      If interviewing, and the interviewer asks, “why were you fired from your last job,” and the answer is, “half the room walked out of a meeting after it devolved into the boss screaming at us, and they fired us all,” that’s probably too much drama to invoke. But, “I’m looking for a workplace without yelling and screaming” is going to strike most people as reasonable. And the ones who don’t see it as reasonable are people you don’t want to work with.

      Reply
      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        This. I have literally said that yelling is a deal breaker for me in interviews. Guess who after that hasn’t heard any yelling ever since…because oh no, they didn’t hire me because they like yelling? What a loss, not.

        Reply
  28. I'm Not Phyllis*

    For what it’s worth, I do think there are instances where a single occurrence is enough to want HR involved. For example if OP felt genuinely unsafe in interacting with Delores after this one incident, I could see it happening (it doesn’t sound like this was the case here – I’m just putting it out there for anyone else who may have experienced something similar). I don’t always think that waiting for a pattern to emerge before going to HR is always appropriate – sometimes a single incident warrants it.

    That said, I love the advice about just saying “I’m not willing to be spoken to this way” or “let’s discuss this another time” or any of those things, and leaving. One of the ways in which I think a pattern DOES matter is in teaching people how they can treat you. Don’t allow yourself to be disrespected.

    Reply
  29. Penny*

    It seems like there is a lot of poor management in your company and I feel for you. Years ago, at my job, a co-worker yelled at me to “screw off” in front of other co-workers because of how I had essentially arranged files on my desk because she was unable to locate one and needed it immediately while I was unable to help her that exact second. Her supervisor immediately dealt with it (I saw her get pulled into a conference room minutes later). A verbal tirade of that length should be dealt with almost immediately. Cornelius should not have waited 6 weeks to follow up with Jane and Jane should not have escalated it to Sybil unless Dolores was so against Jane’s admonishments that she felt it needed to be further documented. Unless someone was on leave or ill, this should have been dealt with much sooner. God forbid something like this happens again, I would follow up sooner.

    All that being said, I don’t think you can refuse to work with Dolores again. I would just always ensure that there is a co-worker in all your meetings and that you save correspondence from her. Also, as Alison indicated, don’t be afraid to end meetings. If possible, also schedule back to back meetings and set the tone at the beginning that the meeting can’t run late because you have a call with a client immediately afterwards.

    Reply
  30. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    You file a formal complaint and you avoid Delores. You get up and you walk away if someone is screaming at you. That’s it, you don’t get updates or get to keep following up. Most people aren’t going to get fired for a tantrum.

    It’s good you reported it, it’s good it’s on record! If this then happened again, they get to escalate disciplinary action for Delores. Then if it happens some more, then it’s time for Delores to get canned.

    The poor management is wafting off this post, so I can tell that’s the real root cause of why you’re still thinking about it and it doesn’t seem finished.

    Reply
  31. Really*

    Hmm. Not sure I see the issue with following up on the matter – I would want answers too after being abused in the workplace. Not sure how it works in the US, but there are laws in Canada dealing with this kind of thing. Yelling is bullying and harassment, and once reported – it must be dealt with. Each province has a WorkSafe agency that can help deal with bullying, and it’s against the law for an employer to ignore this kind of thing. I wouldn’t work with anyone again either if they yelled and screamed at me – it’s abuse, and I’m glad Canada has laws in place to help deal with it.

    Reply
    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Sadly in the US, you can yell at anyone you want as long as you aren’t yelling slurs or something else that’s discriminatory. Lots of yelling in the workplace down here, it’s gross.

      Literally some school teachers bully students and encourage other students to do it here, that’s how bad this kind of shit is in the US.

      They always love a good “we’re all adults here, just ignore it.” response or just “just ignore it” or “fight back” if kids are involved.

      Reply
      1. KoiFeeder*

        *waves*

        Student who was bullied by a teacher with the teacher encouraging other students to do so. Makes me pretty dang terrified of the workplace, not gonna lie- people always say school is kinder than work.

        Reply
        1. Altair*

          I hope so, but I doubt it. I mean, look at this thread — the most socially powerful people, including managers and lawyers, are on the side of “this is no big deal, suck it up”. How can we get society changed under those conditions?

          Reply
  32. Scarrie Fisher*

    Mmm… Yeah I get the vibe that pretty much everyone in the comments has accepted that this is just “how it is,” and I vehemently disagree with this. This is unacceptable and brushing it aside is a problem that perpetuates the problem everywhere. There needs to be actual consequences for this behavior. It’s not professional. It shouldn’t take years of jobs with abusive bosses going on tirades to get people to the point where they walk away solely out of apathy. I would have preferred to not have learned to practice this method through years of personal experience with that behavior.

    I watched my old boss scream at employees, throw tantrums in her office, and be incredibly dismissive and cruel to employees for no reason, and everyone just shrugged it off because that’s just “how she is.” The acceptance of inequality is what creates and perpetuates systemic issues.

    Reply
  33. Anon For A Day*

    Years ago I got screamed at… by our HR guy. It was a small building, so absolutely everyone heard him.

    My boss was out at the time, but someone must have told him about it, because later I heard him speaking in angry tones to HR and I later got an email rescinding the threats, but hoping I’d learned my lesson.

    He was replaced as HR sometime later, but I had to keep working with him for years. I admit that I avoided needing to speak to him for the first few weeks, but after that I shocked the heck out of him by acting like nothing had happened.

    And it never happened again.

    Reply
    1. Not So NewReader*

      Some people that is the best you can do and get in return. They would literally choke on the words, “I’m sorry!”, so that won’t happen. That just leaves no further recurrences.

      Reply
  34. HR in the city*

    So you won’t want to hear this but with how far you have pushed this you are coming off as the bigger pain in the rear than Dolores is. I completely agree that it was not professional what Dolores did but its possible that this is a one off thing and HR hasn’t gotten any other complaints even if Dolores does this all the time. As long as you work there you need to realize that you could have to work with Dolores in the future and this behavior could happen again. Please keep in mind that HR did what they could and you don’t know what Dolores or your supervisor told the HR person. Its possible that the whole thing was downplayed and so it came off as you making a bigger deal of it than it was. So there was the offer of the apology to appease you. I think you just need to file this under good information to have but at this point you do need to stop pushing the issue.

    Reply
    1. andy*

      > As long as you work there you need to realize that you could have to work with Dolores in the future and this behavior could happen again.

      That is pretty much good reason to make sure Dolores knows you wont accept that. If you accept this sort of stuff without pushback, people like Dolores will scream at you again and again and again. If you pushback, they tend to go to screem to somebody else.

      Reply
  35. Persephone Underground*

    I’m a bit disappointed by the implication that the OP did something wrong by refusing to drop this.

    Isn’t there something to be said for advocating for yourself? Sometimes you may have to push leadership on something important. This wasn’t a minor thing, this was a full meltdown! Persistent, polite follow up just doesn’t strike me as inappropriate, just refusing to let the problem be swept under the rug.

    I do think that the OP may have been unclear about the apology piece, since I assume that was why Dolores emailed her, so she made herself appear difficult when she was angry about that. For a serious apology, the idea that it should be in person doesn’t strike me as out of line. My advice in that situation would have been to ask your manager to accompany you, citing your discomfort at meeting with her alone, and especially as he was the other party anyway. Short of that, replying to the email saying you can’t meet, but you can have this conversation by email or phone (if you’re comfortable with that).

    At this point it probably is time to let it go. I think some action must have been taken, since she did approach the OP to (probably) apologize, so the OP has gotten at least some of what she wanted.

    But I still think the OP did nothing wrong by refusing to just drop it after her boss and HR did nothing.

    Reply
  36. Persephone Underground*

    Follow up- I’ve been stewing on this, and I think my problem is that it reads as though Alison is applying her past logic about respecting management decisions you don’t agree with. But that doesn’t apply in a situation like this.

    It reads like “Your management decided not to do their jobs and are fine with you feeling actually unsafe and bullied, and you should respect that and drop it.”

    No. That’s not acceptable. Professional pushback was perfectly appropriate here, and honestly no one in a situation like this is going to be perfect. Your management judging you for being a less than model victim of serious workplace bullying with that whole “be adults” dodge… Ugh.

    It might have been easier on you to just report it, never work with Dolores again, and be done. But the idea that following up was inappropriate? It’s actually pretty offensive.

    Reply
    1. Not So NewReader*

      OP only sent one or two emails, but that wasn’t clear in the original letter. What gets me is that OP was lead to believe HR was following this. We can only act on what we are told.

      Reply
  37. The Tired Enigizer Bunny*

    Similar situation, different twist:

    I reported unethical behavior by one of my coworkers and former mentor. An entire team was removed off the project. Coworker took it badly and proceeded to lie, slander me to upper management, file complaints that were untrue, threaten me several times, and sabotage my work. This lasted for 2.5 years while I reported this repeatedly to my director. Eventually, he was moved to a different location. He had previously made statements that I had a list of coworkers that I was going after. When an employee (his friend) asked essentially me with a straight face if I had a hit or kill list of enployees, I went to my director. He did nothing. I filed an employee concern (as a government contractor). The investigation lasted 6 months and was found partially substantiated and that our work locations and work scope had been seperated and that they could not guarantee that we would not encounter each other, but efforts would be made. I had a severe medical episode due to the stress and spent 11 days in the ER/Hospital. I genuinely considered suicide- it was the lowest point in my life and I sought professional help. I was out for 6 weeks and returned to no issues. My director retired and a new one took his place. I met privately and explained what had happened and that there were still lingering medical issues from that hospitalization, but no accommodations were needed and asked that she respect the boundaries put in place of keeping us seperate. A project came up and the abusing employee took over. He was in over his head and requested help from me in email. I forwarded the request to my director with the investigation documentation and written stamens by the company on keeping us seperate and expressed that I was uncomfortable and could we discuss options. She directed him away and then a month later funneled the work from him to her then to me. I completed the work and moved on. This week, I was written up in an annual performance apprasial for essentially being uncomfortable working with my abuser. I was floored and it triggered what my medicial team believes was a ptsd episode.

    Reply
    1. The Tired Enigizer Bunny*

      Her writeup was essentially that i impacted team morale and productivity by being uncomfortable. I asked for clarification on whether it was a pattern or with multiple employees and she clarified that this was not a pattern, but only with one employee and she wanted to prevent it from becoming a pattern. She also stated that it happened 2.5 years ago, the company took appropriate action (it did not), and that I “needed to get over it” and that she and the intern working on the project were “annoyed”.

      I took a couple hours to compose myself and wrote back questioning if writing up an employee who was abused by another employee, who repeatedly reported it to the company and ended up hospitalized, was appropriate. She emailed back that she would remove part of the statement, but that it was really about working with multiple employees. I 100% did not misunderstand her the first time around.
      She eventually decided to remove it all and copied HR.

      I saw my medical team and took 2 days off to decompress and think through what an appropriate response would be. I don’t have a clear answer at this point. Thoughts on how to proceed?

      Reply
      1. Not So NewReader*

        It could be that I misread or don’t know key details. But it looks to me like you won this round? So I’d say do nothing further except take good care of you.
        Since this has been going on for a bit is there a way you can move on to another place/job/contract?
        I’m thinking there is really nothing here to respond to, it’s pretty much resolved when she removed her remarks.

        Reply
  38. squarecushion*

    The idea that HR has to warn you before Dolores contacts you is just being really overly sensitive. Do you really need HR to email you and say ‘Dolores will be in contact’?

    As for all the note taking and claims of being gas lit it all sounds a bit concerning. If you’re always the victim in the workplace you have to wonder if maybe your expectations for work are a bit off.

    Reply
      1. Katherine*

        Squarecushion, your comment is unkind. There is no reason to conclude from this letter, which describes a single situation, that the letter writer is “always the victim.”

        Reply
  39. cncx*

    I had a screaming coworker once and that company was a Big Company With Fixed HR Processes For Tantrums. The problem was that my boss and grandboss had indeed talked to the person but company processes were such that that was all they could do until coworker struck again.

    The best part is that person wound up getting fired for pissing my grandboss off but not for screaming at me.

    Reply
  40. Heffalump*

    The OP isn’t going to get the resolution they’d like from HR–I get it. But I started thinking about this earlier post:

    https://www.askamanager.org/2019/11/the-way-a-coworker-was-fired-has-me-worried-for-my-own-job.html

    In her response, Alison suggested that “Tori,” the fired coworker, may have done something that warranted immediate dismissal. For example, she may have screamed at a client. If this is in fact what happened, I’d assume that Tori probably screamed at the client for a minute or two.

    If screaming at a client for a minute or two is a firing offense, then screaming at a coworker–or anyone–for 75 minutes certainly should be.

    Reply

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