how to recover after yelling at an employee

A reader writes:

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

I’ve already been feeling frustrated with this employee and his failure to improve and lack of accountability, and I guess the email just pushed me over the edge. When we met in the afternoon, I totally lost my temper and yelled at him. I think I was totally out of line. He failed to take responsibility for his performance and was continuing to defensively litigate every point with me throughout our meeting–which only made me more mad.

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

I also wonder what our meeting should have looked like. I’m guessing I should have very clearly, very calmly laid out the issues with his work, explained the potential consequences, given him a chance to respond, and then ended the meeting. Which was sort of my plan, but I think I wasn’t prepared for how mad I felt.

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

{ 169 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Maisie*

    I wonder if the LW has CLEARLY articulated to the expectations/feedback with the employee or given vague hints instead. Some managers don’t know how to clearly communicate and if someone isn’t doing their job, they resort to doing the tasks themselves and not being direct.

    Reply
    1. SomebodyElse*

      While that can and certainly does happen, I don’t think that was the case with this situation “He failed to take responsibility for his performance and was continuing to defensively litigate every point with me throughout our meeting–which only made me more mad.”

      Generally vague and unclear hints at improvement aren’t met with defensiveness, at least in my experience.

      Reply
      1. Joan Rivers*

        This reminds me that the opposite of yelling is quiet verbal abuse. They’re both bad.
        I worked for a small business owner who would listen to a heartfelt comment or analysis or suggestion, possibly solicited by him, and say, “Are you done?” It was vicious. His quiet sarcasm and contempt for too much enthusiasm lost him a lot of employees. He seemed to want motivation but no new ideas or good energy.
        But you know what? His toxic self died in young middle age and I’m still here.

        Reply
        1. Goldenrod*

          “This reminds me that the opposite of yelling is quiet verbal abuse. They’re both bad.”

          This is such a good point! I’ve had really awful managers who knew better than to actually yell…but they quietly exuded so much contempt and disrespect, it felt just the same as being yelled at.

          Reply
        2. Heffalump*

          Amen. The summer after my freshman year of college I landed a summer job through the school placement office. I’d worked in the school snack bar during the year, so this was my second job and my first office job. There were about half a dozen people in the office.

          Ron, the office manager, was the first quietly abusive person I ever met. At one point on my first day, he was displeased about something and said, “If X is true, then maybe we have the wrong people here.” Translation: maybe everyone should be fired. This was delivered in the tone you’d expect someone to use for, “High for today will be 75F.”

          At one point I finished a task and sat back for a minute. In hindsight it would have been more proactive to say, “OK, what’s my next task?” I assumed that someone would see that I was ready for more work and give me some. As I said, I was totally new to office work. Ron said, absolutely deadpan, “Here’s something you can do while you’re doing nothing.” These weren’t the only things he did.

          After a week of this, I quit. I briefly told the nice placement office lady how it had gone. She said, “Some offices are like that, and they have a lot of turnover.”

          I fantasized writing the head office about Ron’s abuse, but young and idealistic as I was, I knew i’d be wasting a stamp and my time.

          Reply
        3. lailaaaaah*

          This! The ex partner who gave me PTSD never raised their voice or overtly threatened me. They never had to – their quiet determination not to listen to any of the boundaries I set, and their ability to turn conversations around so that I was the one apologising for something they’d done to me, made sure of that.

          Reply
          1. Joan Rivers*

            Yes. This guy inherited a small publishing co. and made up his own “rules” — I knew he didn’t use actual English “style” rules. But he usually hired people w/less publishing experience who didn’t know.
            What they knew was that he was quietly seething and mean.
            Yet he was on the city School Board and a Guardian Ad Litem for kids.
            When I said his adopted Black son [he was white] had a nice smile, he said something negative about him. Who does that?
            When his bio son dropped college he started coming in to “help” and my reviews became bad and I was let go. It was so transparently dishonest.
            I was happy to leave, but his hypocrisy was so appalling. Not yelling can be as bad as yelling; he was emotionally abusive. My experience shielded me from it a lot but watching others get fired / abused was just as hard for me. Never underestimate how others’ abuse can be as hard as your own would be.

            Reply
      2. ErinWV*

        Vague and unclear hints usually aren’t described as “points” that the other party argues and refutes, either.

        Reply
        1. starsaphire*

          …and generally* the type of person that will just sit there and refute your feedback point by point isn’t going to listen, grow, or change very easily, no matter how clear or direct your feedback.

          The more details you include, the more ammo they think they have, and they’ll just sit there and word-twist at you until you either blow up or give up, and then smugly think they’ve “won.”

          *Not all rules-lawyers, sure, but quite a lot of them.

          Reply
        2. Hundredthlion*

          Fair, but the fact that this manager is clearly unsure of how the meeting SHOULD have gone is a major red flag. It sounds to me like they’re incredibly out of their depth.

          At this point I think it’d be embarrassing to bring up the email in terms of what is appropriate after they lost their sh-t on this employee. It’d be incredibly hypocritical and the fact that the manager dwelled on the email for the day BEFORE yelling at the employee is not a good look. They may just not be cut out for management.

          Reply
          1. pancakes*

            This is pretty ungenerous and heavy-handed, and pretty sharply at odds with Alison’s advice. I think she has a much better handle on what happened here and what should happen next than you do.

            Reply
    2. Chantel*

      I think it’s important to take people at face value. The LW didn’t say anything about picking up the employee’s slack, and I’ll give the LW the benefit of the doubt that s/he did give the employee “CLEARLY articulated” expectations and feedback. Besides that, the employee wrote a disrespectful email to the LW. Who needs clear feedback to know that’s inappropriate?

      On that note, by the description of the employee, the LW’s frustration is understandable. I commend the LW for acknowledging that losing one’s temper is out of bounds, and for checking on whether the original meeting plan is sound (it seems so to me), but it sounds like the employee is a nightmare, and a person (the LW) can only take so much.

      Good luck, LW. I hope that if you share an update, things will have turned out for the best.

      Reply
    3. Cat Lover*

      That’s speculation. There is no where in this letter where that seems to be the case. Please take LW at their word or we could sit here speculating all day.

      Some people are just bad at their jobs and refuse to take feedback.

      Reply
    4. Joan Rivers*

      “he sent me a really rude, sarcastic, inappropriate email this morning” — THIS. Nothing excuses THIS.
      You can email him back, and say sorry you lost your temper when you two spoke; I think that’s enough apology. Then go down his email point by point, if it was actually that bad. Refute it and critique it and use it to talk about attitude and what’s appropriate and all the issues.
      If he’s misguided enough to put in writing things that are that bad, you have to address it.
      But be sure it WAS that bad, and didn’t just trigger you personally. Maybe even ask a trusted ally if they see it as you do. So you don’t put in writing anything YOU’ll regret.
      If it is that bad, then you get to use his email to respond to.
      A’s advice should be really effective in writing.

      Reply
      1. TootsNYC*

        I think I might suggest simply sending an apology email, apologizing for yelling. And stop there.

        I would not suggest combining that apology with any sort of “about your performance.” I would separate them.
        That way I don’t lose credibility on the criticism, and I don’t undermine the apology.

        Reply
        1. Joan Rivers*

          Good point. But the advantage of replying to his email is that it can’t be missed as evidence later. And the guy can’t “forget” about it. Because his attitude and judgment are so relevant here.

          Reply
          1. Joan Rivers*

            But OP needs to be very sure the sarcasm didn’t just trigger them personally — if trusted allies agree it was bad, fine. It’s the advantage of written comments, that the employee put it there in black and white. But it’s like a loaded gun, use it w/care.

            Reply
      2. Hundredthlion*

        Based on this submission I do question whether it WAS that bad or if it was just sarcastic and they took it personally. I mean, they say on that email for hours and used that as an excuse for blowing their lid at the employee. They talk about giving the employee feedback, but don’t mention if they made any plans of action with the employee. It’s easy to toss out feedback. But that’s not coaching.

        You have a manager here who was (maybe rightfully, maybe not) offended by the email from the employee and hours later it still was making them angry – to the point where THEY got inappropriate with their employee. It is concerning that someone in management can’t manage to keep their cool – and if their feedback was solid and actionable they should have been a lot more confident in their dealings with the employee. There’s never an excuse for yelling at your employees. And if they can’t manage to keep tabs on their own behavior it’s embarrassing that they expect the people working for them to do what they can’t.

        Reply
    5. Joan Rivers*

      Well, the way to get feedback and information from your boss is not to send them an offensive over the top email, is it? No matter what the mgr. did or didn’t do? He could have just asked.

      Reply
    6. David Levine*

      After you got the e-mail, you should have just called HR and have them do the paperwork. The meeting should then have become the exit interview with HR in attendance and HR should escort the employee off the site.

      Reply
      1. Joan Rivers*

        HR could read the email and confirm if it’s as bad as OP felt it was. Or that it’s not and OP is reacting emotionally because it pushed his or her buttons.
        That’s if HR exists and actually has good judgment as we’d like HR — IDEALLY — to have.

        Reply
    7. Joan Rivers*

      This prompts the question in my mind, Is communication different at work than other places? Should it be?
      I think quiet and cautious is better than loud and aggressive, because it’s work. What might be “passive/aggressive” at home might be more OK at work.
      OR
      Is there one standard? I know it depends on the office.
      In the military people have to get told to be “at ease.”

      Reply
  2. JJ*

    As an employee who has been yelled at, I think you also need to consider that your relationship with this person might be forever ruined.

    In my case, even though I stood up for myself in the moment and my manager apologized for losing his temper, I could not have any interaction with him after that without the possibility of being yelled at in my mind, even though yelling was totally out of character for this guy, and I knew it was a one-off. Despite all of that, his name is forever associated with “a person who will yell at you” in my mind, and I never had an easy working relationship with him after that.

    Reply
    1. Seal*

      Same here. I’ve worked for a several managers who yelled at me and it absolutely changed my relationship them. Not surprisingly, all of them were not good managers to begin with and I wasn’t the only person who thought so. I was (and still am) someone that is very good at my job, which all of them apparently found threatening. At my previous job, the yelling incident was the last straw for me and I ramped up my job search to get out as soon as humanly possible. I’ve also been yelled at by my current manager and had been job hunting, but as it turns out they’ll be leaving soon. Good riddance!

      Reply
    2. Cat Lover*

      OP made a mistake yelling at a direct report, but I think the relationship was ruined before this. If OP is so frustrated to the point of yelling, it was already going to be hard to fix. The employee doesn’t seem to have any interest in receiving/implementing feedback.

      Reply
      1. SomebodyElse*

        This is a good point… If you are an employee sending rude, sarcastic, and inappropriate emails to your manager a good working relationship sailed away long ago.

        Reply
        1. The Rural Juror*

          Exactly. I keep thinking that if the OP sends another apology, the employee is going to take it as apologizing for telling him he wasn’t doing a great job. It seems like, in his mind, he’s never the one that’s in the wrong.

          Reply
      2. JJ*

        Yes, based on behavior the employee sounds like they’re ready to be out of there, but that doesn’t take the onus off the manager to at least try to retain a decent relationship. Unless an employee is putting someone in imminent danger, there’s no excuse for yelling at them, no matter how much of a butthead they are.

        OP is the manager, so the fact that the situation is a mess is on them mismanaging the employee until things got to this point. Dollars to donuts their management style has contributed in some way towards the employee getting into their current attitude; like for instance they say the employee was “litigating all their points” which says to me the manager was arguing too, instead of just calmly shutting it down and telling the employee what was expected, and the manager has been “frustrated” with them…which has very likely been communicated to the employee, even if subconsciously on OP’s part. I think most of us would be on the defensive in the employee’s shoes. He’s handling it super poorly obviously, but for me, the lion’s share of the blame for the poor relationship is on the manager here.

        Reply
        1. Autistic AF*

          I agree with this. There’s a quote specific to managing autistic people which has always stuck with me, and I think it applies here:

          “What looks like a behaviour issue is actually a communication issue.”

          I am sure that same “litigating all their points” comment could have been made about me in the past… Because my perspective was constantly dismissed or ignored. I finally ignored one head-in-the-sand boss (within my authority) and got a very contrite email saying he was fixated on one specific issue and not the big picture. One apology does not make me feel any less like my perspective doesn’t matter, however.

          Reply
        2. Cat Lover*

          I agree with the first part, but your making a lot of assumptions about both the manager and the employee that we don’t know to be true.

          Some employees just suck. Some people are just miserable.

          Reply
      3. Andy*

        > If OP is so frustrated to the point of yelling

        This really depends a lot on the personalities involved. Some people yell easily.

        Reply
        1. Anonapots*

          Based on the OP’s letter, it doesn’t sound like that’s the case. The OP new right away they had crossed a line.

          Reply
      4. fhqwhgads*

        Yeah, I think if there were a time machine, OP might be best served by going back and instead of yelling, calmly firing the employee in question in that meeting. It’s totally at that point. This relationship was ruined well before the yelling and wasn’t ruined by the yelling.

        Reply
    3. Junior Dev*

      yep. I’m starting a new job in 3 weeks and while I’d been wanting to change jobs as a far-off thing for a while, what pushed me over the edge from “spend the next 6-12 months learning skills and networking, apply next year” to “start immediately applying and trying to GTFO as soon as I can” was my boss yelling at me. He’s apologized, he’s worked hard to try and resolve the situation that led to the yelling…but I just don’t trust him anymore.

      Reply
      1. Chantel*

        But there’s a difference between being yelled at randomly for no valid reason – as it sounds like you were – and being yelled at because you’ve been a problem employee and your boss is human and can only take so much BS.

        I wouldn’t care if a bad employee didn’t trust me.

        Reply
        1. pancakes*

          Right – there’s also a difference between being yelled at for no reason or a senseless reason and being yelled at for sending an obnoxious email to someone you’re already on really thin ice with. Not that yelling is a good response to that, but it’s not coming out of nowhere and it’s not about someone else’s behavior.

          Reply
        2. JJ*

          No one deserves to be yelled at at work, period. OP should have checked themselves well before this confrontation, as soon as they realized how much of an issue the employee is.

          Reply
        3. Julia*

          But what makes an employee a problem employee?
          Like, I’ve been yelled at for asking to take a day off for the company-mandated health check – I had chosen the “wrong” day to be off, but then there weren’t many days to choose from in the first place.
          I’ve also had the same boss yell at me because I asked to clarify my ever-changing shift times, which had not been clearly marked in the schedule.

          She probably thought I was stupid and couldn’t do my job properly, whereas I thought my office sucked at scheduling.

          Reply
        4. generic employee*

          Then you can define any employee who doesn’t trust you because you yelled at them as a bad employee, and that way you don’t have to stop yelling.

          Reply
    4. CommanderBanana*

      Yeah, same. Once someone raises their voice to me, especially if it’s a male employee, I will never see that person as anything other than a threat who can’t be trusted to behave professionally.

      Reply
      1. Chantel*

        Really? A threat forever after just one blunder? That seems pretty extreme.

        I figure if someone who doesn’t normally raise his or her voice does so out of the blue, it’s a bad day, something going on in one’s personal life, or perhaps the person is under personal threat, etc. I’m pretty mild and low key, but I’ve had my moments in life, and have been forever grateful for people who haven’t held a permanent grudge against me over them. Those people have been kind enough to see those moments within a larger context of mild and low key, and so I return the favor accordingly.

        Reply
        1. Black Horse Dancing*

          Male is different. Far too many people, mostly women, have too many experiences of a raised voice from a man that is rage filled that leads to violence or the threat of violence.

          Reply
          1. Oh, my*

            So, you are saying that you would treat a male employee differently on the basis of sex. I am afraid that is a classic violation of Title VII.

            Reply
        2. Laure*

          Chantel, it really depends if we’re talking about “raising your voice” or “yelling”. I’ve had bad days and I have been angry and unpleasant, sometimes cutting with people, I have shown exasperation… Too often, and sometimes without a valid reason. I was in the wrong.

          People have forgiven me… Which makes me very quick to forgive anyone for the same offences!
          But real “yelling”… Actual shouting… If there is not a very strong reason, like, I don’t know, putting a child in danger…. I don’t think I could look at the yeller the same way again.

          Reply
          1. Chantel*

            Well, the poster I responded to mentioned raised voices, and I responded in kind, i.e. discussed raised voices. I didn’t mention yelling or putting a child in danger, so I’m not sure why you’re introducing those two concepts when they’re irrelevant to my response.

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        3. JJ*

          Yeah, it’s kind of involuntary. The man who yelled at me was ordinarily perfectly affable, I genuinely liked the him before and after. Even though I didn’t believe he would do it again, something changes with the knowledge that he *could*. It’s not really a grudge, more like a red flag you keep you eye on forever after.

          Reply
        4. ceiswyn*

          Yeah, I remember being shocked and traumatised when my new manager publicly yelled at one of his other direct reports…

          …reader, he was dealing with So Much Stuff. I went on to work with him for another three years, and to develop not only a great working relationship but a personal friendship that outlasted that job. The yelling incident was a complete one off, totally out of character.

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        5. NotAnotherManager!*

          I agree. I hate being yelled at a lot – my mom was a yeller and it’s triggering for me – but if it’s someone that I have a long, positive working relationship with and they just had a really crappy day/lapse in judgment and sincerely apologize and it doesn’t happen again, I’m not going to forever hold one mistake against them. If they’re someone who’s a jerk to begin with or who comes across as physically threatening during said yelling, that’s a different story.

          Reply
          1. Dust Bunny*

            This.

            My supervisor snapped at me once when I was–this part was on me–pushily trying to be too helpful in a weird situation. (Just trust me on that part. Reading the room is not always my strong point.) She apologized after. I later found out that she’d had a particularly unpleasant morning on the phone with a patron who is a well-known and long-established jerk.

            It’s fine. It was out of character for her and I’m not young enough to think that even people who don’t normally raise their voices will *never* raise their voices (there’s no such thing as a dog that won’t bite; some just need to be pushed a lot harder than others).

            Reply
        6. OhNo*

          It’s not always voluntary. As an example: personally, I have a history of being verbally abused by people, and unfortunately no amount of therapy (I’ve tried!) is ever going to stop my brain from going into panic mode if someone is raising their voice at me in anger. I can logic my way through the emotional response after the fact, but my brain will forever after label the person who yelled as “potential threat” rather than “trusted coworker”. That doesn’t mean I can’t work with them; I can certainly get back to a professional relationship if I try. But I probably won’t ever be able to trust them on an instinctive level after that.

          BUT, and this is a big “but”, that’s on me to work through and figure out if my perception of that person as a threat is reasonable or not. If it’s not a reasonable reaction, it might be easier to just let the emotional part of my brain take the lead and avoid them forever after, but that would be just as unprofessional as them yelling in the first place.

          Reply
      2. Susana*

        Seriously? That’s pretty harsh – ironically, more harsh than yelling.

        If it’s a pattern, I’d find it hard to keep working there. But one yelling episode – and after employee did the extremely unprofessional thing of sending a nasty, sarcastic email? And apparently (we just know LW’s side) refusing to *listen* to criticism of job performance?

        I agree that this working relationship is probably over – but it sounds like that started with poor performance and refusal to take criticisms to heart.

        Reply
    5. HH*

      I’m honestly glad to hear someone else say this. I have a mentee that yelled at me once early on in our professional relationship and although he was contrite about it the next day, sincerely apologized, and I accepted, I have been wary of him ever since. I’ve felt bad that I just can’t let it go because it hasn’t happened again but frankly that kind of thing just sticks with you.

      Reply
    6. TootsNYC*

      I yelled at a colleague, and it was only through my abject apology and continuous, concerted efforts to be a collegial person, and mostly his generosity at forgiving me, that we were able to be friendly again.

      Reply
      1. Admiral Adama*

        Friendly, but as someone who has been yelled at by a former toxic boss, I can 100% guarantee you that this person won’t ever trust you or look at you the same way again.

        Reply
        1. Gimble*

          A toxic boss is different from a colleague, and you are–I assume!–a different person from TootNYC’s colleague. You can’t guarantee anything about the relationship between people you don’t know, and it doesn’t seem kind to cast doubt on that relationship based on your own, different, experience.

          Reply
    7. Allonge*

      I know what you mean and obviously everyone has the right to feel what they feel. I just want to say I have never seen this play out well for the employee (the one who was yelled at), ever, unless of course the yell-er got fired.

      Not to say you need to forgive and forget by the next day, it’s more that if the boss is a normal human being who made a mistake, then it might be worth it to let go after some time, as you may well be hurting yourself by pulling back. If the boss sucks in general, then this does not matter, of course.

      Reply
  3. Evan Þ.*

    This’s good advice for life in general: Think through all your options, so you know you have options and don’t feel powerless in your interactions. I’ve found things are a lot less stressful that way.

    Reply
    1. irene adler*

      Yes it is good advice.
      It’s also good, as a manager, to take the time to find out what options are available to them. Sometimes people are promoted to manager and are never given information on options available to a manager to get the work completed.

      Reply
  4. irene adler*

    And this is one very good reason why there needs to be management training – for anyone with reports.
    Go over what the ‘tools’ of management are. It can be so frustrating not to know what to do with a report who isn’t performing as they should. What are the carrots? What are the sticks?
    OP- you were very brave to write this out. But I think anyone who reads Alison’s response will be grateful you did.

    Reply
    1. Ashley*

      And the carrots and sticks are very much company dependent and should be learned at each company. We all know of the organizations where the manager can’t actually fire anyone so the manager needs to know what the “or else” can be for an employee that refuses to do what needs to be done.

      Reply
      1. irene adler*

        Yep! Exactly! Know the ‘boundaries’ your management has provided to managers.
        (yet another reason to provide management training- even to folks with management experience. )

        Reply
      2. Sparkles McFadden*

        Yes…people need to be told in a very clear way what the expectations are for a job. Underperforming employees need to know what they need to do to improve and what the consequences will be if they do not improve. Sadly, most managers do not do this well and other aren’t allowed to go beyond a certain point.

        My boss once assigned a long-time problematic employee to me and said “Let me know if he refuses to do an assignment and I’ll talk to him to try to convince him to do the work.” I said “If he does not do the job, I will document everything and fire him.” My boss said “No, I don’t want him to be fired. I feel sorry for him because this job is all he has. You can’t fire him. I’ve told him I will protect him.” I said “Thanks for being upfront with me. Then he should report to you. If you are telling him he never has to listen to me there is no point in me managing him.” I had far more political capital than my boss so I didn’t have to take this guy on but it was one of the stupidest conversations I have ever had, and this sort of situation exists everywhere.

        Reply
        1. Wry*

          That’s such a bizarre situation, but good for you for standing up for yourself and refusing to manage the problem employee. Your boss made their bed, they should be the one to lie in it!

          Reply
          1. allathian*

            Yeah, absolutely. As bad as the situation was, I’m glad Sparkles didn’t actually have to manage him!

            Reply
    2. Mallory Janis Ian*

      This is why I’m glad that when I had a similar meeting with a report, my boss decided to sit in simply as an observer. When it came to the point where the employee was being defensive and requesting example after example after example of the behavior I was talking to him about, I could tell that he was defensively stonewalling. Since my manager was right there, I was able to turn to him and say, “I don’t know what else to say; do you have anything to add?” And he said, “Okay, [Employee], let me tell you about a time when I, myself, felt personally disrespected by you . . . ” and that got his attention! It was helpful to have my boss observe me as a new supervisor, intervene only when directly asked, and then debrief with me later about how it went.

      Reply
      1. Smithy*

        This is the kind of “management training” that I wish was more common for new supervisors. Essentially, training that is more grounded in how someone actually needs to manage in the moment and offers both support and guidance.

        Reply
    3. TootsNYC*

      I’ve been through some of that management training–it NEVER gets into this kind of nitty-gritty.
      That’s why Alison’s approach to answering these kinds of questions is so useful and powerful.
      And you are right–many of us will be glad the OP wrote in.

      Reply
  5. Tired*

    I know you should never yell, but I admit that I have resorted to doing it twice in my career after everything else failed and it did work.
    Not all organizations give team leads/managers the ability to fire or even put employees on PIPs. Leads & project managers are separate from supervisors in my field.
    I can counsel, I can send it back to be redone, I can schedule meetings with the actual supervisor, but in the end as the project manager I need to either re-do the work myself or let the project fail (which comes back on me). Stupid structure and why I switched back to being an individual contributor in the end.
    Both times I had tried everything suggested & then some, was working unpaid OT picking up the slack, and finally lost it & yelled it FINALLY got through to those individuals that what they were doing was a big freaking problem. I really think there is a minority of people who just don’t take anything else seriously….and I suspect there is considerable overlap with the group that don’t really think firing is on the table even when on a PIP.

    Reply
    1. Cat Lover*

      “I really think there is a minority of people who just don’t take anything else seriously….and I suspect there is considerable overlap with the group that don’t really think firing is on the table even when on a PIP.”

      Yep!

      Reply
    2. TimeTravlR*

      Your comment about not all orgs giving managers the ability to fire reminded me of a firing I did one morning. It was early before just about anyone else was in. Long story short, one of my employees got in my face and I pretty much fired her on the spot. It never occurred to me I should run it by my boss! LOL Fortunately, my boss supported my decision. (It really wasn’t a hard decision to fire her. And I don’t take firing people lightly.)

      Reply
    3. Kella*

      I think it’s worth noting, though, that yelling worked *temporarily*. It did not fix your real problem, which was being burdened with all the responsibility and none of the power, making it literally impossible to ensure the work was done without dramatically impacting your life. That’s likely not a problem that you could’ve solved, regardless.

      Reply
    4. TWW*

      If I yelled at a member of a team I lead, I would be fired on the spot.

      I’m not sure what my last resort would be to get through to an impossible teammate, but (fortunately, I guess) yelling would not be an option.

      Reply
    5. Mental Lentil*

      Not all organizations give team leads/managers the ability to fire or even put employees on PIPs.

      Exactly. Once when I was a retail manager I was not even allowed to discipline employees who were deliberately doing things incorrectly. Their performance affected the work the rest of my team had to do throughout the day and affected my annual bonus, because we failed two inventory audits.

      Guess who’s not a manager at that place any more.

      Reply
    6. AthenaC*

      Sounds like my field is similar to / possibly the same as yours. I don’t think I’ve ever yelled, but I do remember the one time I “lost it” and gave one of my team members a firm dressing down in front of the group. If I could go back in time I would have done it privately, but as I said, I snapped.

      The thing was? It worked. Apparently that was the right thing to do to get him to perform the way I needed.

      Reply
      1. Susana*

        OK, I admit my perspective on this is industry-specific, but the people who could never work with a manager again after being yelled at have clearly never worked in a newsroom! . On the upside, reporters yell at editors, too, and they mostly roll with it…

        Reply
    7. PT*

      I agree with this. I had the joy of supervising teenage boys and you can sit and talk about PIPs and writeups and “Please do this,” and “Kindly do that,” and “If you don’t follow the safety regulations someone could get hurt,” and honestly, the vast majority of the time a good Mom Scolding “PUT THE FRISBEE AWAY RIGHT NOW AND WATCH WHAT YOU ARE DOING THIS IS WORK YOU ALMOST HIT A TODDLER IN THE HEAD” is the only way to get through to them that this is serious and they are actually in trouble.

      It is infuriating, they will eyeroll and laugh their way through a Serious Conversation but scold them and take away the frisbee and suddenly they’re Employee of the Month.

      Reply
    8. allathian*

      This is the reason why I detest matrix organizations. The person who’s at all responsible for an employee’s work output should also have the power to do something about it if the employee fails to perform. At the very least, give project managers the leeway to push back a bit “Project A failed to meet the deadline because Fergus was not doing what was expected of him and wouldn’t implement my corrective feedback.” so that the PM isn’t punished for Fergus’s failure.

      Reply
  6. Keymaster of Gozer*

    I’ve yelled at an employee to shut the eff up (only far less politely than that). To this day I feel really horrible about losing it.

    I did apologise for yelling. It’s not in my nature to scream (swear, yes, but in my industry it’s common to swear) and I made sure I apologised in front of others for shouting at him because I certainly yelled at him in public. There was no ‘I’m sorry for doing that but-‘ or ‘I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings’, just a straight up ‘what I did was entirely inappropriate’.

    (This, though, wasn’t over a performance issue. It was over him voicing an opinion about people like me that was offensive. I still shouldn’t have yelled)

    A year later I actually went on some management training and learnt a great deal about how to manage different situations (the training hired actors to play roles, it was fantastic) without having losing my rag being an answer. I now have a built in ‘I’m taking a 10 minute breath of fresh air’ break if I encounter a situation where I think I’m about to lose my temper again. Angry Keymaster is….not someone I like.

    Reply
      1. James*

        This is why I keep a tin of mints on my desk. I picked the habit up from a coworker, one who has little to do with management. It’s just a mint, you know? But it gives me that second or two that I need to calm down. And if I’m really frustrated I can chew the mint–a small act of aggression, but one that allows me to say “Okay, I let it out, now I need to behave”. And it’s all perfectly normal, so it’s not something that anyone would associate with a ritual to calm myself.

        Reply
    1. SomebodyElse*

      I went to a management seminar thingy for dealing with difficult employees early in my management career. During the roleplay I managed to visibly frustrate the instructor by acting (without embellishment!) like one of my more challenging employees.

      During the class he was able to demonstrate de-escalation and how to end conversations that go nowhere before the manager snaps. He thanked me after the class, because he’s seen it before and the class was filled with new managers who had not encountered this type of employee yet.

      The good news is that challenging employee was having some outside issues that resulted in the behavior + general maturing that happens with time and managed to turn around. He still works for the company and is doing great by all accounts!

      Reply
        1. SomebodyElse*

          I’m not sure which details you are after. But if it’s the de-escalation, it boiled down to not getting into the point by point discussion that is common (and described by this OP). It’s not defending your (the manager’s) position in that the goal is not to get agreement from the employee, the goal is to get compliance. And lastly to recognize when you hit the point of no return and to end the conversation before it goes off the rails.

          It also gave some good tips about how to frame up the ‘Don’t be an asshole’ rule (although it wasn’t referred to as that).

          It’s been a long time since I was in that class, so I don’t remember details. But it was a pretty good class. I recommend all new managers find one of these and take it. You may not have a difficult employee on your first team, but you’ll have one sooner or later!

          Reply
    2. Sparkles McFadden*

      I was really dreading the role playing part of management training, until the instructor assigned me to play the role of the disgruntled employee to see if I could get the other people in the class to flip out and yell. I am very even tempered and cannot imagine yelling at work, so the trainer said “I’m guessing that means you know what can set people off.”

      One woman got so angry that she threw a notepad at me and stormed out of the room screaming. That was weirdly awesome.

      Reply
      1. Cat Tree*

        I’ve been yelled at exactly once at work, but not by a boss or direct report. I would love to role play as that guy and see how others would handle it.

        I also can’t imagine yelling at work even if the other person yelled first. I have occasionally done some heated venting to friends (who don’t work with me) after the fact though. So maybe there is some hypothetical point where I could lose my temper at work, but it would take a lot.

        Reply
      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Oh I loved the bit where one of the actors coached me on how to play a really difficult employee for one of the other managers (this was a several weeks long course done for the firm I worked for. Still love that firm). I became the epitome of the ‘none of you recognise MY genius’ git.

        However, it was the actor who managed to push all my buttons simultaneously (I hate sexism, racism, homophobia etc) who gave me the tip afterwards about how to ‘take your anger for a walk’. He told me he’d had to play roles in the past that required him to say things that were totally abhorrent and he’d go outside and stare at trees for a while to let it ‘pass over me’.

        (He did also assure me that he did in no way believe the horrible things he said during the mock evaluation to get me angry. Professional detachment is a helluva skill)

        Reply
  7. Cafe au Lait*

    While I know it wasn’t professional, and certainly not appropriate, yelling at the pain-in-my-side library patron was quite cathartic. It was also the kick in the butt the patron needed to become (marginally) nicer to the student employees who helped her. For context: my team lead pushed my boss to ban this patron, but my boss didn’t want to make the library resources inaccessible for this person.

    The best part was a former coworker from my very first job at McDonalds was in line behind her. She wrote a very nice note to my managers telling them what she witnessed and that she was impressed with how I handled the situation.

    Reply
    1. Joan Rivers*

      I think it’s never appropriate to yell at a patron, client, or customer. Ever.
      And if it’s a public library, you really need to keep in mind whose tax money pays your salary.

      A usually very meek library worker once yelled at me after I politely said I had returned a book he was trying to charge me for. He screamed “go find it then.” So I went to the stack, located it, and brought the book to him.
      It was hard to have to make a complaint, because he’d never been like that, but he was so out of line! I asked them to help him get the help he needed. Since he was so loud in front of everyone I assume his peers confirmed it.

      Employees have no right to yell at the public any more than managers do to employees, and it’s just self-sabotaging to yell at clients, so enough with the yelling.

      Reply
      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Hmmm. “The customer is always right” and “I pay your salary.” Two classics.

        Reply
          1. IEanon*

            If it were really true, public-facing workers could just quit that interaction on the spot. But, alas, their employer pays their salary, and most employers demand you continue serving the troublesome customer/patron/client in order to get access to your whole paycheck…

            Reply
      2. Metadata minion*

        Given that Cafe au Lait mentions student employees, this is probably a university library. Faculty frequently abuse student employees, and while I agree that yelling isn’t an ideal way to handle it, there is often no other consequence you can enforce for that kind of behavior. When I was at a public service desk, we would keep an eye out for the problem faculty and strategically send students to go do something off-desk so that they would at least not be targeted.

        Even if they did pay my salary, patrons do not get to be abusive to me or my employees.

        Reply
        1. Cafe au Lait*

          Ding ding ding! It was a student abusing a student employee but abuse nonetheless. Like I said above, my team lead tried to get our boss to ban this patron but Boss Lady refused. I didn’t encourage it but the student employees had a nickname for this particular patron and laughed at her often behind her back.

          At my now university library job I have a faculty member I wish I could yell at. Apparently the former head of my library and the faculty member got into a screaming match the year before I was hired. I make it clear to all the student employees that anything beyond “please check this out to me,” and “thank you” for this faculty member they need to grab me.

          Oh, @Joan Rivers, could you pass along your phone number? I’ve been meaning to discuss my raise with you.

          Reply
          1. MizShrew*

            Yeah, “the customer is always right” is bullshit. I cannot even count how many customers I have had who have been blatantly, ridiculously, utterly wrong. And not on subjective things. And the “taxpayer” bit is entitled nonsense.

            Reply
        2. tangerineRose*

          “Even if they did pay my salary, patrons do not get to be abusive to me or my employees.” This!

          Reply
      3. disconnect*

        “I think it’s never appropriate to yell at a patron, client, or customer. Ever.”

        Wholeheartedly agree!.

        “And if it’s a public library, you really need to keep in mind whose tax money pays your salary.”

        Barf.

        Reply
        1. SomebodyElse*

          “It’s not usually appropriate to yell at a patron, client, or customer” but I can think of a few good reasons when it would be appropriate.

          Reply
          1. Felis alwayshungryis*

            As a former librarian, I can think of any number of occasions when I’ve fantasised about yelling at someone.

            Reply
        2. Dr. Doll*

          The best retort from a public employee that I ever heard to that line is, “Oh yes! I’ve been meaning to talk to you about a raise,” by a faculty member in response to a snowflaky student who said “My parents pay your salary and they expect _____.”

          Reply
        3. Sylvan*

          The library employees pay taxes, too. And how much of your tax money do you think goes to the library? Couple bucks? I don’t know what the going rate of putting up with bad behavior is, but it’s probably high.

          Reply
      4. Bee*

        Any individual taxpayer probably contributes no more than five cents of the library worker’s salary, so it’s also worth keeping in mind that they would happily give up that nickel to stop dealing with the people who think they own public workers because they pay taxes. (As does, by the way, that library worker. They contribute as much to their own salary as you do.)

        Reply
      5. Mental Lentil*

        Our local library actually has a volunteer team that scrubs the stacks for returned books that never got checked in. When this happened to me, they told me that the outside drop-off has a scanner that automatically scans books back into the system as they go through the chute, but sometimes it misses. It was an interesting insight.

        Reply
      6. OrigCassandra*

        You aware how commonly library patrons sexually harass library staff? How often it escalates to actual abusive touch? Or stalking?

        (tl;dr: it’s a lot.)

        I think yelling is an absolutely appropriate reaction in situations like that. I don’t CARE if the harasser is paying taxes, or (in academic situations) the faculty star.

        Reply
        1. Anonapots*

          Yeah, all this framing of “never” doesn’t sit right with me. Not that you should be yelling as a regular means of managing or interaction, but I feel like “never” is naïve. I mean, I legitimately can’t think of a situation where I’d yell at someone at work, but I also don’t think the finger waving is helpful.

          Reply
          1. Elliott*

            Yeah, I’m not a big fan of absolutes like “never.” I don’t think yelling is usually the most productive way to handle issues, but there are times when the client is definitely the one who is in the wrong. And I don’t think most librarians *want* to kick people out of the library, but unacceptable behavior (like stalking or viewing porn on library computers) is all too common.

            Reply
      7. JillianNicola*

        I see you’ve never worked retail.
        After 20 years of retail, I can say it’s definitely not a habit one should develop – but in the face of mountains of abuse and horrible behavior from supposed adults that retail workers get, a raised voice to stand your ground and get your message across that the behavior will not be tolerated is absolutely appropriate. Just because you’re a consumer doesn’t mean you’re automatically right (LOLOLOL the customer is *never* right, sorry), or better than, or otherwise afforded some pedestal that means you never get yelled at. Also really not a fan of the “my consumerism/taxes/whatever pays your salary” attitude. Your purchase/taxes/whatever lines the CEO’s pocket, not the workers. It reeks of entitlement, and entitlement is the number one reason customer-facing jobs are the absolute worst. Kindly reframe your thinking on that point please.

        Reply
      8. Yikes!*

        It’s interesting that you describe the library worker as “usually very meek”. His behavior sounds to me like someone who has been taking abuse over and over again until they finally snapped. The kind of customers who say “I pay your salary” tend to be the ones who are abusive to service workers.

        Reply
      9. Academic Anon*

        Sometimes you are in a long line of unreasonable people and get the brunt of the flashback.

        I don’t agree with what the library worker did, but I can feel his frustration. He probably had no way of adjusting any fines or leave the desk to look for the book. Also, checking in books probably is someone else’s responsibility, but he gets all of the blame.

        I work at an academic library with professors doing the “faculty dance” and members of the public or students telling us that they pay our salary.

        The “faculty dance” is where the faculty tell us how important they are and how we need to make their demands our priority. Once I had a colleague who had a professor proclaim loudly that they were a faculty member. My colleague replied that so was he and asked the professor if he would like to kiss his ring. Not professional…but funny.

        Then there are people from the public that think that because we are a state university that they should get free parking (we all pay for parking) and no fines on lost item. “I pay your salary” is a common refrain. I can’t tell you how many times I have refrained from pointing out that with the steep decline of state support, less than 20% of the university’s budget comes from the state. We started as a state university, moved to being a state-supported university and are now a state-encouraged university.

        We will not even get into the student with their snowplow parents, who have never had to deal with anything in their lives and don’t expect to every as long as their parents are willing to call the president of the university over a library fine.

        As someone said before, I long to throw a nickel at the people that “pay my salary” and point out that it is the contribution to the entire state university system and that their contribution to my salary cannot be seen with a microscope.

        And that is not even how badly retail people are treated.

        Reply
      10. PspspspspspsKitty*

        I think your experience is very different to what Cafe au Lait was talking about. No one is advocating to randomly yell at people for perceived slights. If my student employees were being abused/sexually harassed/hit/yelled at, ya think I’m going to maintain a pleasant tone? If I see someone being dangerous, I will raise my voice.

        Reply
      11. Kt_librarylady*

        I MOSTLY agree (like 95%) that you should never yell at a patron. However I have seen and heard of plenty of horrifying things that patrons have done to library staff (like stalking and actual physical assault), and if one of my staff members found themselves in a situation like that where their reaction was to yell at the patron to get them to stop, I wouldn’t care how much of that patron’s money was paying their salary. It sounds extreme, but there is sadly a lot of really horrifying behavior that library employees (similar to retail employees) feel they have to accept.

        That being said, over the years, I have developed a couple of really effective strategies when interacting with problem patrons. I remember less than a year after I started my first management job, I had a phone call with a notorious patron, and I stayed so polite and collected, and yet so firm with the patron about how we wouldn’t be waiving any more fines that staff members actually stopped at the desk to listen when they realized who I was talking to. And after that, when the patron tried to bully a staff member into waiving fines, they offered to have her discuss the problem with the manager (me) and she literally backed away from the desk, shook her head no, and was out of there within 30 seconds. I was so proud of myself.

        Reply
  8. TimeTravlR*

    Instead of yelling, when I get royally pissed like this, my voice becomes extremely well modulated (and my eyebrows end up somewhere in the my hairline). Everyone within eyesight or earshot (have to be close though because I keep my tone really low) know that I have reached the end of the rope and you better get out of my way.

    Reply
    1. Sara without an H*

      I become very crisp and begin.to.enunciate.very.very.clearly. People have told me it’s scary.

      Reply
    2. Forrest*

      My manager once overheard me on the phone to a call centre when I was saying a lot of things like, “[long pause] OK, I know this isn’t *your* fault, but this is really frustrating and that’s quite a lot of money, so is there anyone I can talk to to get it sorted out?” and said she was never going to cross me.

      Reply
  9. Alexis Rosay*

    The best OP may be able to do here is take it as a lesson for themselves for the future. It is not easy for a relationship to move beyond a blowup like this.

    I know I’ve learned from my previous mistakes of sending overly harsh emails how to wait, ask questions, and understand the whole situation before reacting. I’ve realized that I can always escalate my reaction to be more stringent later if need be, but I cannot easily walk it back once I’ve been harsh with someone.

    Reply
  10. SMH*

    My experience has been having an employee yell at me and then come in the next day to ‘Thank you for yelling at me yesterday.’ She was a treat to manage, caused so many problems and blamed everyone else for them. I was so happy when she quit because we wouldn’t back down on changes that she didn’t like and wanted us to undo.

    Reply
  11. Beth Jacobs*

    Lol :) Since I’ve been working from home for the past year, my roommate commented I sound sweeter on work calls than I am with her. It’s true. When I’m talking to colleagues, especially outside my team, I make a conscious effort to sound pleasant. With her, I can be myself since we’ve been friends for years.

    Reply
    1. Cat Tree*

      Ha, I’ve had a lot of experience at work delivering unpleasant news to colleagues and customers. I’ve become pretty good at it and it’s one of the soft skills I consistently get praised for. So I’m now I’m the designated bad news giver in my social life too. When we need to kick someone out of our group, I get to be the one to tell them.

      Reply
  12. HR Exec Popping In*

    This is why I advise managers to address performance issue quickly, before they get to this level of exasperation. Put someone on a PIP when you still believe they can improve and actually want them to. If you get to the point where they are making you this angry it is too late and you actually are doing the employee a disservice as you probably are no longer rooting for them – just waiting for the PIP to end so that you can fire them.

    Reply
    1. Sara without an H*

      This is good advice. And the PIP should have a reasonable timeline on it, probably no more than 30 days at the outside. If the employee can’t, or won’t, make the effort to improve and sustain that improvement, then dragging the matter out won’t benefit anyone.

      Reply
  13. Erin*

    I’m sure you’ve already heard this, but the website at Inc.com has a paywall. We can’t all read your reply there without subscribing.

    Reply
      1. Biziki*

        I use my whole monthly quota of free Inc. articles on AAM content, and I regret nothing. (Well, I mean, I kinda regret not earning enough to pay for a subscription but that’s a life choice I’ve made.)

        Reply
  14. Goldenrod*

    I did the opposite thing once – I yelled at my manager. She was a terrible manager, and I had lots of good reasons for it…but it forever changed things between us. Even though I went back and apologized, I was forever a “problem employee” in her mind after that, and she was always out to get me, and looking for issues that weren’t there. I eventually left the job.

    As someone who is a bit of a hothead, I can relate. It’s hard to recover from yelling, but it’s also human! I think a heartfelt apology should be enough to set the slate clean, in the case of OP’s situation. People make mistakes. You move on. You don’t have to hold it against someone forever.

    Reply
    1. Andy*

      It is interesting. I had actually good experience with raising voice at manager. But, I was not directly under her and she could not hurt me beyond my back much (I had better reputation then her). She was badmounting everyone anyway.

      I did it, because she was abusive, if you shown weakness she used it to maximum. Could not handle anything except perfect agreement without agresivity. She got along only with submissive people. But, if you stood your ground, shown strength and dominance, she got scared. She backed off and avoided you.

      It was all about showing dominance and winning was right move. But it was also toxic and one is better off elsewhere.

      Reply
      1. Goldenrod*

        “But, if you stood your ground, shown strength and dominance, she got scared. She backed off and avoided you.”

        Yes, I have known this type of boss too! You are so right, with certain bullies, you really do need to stand up to them or they will label you as weak and target you. It’s a good idea to push back on bosses like that.

        Reply
      2. Marillenbaum*

        The type of person where you’re either at their knees or at their throat. I hate those.

        Reply
    2. allathian*

      Maybe you don’t have to hold yelling against someone forever, but many people do and they’re entitled to it.

      I yelled at my former boss once, and in an at-will environment I fully expect I would’ve been fired for insubordination. I did apologize for it and contacted our EAP for a few sessions with an occupational therapist. I was completely out of line and I apologized profusely, but our professional relationship was never the same. I suspect that my appalling behavior was the last straw that convinced her to get out of management altogether, and I’m definitely not proud of that.

      There were issues with her as a manager. My particular issue with her was that she wanted to be friends with her reports, and I didn’t have the sense to keep professional boundaries with her. I later realized that she’d behaved more like a friend than a manager with me and shared things with me about her adult kids and their relationship troubles (and I didn’t have the sense to shut that down either), and that meant that when she had to give me some unwelcome corrective feedback, I didn’t respect her as my manager and things escalated from there.

      I guess I’m just glad that she’s retiring soon, and I’ll never have to see her again.

      That episode taught me a lot of hard lessons, and I’ll definitely be more careful in future with not allowing a friendship to grow with a manager. I don’t like being yelled at and I definitely don’t like yelling, so I’ll just have to make sure that things don’t get to that point anymore.

      Reply
  15. DKMA*

    One thing I would add here. LW sounds like they feel guilty about yelling in this scenario. They absolutely should not have yelled, and should recognize and act on it having been an inappropriate response. But guilt can be a powerful emotion, don’t let your dissatisfaction with your behavior get in the way of appropriately addressing the problems that led to you yelling.

    This isn’t a scenario where two wrongs make a right. You both have work to do to improve and your need to improve doesn’t absolve his.

    Reply
    1. L*

      This. You yell when there is a fire, imminent danger, or outright reasonable fear for safety. Raise your voice about absenteeism or missed deadlines, no. You gently show that person the door. Obviously it’s not a good fit, but you can support them in their job search. Truly give a recommendation if they apply for a job you’re confident is in their scope. There are very kind ways to be fired, and yelling is not it.

      Reply
  16. Thisishalloween*

    Depending on how public/private the yelling I was, I would probably send an email other employees apologizing for my behavior, acknowledging it was out of line etc. (Skipping over the other employee’s behavior entirely)

    Reply
  17. Mrs. Hawiggins*

    I’ve been yelled at over the phone by a manager – curse words and all, and let me tell you how I managed NOT to pack boxes before said manager arrived (they were in the car at the car wash) I’ll never know. I never got an apology, continued to do my job well and kept it strictly professional as far as conversation went from then on out. All I ever got was a, “Is something wrong or going on in your personal life, you’ve changed.” Well sorry I don’t feel like adding the “how are you” after the “good morning” part, because I actually do know how you are.
    Said manager was later fired for other reasons, one being not being able to get along with anyone and management thanked me for my patience and hard work, and even my loyalty. I’m lucky in that the environment at my job more than makes up for one jerk.

    If you yell we as your employees will remember, and work to find someone who doesn’t. I learned from the experience, sure, but I remember that car wash conversation word for word. I put tick marks everytime they used the one that starts with F.

    Reply
    1. allathian*

      Ouch, I’m sorry you had to deal with that. How long was it between the yelling at you and the firing? At least you didn’t say “you yell at me once and I’m going to avoid you as much as I can while still getting my work done” although I guess you might’ve thought that at some point…

      Reply
  18. MCMonkeybean*

    I have never been a manager so I can’t speak to a lot of that specifically, but just as far as the point about not wanting an apology to muddle the waters–I totally get that. He was having major issues and you need him to take those seriously and you worry that taking responsibility for your own behavior may minimize the problems with his.

    It’s a very different scenario, but things have been extremely stressful at my job and I was on a call with my boss discussing some of the pain points and I ended up crying a little bit from how stressed and overworked I was. It was embarrassing and I hated it, even though I know she agrees with a lot of what I was saying. Anyway I ended up emailing her later basically saying “I am sorry for falling apart a bit in our meeting earlier, I stand by my frustrations but I wish I had handled it differently.”

    So for just that part of the concern I think there is room to say something like “I want to apologize for losing my cool and yelling in our meeting earlier. These issues are serious concerns but there is no reason to speak like that at the office and I don’t want my poor tone to overshadow the situation. I will make sure to keep collected in the future and speak to you with respect but I really do need you to make progress in areas X, Y and Z.” or something like that.

    Reply
    1. Goldenrod*

      I think it’s okay to be human at work. I have occasionally cried. Later, you hate that you did it, but it’s normal.

      Once I cried in front of a manager at work and was so embarrassed. Later she gave me a little gift and said, “It’s okay to have a human moment at work.” Her kindness and understanding meant so much.

      Reply
  19. Laure*

    Chantel, it really depends if we’re talking about “raising your voice” or “yelling”. I’ve had bad days and I have been angry and unpleasant, sometimes cutting with people, I have shown exasperation… Too often, and sometimes without a valid reason. I was in the wrong.

    People have forgiven me… Which makes me very quick to forgive anyone for the same offences!
    But real “yelling”… Actual shouting… If there is not a very strong reason, like, I don’t know, putting a child in danger…. I don’t think I could look at the yeller the same way again.

    Reply
    1. L*

      This. You yell when there is a fire, imminent danger, or outright reasonable fear for safety. Raise your voice about absenteeism or missed deadlines, no. You gently show that person the door. Obviously it’s not a good fit, but you can support them in their job search. Truly give a recommendation if they apply for a job you’re confident is in their scope. There are very kind ways to be fired, and yelling is not it.

      Reply
  20. ElleKay*

    Follow up question: If your boss yells at you, and you start job-hunting, is that a reason you can give at the “Why are you looking to leave your current job?” question in an interview?

    Reply
    1. DKMA*

      “I’m looking for a more collaborative culture” is the interview way of saying this. You want the interview to be about positive things you bring to the table, and why you are a good fit for the new environment, talking about toxic current settings doesn’t advance those goals.

      Reply
      1. DKMA*

        Edit to add: It is also be about learning about the new environment to ensure you are a good fit, but “want to work somewhere that I don’t get screamed at” is so table stakes you don’t gain anything there.

        Reply
    2. Goldenrod*

      You can’t say that because it would reflect badly on you…since they don’t know you, and it might look like you are a troublemaker…since they don’t have any way of knowing the truth.

      Annoying, really. But you can’t.

      Reply
  21. Rachele Schindler*

    My previous boss did just this, only in front of the rest of the staff that I help manage. It was very public, AND demeaning. He also swore at me. He never had the common decency to apologize to me or even address it. I took it like a champ because I knew it made him look weak. I went back to my desk and continued working, it clearly bothered the rest of the staff. I have never been spoken to in my life that way personally OR professionally. Instead of handling like an adult, he ignored me all week, excluded me from projects, etc. It was me who had to reach out to him to ask what was going on. He didn’t even have enough courage to fire me.

    He lost control and was too childish to even apologize. I’m so glad I don’t work in that kind of toxic environment anymore. I will never allow anyone to treat me that way again.

    Reply
  22. Panhandlerann*

    I was yelled at by a “supervisor” once. It was in a department meeting. I was faculty in a university English department. The chair said that a full-time instructor (non-tenure-track, one-year contracts) had, when she’d asked, said he was ok with his teaching load being increased by one course per term, with no change in pay. I said (in a very matter-of-fact tone), “What else was he supposed to say?” and she viciously, viciously yelled at me, in front of everyone in my department. I was sitting across the table from the chair, and after the meeting, one of my colleagues told me that from the tone in the chair’s voice, she (my colleague) had half expected her to lunge at me and grab me by the throat next. It was just awful. But I don’t regret one bit what I said: she should not have acted like that instructor’s having said he was ok with such a change was any evidence that he really was ok with it. Obviously he’d feel he had to agree to it, or else lose his job altogether. I assume the yelling came from her recognition deep down inside that that was the case.

    Reply
    1. Jean (just Jean)*

      Good for you for speaking truth to power!
      It’s not right to double the work but not the wages. Not for non-tenure-track instructors, or for anyone else, anywhere else.

      Reply
      1. Panhandlerann*

        It didn’t double his work; it was, instead, a 20% increase. But that’s still a big increase–and still not right at all.

        Reply
  23. Admiral Adama*

    I think the LW should seriously consider whether or not s/he should continue in a management position. I’m glad they acknowledge the misstep, but their behavior clearly demonstrates they shouldn’t be in a position managing others, at least not until they can be 100% sure they won’t lose control like this again.

    I say this as someone who worked for an incredibly toxic boss who yelled at me frequently. It was awful.

    Reply
      1. Admiral Adama*

        You’re entitled to your opinion. But this person should be required to take management training at the very least. When you are in a position of power over others, there is absolutely no excuse for this kind of behavior.

        Reply
        1. Cat Lover*

          I’m sorry that you had a boss that yelled frequently, but one of Alison’s site rules is to take the LW at their word. If this is the first time LW lost their cool then I don’t think the conclusion is that they should “seriously consider whether they should be in a management position”. Management training is a great idea!

          We also don’t know how much power LW has. Do they have the ability to put the employee on a PIP? To fire them? Or have they had to put up with this behavior and just snapped?

          Reply
  24. Anonapots*

    A one time slip is human. If it’s ongoing, it’s an issue, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. I think suggesting they rethink their entire career trajectory over a moment of frustration they didn’t handle well is an overreaction.

    Reply
  25. PspspspspspsKitty*

    I’ve done the opposite where I yelled at a supervisor (not mine) who was lying about something that really hurt our product process and tried to convince my supervisor it was me who caused it. It was a dysfunctional place. My supervisor knew she was lying, and instead of sticking up for the process, sided with her while trying to say she believed me off the books. I left on to a better company. I say this, not as an excuse for yelling, but to point out that more people have yelled than what you realize. I’m not even a hothead. It’s not one of those experiences I would ever talk about in an interview. I did apologize but she never did. I found a better company and got therapy. She ended up leaving but not without hurting multiple people.

    Which gets me to the main point: If your work place is set up in a way where you can’t handle difficult employees and have to resort to yelling, it’s time to look for a new job. My workplace was known for keeping horrible employees. If HR doesn’t support you in documenting and having written and verbal discussions, move on.

    Reply
  26. TheAG*

    I think it’s important too, to realize as a manager, that some people are beyond saving. I’ve had some people who I’d have liked to yell at, along the lines of “if you do not do these simple things that I am telling you, WILL save your job” but could not yell (because I don’t). It might have been a kindness, really to yell these things at these people.
    Instead, I started a 40 page Word document for corporate legal. All pages saying “I told her to do this. She did this instead”. Very painful. Yelling would have been easier for both of us I’m thinking.

    Reply

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