My Boss Screams at Me – Is That OK?

Short answer…NO!

Now for the longer answer. First, you have to choose whether or not you can live with this behavior. While you’d think a boss would feel bad about this and want to change (and of course some do and can), for other bosses this is just their SOP (standard operating procedure.) I’ve known bosses who say “Look. That’s who I am. Get over it.” And I’ve also known a few who think of it as a method of motivating and even toughening employees.

Fear certainly can motivate people – especially in the short term – but in the long run it’s not an effective management technique . The staff begins to withhold more and more creativity and settle into that gray place where they just do the work and hope not to be screamed at. Even if the boss mixes it with praise and rewards, in the end, people still prefer to avoid the pain.

So what are your choices? If this is really unsettling for you and you find yourself feeling stressed out way too often – or you simply prefer not to be in this kind of environment – you may have no choice but to polish up that resume and move on.

But what if you need to stay – or want to?

While there may be some situations where the behavior is part of an over-all pattern of abuse or discrimination, unless company policy explicitly forbids screaming at employees (don’t count on it) your boss can pretty much get away with it.

So what are your options?

First and foremost, do not be afraid to at least sit down with your boss and let him know gently and respectfully that you don’t enjoy being yelled at and would prefer if he could talk to you at another time when he’s calmer. I know this is hard – especially with a scary boss- but it happened to me once.

I was in charge of a huge project and we were under tight deadline. We were in a large meeting discussing the design of a major component of the project. To my surprise, my boss was trying to change the design right there in the meeting. I tried to move it back in the direction we’d all agreed upon. Next thing I knew, I was being yelled at by a master yeller who wanted to make sure the design went his way – even though he had never given me any advance notice this attack was coming. He decided right there in that meeting to undo what we’d been working on and he didn’t want me to get in the way. “I want you to shut up!” he screamed at me. And I was leading the meeting!

Understandably I was upset by his tactics and the screaming. After he had cooled off (me too), I met with him privately and told him calmly and respectfully that I do not want to be screamed at again – especially in public as was his SOP with everyone. And even though my boss terrified people in our department – as well as in the rest of the company – he listened, looked sheepish, and never again yelled at me. Our working relationship actually improved after that.

Oh…I still wound up leaving the job after the project was done since I don’t enjoy that kind of atmosphere – even if I’m spared the attacks. But for the time I was there, at least things were better for me. Interestingly enough, despite the public knowledge of my success, not one other person even tried to sit down with him and address the issue as I had done. Intimidation is a powerful tool for controlling behavior – but not a tool that keeps the workplace humming.

What else can you do if your boss is a Screaming Mimi – or Screaming Michael? If it’s a performance issue, you can try to figure out what sets her/him off and specifically ask your boss how you can improve. It’s important to let him know you want to do well and will try your best. And again, it helps just to let him know that you really would like to find a way for the two of you to work together without the yelling. It won’t stop an uncontrollable behavior, but it adds awareness and might help him learn to back off a bit. Remember…this stuff takes time. You could even ask him if there is something you could do – some signal or word – that would help him when he feels like yelling. You’d be surprised how many bosses might at least be open to talking about all this.

And yes…I know there are those who aren’t open at all, since the screaming is about a controlling personality who may not appreciate any challenge. But considering how all this is affecting you – and maybe eventually your health – it’s sure worth a shot.

If others would like to join you, a few of you (not too many) might want to ask your boss for a meeting to discuss something. Then, again gently, address the screaming as directly as possible – with everyone contributing. Let your boss know that you understand why he might need to blow his stack sometimes and ask him how you can work together to try to bring down the level a bit.

If it’s really awful and there is someone higher up you can talk to without it looking like you are trying to go against your boss, maybe they can help. I know of one situation where someone’s boss was doing something that made her uncomfortable and so she spoke to her boss’ boss in confidence asking him to address it as a group concern, which he did. Her boss made an effort to change what he’d been doing. Of course, you have to be careful with this if you have a boss who will take it out on you.

You may have noticed I haven’t mentioned HR. If you know someone in HR you trust, asking their advice might be a good idea. But in many situations, if the boss is liked by the company, HR may not be your best ally and may even leak your concerns directly to the boss. It would be better to have gone to him first. But if the behavior is threatening or intolerable, and your boss won’t even listen to your concerns, then HR may be worth trying. In a large enough company, they could even help you look for a transfer.

But, if you’ve tried your best and your boss still needs to erupt like Vesuvius, then it’s important to look at what else you can do. Since you basically can’t change a person’s basic behavior unless the person is willing to participate in the change, you might need to think about how you handle the screaming when it happens. This is not a time to try to talk or argue – that just feeds the anger. Just listen. It’s like a fit. Listen respectfully, let the yelling pass and get away as soon as possible. Save any talking for calmer times.

Of course, there are some people who scream as a way of communicating and I guess a lot rests in how we react. A friend of mine worked in an auto repair shop where the boss was an energetic Italian man who yelled a lot. I asked my friend how she could stand it. She just smiled and said “It’s just like my Italian family at home. He’s not really mad at me. It’s just how he talks.” For her, it was ok.

Still, no one should have to put up with a boss who screams all the time. But if for whatever reason you have to stay where you are and you have one of those bosses who make a habit of yelling at everyone, your best choices are to try to work it out with your boss, to stay out of his attack site as much as possible, and to learn as best as possible to let it go rather than taking it personally. Even if you made a mistake, you don’t deserve to be yelled at. In this case, it’s him, not you.

 

About the author…

Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker. She can also be found on her new blog, and on Google+.

Comments

  1. It seems like this article only caters to screaming bosses. Giving them chances, negotiating what you can do for them to make it better. BS. If my boss screamed at me, it would be a lawsuit, period! No one should ever be screamed at like that.

    • I need help, my boss screams at me all the time. Now I can’t sleep at night and dread going to work. The last occurrence happened 5/31/13. A patient called requesting to speak with him, so I transferred the call to him. He came out a few seconds later screaming and yelling at me. So I told him she had requested to speak with him. I got up and moved closer to him and told him I didn’t appreciate him screaming at me the way he did. He got upset and told me to clock out and go home, told him I was not going home. Then he got irate and started screaming some more’ I said leave my office, I said clock out and go home.
      I just found out he paid me for 4hours even though I got to work 8.32 am and left at 1 pm.
      Is that legall?

      • cazorla says:

        hi cutie

        no its not legal, on one has the right to scream at anyone for whatever the reason is , especially for work related. i would notify the HR or the people more senior than him. it seems that he is a doctor and you are the receptionist? u live in uk? you should call the national Acas helpline they will advice you

      • Susan P. Joyce says:

        Hi Cutie,

        I’m not an attorney so I’m not sure of the legal implications of the situation. What is legal in one location may not be legal in another.

        This sounds like either a personality conflict between you and your boss, or he’s a nut case. I highly recommend that you look for another job elsewhere. Being screamed at is very hard to take. You do a good job standing up for yourself, but it is still obviously taking a toll on you. Not worth it.

        Find a boss who doesn’t scream.

        Good luck with your job search!
        Susan

      • I have issues with my boss at work, and now he’s inviting me to twoo and claiming to be single.

        • Susan P. Joyce says:

          Hi Cutie,

          You could tell him that you don’t think it’s a good idea to date someone you work for, and you would rather not put a good working relationship and a job you like at risk by dating him.

          I think looking for another job might be the best thing for you to do if this guy is abusing you verbally and now asking you out. Don’t quit first, if you can help it, but getting out of this situation by finding a different job sounds like the best idea.

          Good luck!
          Susan

  2. JOANNE NEVILLE says:

    NO WAY IN HELL IS THIS ACCEPTABLE…

    You have two options:
    1. Approaching him and give him a verbal warning, that his behaviour is affecting your health. If he continues….onto Option 2.
    2. Take legal action.

    You will need to Google Bullying in the workplace – your location (ie. Canada etc…..)

    You do have options and you should never ever let anyone make you feel like that, you are worth more than that and you need to stand up for your rights as a human.

    Good luck and don’t give up.

  3. Againstbullying says:

    My boss told me it was because she was PMSing that she screamed at me.. This was unacceptable so I had a meeting with her. She still screams at me-

  4. My boss (the owner) didn’t like my opinion on something we’ve been discussing and it came up again today in a meeting… so I asked him if we could just agree to disagree about it… oh no… oh hell no… he wanted to keep talking about it… and he was RIGHT.. I was WRONG… and then he stood up at the table. and slammed his pointed finger down on the table and told me to shut the fuck up and listen to him. I flipped… I got right back up in his face and told him he wasn’t going to talk to me like this anymore.. I started to gather my stuff and said I was leaving and he told me go ahead and get the fuck out of here… if you don’t want your job. He knows I need my job. of course i need my job you fucking asshole. I’m a woman. he’s a man… I thought he was going to hit me. His brother (business partner) and another employee witnessed it. They were trying to get us to calm down. the other employee stood up and was trying to get my boss to back off. he just kept screaming at me. He’s been on edge for the past month or so and we’ve had a few other times when it’s gotten heated for no reason.. and he later apologizes to me … what the hell. I LOVE my job, really love it. I was in an abusive romantic relationship and got away from that and swore that I would NEVER let another person treat me that way and I’ve allowed him to do so. What should I do? I’m looking for another job but I make decent money and it’s not very easy to find a good paying job these days, especially one that you love. I’m 53 years old. I’m too old for this shit. Why is he so mean to me? We’ve always gotten along really well. I’ve worked for him for 4 years and I”ve been like his right hand woman. I don’t understand what is going on. I’m so frustrated and angry and hurt. I don’t even want to go back to work now.

    • Susan P. Joyce says:

      Wow, Karen, tough spot!

      I think you need to go in to work tomorrow to make it clear that you want to keep the job. If you need to find another job, it’s much better to do that while you are still employed!

      This treatment is obviously unacceptable. I’m not sure it’s illegal, but definitely a bad working situation that does sound like bullying or worse.

      It feels to me like there could be any of 3 things going on:

      1. He’s got something else going on in his life or in the business, and, as a result, he has a very short fuse right now.

      OR

      2. He might be right, and you might be wrong.
      Is there a possibility that new things or changes are being proposed that really are a necessity, perhaps beyond your understanding of the reasons? Is there ANY possibility that he is right and that you are just not aware of all the possibilities and ramifications?

      OR

      3. He’s just not a good person to work for. He’s a bully, and he’s not going to change.
      Simply because someone is smart enough to start a good business or has inherited it doesn’t mean they are good at management. If turnover is high in the business (no other employees who have stayed as long – or longer – than you have), this might be the answer.

      I don’t know if you can talk with him or his brother about the situation. You know them much better than I do. But it might be worth trying.

      Perhaps explain it like this: You love the job, and you really want to stay (not a threat to leave!). But your commitment to him and to the organization plus your experience in the business stop you from being a “yes man” when you have a different opinion. You thought he valued that in the past. Ask him (or his brother) if he wants you to simply agree to all of his ideas because he’s the boss.

      Be prepared to be told that they want you to simply follow orders. Then, do your best to do that, perhaps while you look for another place to work where you can use your brain. Many businesses will value that commitment!

      Good luck with this situation!
      Susan

  5. JoAnna Zachman says:

    Hi,
    I’ve had similar situations at work. What I’ve done is took a step away from the situation to calm down
    Myself. His anger is his to deal with. but to take care of yourself, You need to Calm yourself.
    Although it feels personal, it really is not about you. You’re just in his sights at this moment.

    So,
    Step away from the situation to get clarity. That means don’t go out of your way to be in this persons prescence. And if you do have to see this person. Be very calm, don’t exhibit any emotion other than that of a cool professional.
    I say this because this is how you will be taking care of yourself throughout your work life

    Regardless of how this nut case acts, regardless of how Stressed his life has been.
    You can not react, you can not take it personally and you can

    MANAGE THE SITUATION.

    I am telling you this because 10 years ago I was in almost the exact situation with a crazy lunatic and
    I thought it was about me, I lost sleep, I was really frustrated and angry, and I went in search of a lawyer to teach this employer a huge lesson.

    Well imagine my surprise when the EEOC told me I did not have a case,
    I then went to the most powerfull Law office in my state and after I went through the whole story of why I wanted to Sue this company for Hostile Work enviroment.
    They listened and told me I did not have a case.
    Then, an incredible thing happened,
    One of the older female attorney’s sat me down.
    And she said,
    MANAGE THE SITUATION.
    She went on to tell me there would be lots of nut case people in my work life, and it really is up to me to do the BEST thing for my self when these bosses come into my life. and she also said that sooner or later everyone meets the Boss from Hell.
    She advised,
    If I have another job lined up, if I have reserve money in the bank then by all means leave.
    But if leaving would put ME in Hardship.
    Then that would not be the Best thing for me.
    and I did’nt quit, but I did outlast this boss, and some of the bosses that took his place were great, some were awful and actually one was so angry that he had a heart attact and was hauled out by the fire department never to return. ( these were all they’re issues and how they managed themselves)
    not about me.
    I am still at this job, I have continually earned more money and ultimately I outlasted them all.
    Which for me is a win.

  6. Record the screaming with your smartphone and file a complaint with the state AND apply for other jobs and when they ask why you’re looking for something else, play the soundclip.

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