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, Career Nook and on Google+.