It seems obvious that yelling in the workplace is unprofessional, regardless of who you are or what position you hold. And yet, it's not an uncommon occurrence: a 2010 study found that 35 percent of American workers have experienced bullying at work — and that 72 percent of those bullied workers were being tormented by their bosses. Few things can make you dread starting another business day quite as much as knowing you're going to be working for someone who flies off the handle at random times. And yet, as much as you may logically understand that your hot-tempered boss is the real problem, not you, it's still really hard to combat the anxiety and stress that an angry boss can bring into you life. So, what's the best way to handle a boss who yells?
If there's someone in Human Resources or another authority figure at work who you trust, it may not hurt to ask for their advice. However, be very aware of your company and departmental dynamics before you speak up. A 2012 study found that 71 percent of bullied employees spoke to the perpetrator's boss — but this tactic was only effective at ending the yelling a mere 3.3 percent of the time. The same study reported that 43 percent of employees filed a formal complaint with HR, a tactic which had an effectiveness rate of 4.7 percent — although, on this point, I think it's worth noting that a formal complaint is different from having a confidential chat with a trusted HR rep and asking for some suggestions, a tactic that might yield useful advice.
It's never easy to deal with a boss who is under the mistaken impression that yelling is the most effective form of communication — but here are five tactics for coping until you can find a new gig (with a more even-tempered boss):
1. Remind Yourself It Reflects Badly On Your Boss — Not You
Steven P. Cohen, President of The Negotiating Skills Company told Fortune: "Remind yourself that losing control and shouting at people detracts from [the boss's] professional credibility, not yours.” This tactic is easier said than done, of course — but it can be effective. Here's a good way of looking at it: when your boss yells at you in front of coworkers, your knee-jerk reaction is probably humiliation and a fear that everyone in the room now thinks you're incompetent. But when you see your manager yell at a colleague, what's your first thought? You probably think your boss looks unprofessional and that they should be embarrassed by their own behavior. In my experience, when a manager has a habit of yelling, word gets around pretty quickly and most people in the room are going to recognize that your boss's behavior is inappropriate and it's not a reflection of your abilities and intelligence.
2. Remember That You Have No Idea What's Going On In Their Personal Life
This is in no way an excuse for a boss who constantly yells — it's just another reminder that you're not the problem. If a person is going through a rough time in their personal life and they can't keep that out of the office, then he or she shouldn't be a manager. You're not a therapist and it's not up to you to try and figure out what your boss may be going through.
But remind yourself that when your manager comes to work stressed out and angry for whatever reason, they may be more likely to lash out at you (depending on what sort of person they are, of course). It has nothing to do with you, and it's a reflection of their inability to behave in a professional manner when they're under personal stress, not a reflection of you or your work.
3. Stay Calm And State That You Understand Their Point
It's totally understandable to freeze up or feel panicked and defensive when you're being yelled at. Cohen suggests doing your best to listen to your boss's words, then repeating them back using your own phrasing. Letting your boss know that you understand their point may calm them down. Should you have to do this? Absolutely not. But in the moment, this tactic may help end their tirade sooner rather than later — so if you feel like doing this to make your own experience easier, give it a try.
4. Identify Your Boss's Triggers
Lynn Taylor, workplace expert and author, and Andy Teach, author of From Graduation to Corporation, suggested to Forbes that folks with anger-prone bosses identify warning signs that your boss is likely to yell soon. For example, does your boss frequently leave meetings with his or her own manager in a bad mood? Do they immediately become a ticking time bomb when an update shows up that indicates your department's bottom line is suffering? If you see any of these red flags, do whatever is in your control to prevent a situation where you or a coworker will get yelled at.
If you can postpone a meeting, do so. If you don't usually take a lunch break, it's probably a good day to get outside for some fresh air and a reprieve from the tension. Again, you shouldn't have to do any of these things — but if they work as forms of self-preservation for you, there's no shame in doing them.
5. Know Your Limits — Because Sometimes, Enough Is Enough
If your boss has the occasional bad day and yells at you, you may decide it's still worth it to stay in your job — especially if you enjoy the content of your work and think you can grow within your department or company. But if the yelling is constant occurrence and it's having a negative impact on your health and personal life, it's time to explore other options. Targets of workplace bullying report experiencing symptoms such as anxiety, sleep disturbances, and poor concentration. Do you wake up every morning filled with dread because you know some sort of verbal abuse is awaiting you? That's not normal and it's not OK.
Always remember that you deserve to be treated with respect. If you work at a big company and you like your industry, check the internal job board for open positions. If you just want to get out of the building and have a clean slate somewhere new, start networking with friends, family, and your college's alumni board.
It's impossible to learn and grow to your full potential when you're living in fear. But the good news is there are plenty of great bosses out there who will be happy to have you on their team. They'll provide you with constructive criticism rather than break you down by shouting. Once you get away from your bully boss, you'll meet many managers who are eager to be mentors to their employees. And as for the bosses who prefer to bully and shout... well, they've provided you with a top-notch example of how not to behave when you have your own staff someday.