3 Tips for Coping with a Yelling Boss

On the February 17th episode of the CBS show Undercover Boss, Rick Silva, CEO of Ralley’s/Checkers blew his cover in the middle of the episode to confront an unruly manager for yelling at his employees. The surprising, yet admirable action by Silva serves as a potent reminder of a common problem far too many of us face everyday: the yelling boss.

Nobody ever wants to be on the receiving end of someone who is yelling, particularly when it’s your boss. Being yelled at is just no fun and it usually ends up making the problem worse. Abusive behaviors like yelling can also create anxiety. According to research from the International Journal of Stress Management, employees of abusive bosses are more likely to suffer higher levels of stress and anxiety than their peers.

The mind is a powerful thing. When we are repeatedly barraged with negative assaults it ultimately takes a toll on us both mentally and physically, which can ultimately lead to serious health problems. In other words, when bosses yell, employees get sick, at least some of the time.

So, why do bosses yell? The root of the problem seems to be managers who just aren’t ready to manage. A 2011 Career Builder survey found that 26% of managers surveyed admitted not being ready to take on management responsibility and 58% didn’t receive any kind of management training. The fact is we tend to promote people because they are good at what they do and not because they have any kind of management or leadership talent. Essentially, we take our star players, make them coaches, and expect them to channel their talents through those around them.

To make matters worse, we rarely provide these new managers with any kind of real training and support, thus setting them up for failure. So, it’s only natural that when new bosses aren’t able to inspire action and get results, they become frustrated and fall back on using (and often abusing) positional power. This means harsh directives and raised voices. In other words, they yell.

The challenge is how to best deal with the “yelling boss” without getting in trouble. A few tips to consider when dealing with that insufferable yelling boss:

Never Take it Personally: More often than not the yelling boss doesn’t intend their rants to be taken personally. They are likely reacting out of frustration and may not even be aware of how destructive their behavior is or how negatively it may come across to others. Even in those cases where the yelling boss does get personal, the best thing to do is focus on the facts. Remember, you have the ability to create your own reality and it’s up to you to decide whether someone else’s negative attitude takes you down or not. Life is too short to allow the immaturity of others to determine how you feel!

Don’t Take the Bait: Never match the tenor of the yelling boss as this will only result in an unhealthy escalation of emotion. Whenever you match the tone of the yelling boss, you lose because they have effectively lured you into the trap. When you start shouting back you give up any hope of a level playing field because you are now playing by their rules. The best thing you can do is stay calm, refrain from engaging, and just let them burn themselves out!

Be Mindful of Your Purpose: If the yelling boss can’t actually answer the question of “what do you want me to do?” they aren’t managing, they are just venting frustration. In this case, wait until the dust settles before seeking out any resolution. During this time be sure to take a moment, catch your breath, and reflect on the purpose of the upcoming conversation. A common mistake is to go in and lash out as retribution or scold your boss with facts and figures proving you right. This isn’t a meaningful purpose. Be forward thinking. Before you approach your boss, be sure to have some ideas on what you can do to make-up for whatever real or imagined problem that caused the situation and be ready with positive steps for moving forward.

Make no mistake, it’s never easy to be in charge, yet it’s always easy to yell. If you find yourself the victim of a yelling boss, do your best to not take it personally, be sure to avoid getting drawn in, and find a way to ask for positive direction in moving forward.

-Dr. Woody

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photo by: Brandon Heyer

About Michael "Dr. Woody" Woodward

Michael “Dr. Woody” Woodward, PhD is a CEC certified executive coach trained in organizational psychology and is author of The You Plan, a book dedicated to careers in the New Economy. Dr. Woody is founder of the consulting firm Human Capital Integrated (HCI), a firm focused on management and leadership development. Dr. Woody has appeared as a guest expert on Bravo Network’s Tabatha’s Salon Takeover and has appeared on Live w/ Regis & Kelly, Fox & Friends, Dr. Steve, Fox News, CNN International, Daytime, and The Better Show, among others. Dr. Woody appears every Tuesday with Jamie Colby on FoxNews.com Live to talk about workplace issues. Prior to founding HCI, Dr. Woody served as a management/HR consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting (PwC) and as a project manager for IBM Business Consulting Services. Dr. Woody also serves on the advisory board and as a faculty instructor for the Florida International University Center for Leadership. Dr. Woody has a bachelor's in psychology from the University of Miami, a master's in organizational psychology from Springfield College, and a PhD in organizational psychology from Florida International University.