If you ended up here because your boss yelled at you, you know this:
A yelling boss can be a highly distressful experience.
Especially if it’s a public yelling.
Between us, let’s be frank here: it’s demeaning and humiliating.
It can be highly embarrassing, emasculating, and it will often destroy your social status.
But don’t worry.
By the end of this post, you will learn how to put your yelling boss back to his place.
- What Happens When a Boss Shouts At You
- Boss Yelled At Me: Case Study
- Video Example
What Happens When a Boss Shouts At You
From a psychological point of view, it’s simple:
You enter into the freeze, flight or fight mode.
In lay terms, that means our rational brain leaves us and we can’t think straight.
Since our bosses can fire us, that means “fight” is rarely the preferred option.
So 99% of people revert to one of the following behaviors:
- Say nothing, listening with our head down
- Meekly excuse ourselves
See an example of meek excuses from the movie “Goodfellas”:
In dangerous situations, it’s OK to lose face and save your skin. But not always. And since you don’t work for the mafia, learn to demand some proper behavior.
This post will not teach how to demand proper behavior and how to stand up for yourself.
#1. Internalize Aggression Is NEVER OK
As usual, mindsets come first.
You have to believe it in your core that:
- You are worthy, no matter where you stand in the silly org chart
- It’s NEVER ok for someone disrespects you
That includes when you make a mistake, because:
#2. Internalize Mistakes Are OK
We all make mistakes.
And whenever we commit a mistake, it doesn’t mean we become sub-humans who can be abused.
If your boss is yelling at you, yes, you probably made a mistake.
And you will learn from it. But you need to internalize that mistakes and abusive reaction to mistakes are not connected.
Mistakes are natural and fair game, verbal aggression is not.
Ignorance does not justify aggression.
Never allow anyone to link mistakes to yelling (read below) and especially do not link them in your mind.
Yelling is also very poor leadership.
It instills a fear of making more mistakes, which stifles creativity, teamwork and, ironically, is more likely to induce mistakes.
So here is another mindset for you: it’s your duty to limit the power and scope of poor managers.
If you let them get away it, they will keep abusing people for their whole life.
#3. Let Him Yell
If he’s really furious, let him go ahead.
He’s chipping away at your social status, that’s for sure.
But you’re in for the war, not the battle.
And in the meanwhile he’s also embarrassing himself as he shows no internal control whatsoever.
When you let him yell uninterrupted, you allow everyone to see see he’s a dickhead.
A few minutes from now, everyone will be on your side when you’ll serve him skewered.
The trick here is not listen without listening.
What do I mean?
To let his words go through you without hurting you and without getting under your skin.
“Be like water”, said Bruce Lee. And Robert Greene in “The 48 Laws of Power“, too.
Toltec expert Miguel Ruiz wrote in his best-seller “The Four Agreements” to never take things personally.
And more rational communication trainers such as George Thompson and Douglas Stone make emotional detachment a centerpiece of getting what you want in difficult and tense exchanges.
In short: most smart people agree that a crucial aspect of verbal power and control is being able to not take things personally.
If you can’t yet, meditate.
The goal is to reach a point where you can remain calm while you plan the exact wording of your next move, which will come as soon as he stops.
In the meanwhile, while he speaks:
#4. Keep Proud Nonverbal
Jordan Peterson in The 12 Rules for Life says to “stand straight with your shoulders back”.
Exactly what you want to do here.
Don’t look down, don’t droop your shoulders, don’t arch your back.
Stand straight, as if you had an air of defiance -minus the air of defiance in your face-.
Basically, look strong, just without facial signs of aggression.
You avoid facial signs of aggression because first, you don’t want to escalate. And second, you don’t want to warn him for what’s coming.
#5. State You Are Not OK With Yelling
Now the time has come for you to speak.
Do NOT address your mistakes here: that will make you look weaker and give ammo to the yelling boss.
Do NOT address the words of what he said: you don’t want a debate.
Once he’s done say instead something like this:
You: I understand you are angry. But I am not OK with you screaming at me
Alternatively, a bit less strong but equally powerful:
You: I understand you are angry. But I feel that yelling is very impolite and aggressive
#6. Hold Your Own
If you reached this point: congratulations!
Whatever you do now, even if you muck up all the rest, your boss and the people around will already respect you much, much more.
Now let’s keep going.
Two things can happen here:
- He will ignore what you said and resume reaming you for your mistake even harder (don’t worry: that’s OK)
- He will attack what you said and state that it’s not aggressive or impolite
In either case, he will probably perceive what you’ve just done as insubordination and he wants you ot backtrack.
Here you want to clarify the point that you’re not out for a fight or to deny your mistake.
But you’re demanding fair treatment.
If he says you fuc*ed it up, you answer:
You: I made a mistake, and I own it.
But that does not give you the right to yell at me. That’s very rude and it’s unacceptable behavior
Whatever he says, keep repeating your point, just with different words:
You: I always strive to improve my performance and I am happy to talk about it in private.
But yelling at me publicly like is completely out of line and I do not accept that kind of behavior
The more he screams, the more you look powerful and in control: he’s the one flipping out and you’re the one making him dance at your tune.
#7. Don’t Accept “Sorry But You… “
As we’ve seen mistakes and aggression are two separate things.
But bad bosses will try to use your mistake to justify their aggression.
Never allow that!
If you allow it, you empower them to make you look so bad that it’s your fault that they can’t control themselves.
So when they say:
Boss: yeah, sorry, BUT you did X / Y, that’s unaccetapble and it’s costing us..
You: you’re right, and I am happy to discuss my mistake, how to fix it, how to learn from it and how to never make it happen again. But these are two different topics.
The other topic is verbal bullying ,and that’s not OK.
Basically: make sure you keep the mistake and the verbal abuse separated.
Dealing with the abuse and the mistake at the same time is nothing but double abuse.
Have you noticed the parallel?
This is the same as saying “OK, she was raped, I’m really sorry, but what was she doing at 2am at the flat party?”.
That kind of “rationale” humiliates the victim two times.
Don’t allow anyone to do it to you.
#8. Demand a Public Apology
Here what sneaky bosses will do when forced to apologize
They had their aggressive display of strength in public and they will later apologize in private.
An apology is a meaningful step, but you will have to demand a public apology.
You: Thank you, I appreciate you realizing it wasn’t cool and apologizing. At the same time though you yellet at me in public, and I lost face in public.
I believe you should apologize in public as well.
If he doesn’t, he’s not a great human being.
His ego is more important to him than respecting the people around and achieving the organization’s goals.
He probably has a fixed mindset. Good to know.
Learn from bad bosses, too. It will help you become a much better leader once it will be your turn.
Boss Yelled At Me: Case Study
The following is a case study on a boss yelling at me in a Whatsapp group.
Background of The Shouting
This case study relates to Toastmasters, nonprofit organization in which I’m a board member (and later became president).
Since there are no salaries being paid, the boss’ actual power is not that great from a coercive point of view.
But usually, that matters little: our brains don’t think in terms of salary and mathematical calculation of monetary risks.
We are still reacting the same way we’d have reacted in our social evolution.
As a matter of fact, the opposite can be true: salaries and for profit organization give employees even more chances of acquiring power.
Linchpin employees, for example, can have as much power, or sometimes even greater power, than their own bosses.
When The Boss “Types” His Yelling
This is a written form case study.
I prefer videos, but I have never seen anyone handling a yelling boss well on a video or movie.
So in the meanwhile that my Youtube channel grows enough to hire actors, we’ll do a (very good) written example :).
Boss Yelling Case Study
First, read below and think of ways you would handle the screaming boss:
Now take a look at my reply and try to think of why I said what I said:
Now read the comments and the notes below:
Note: my answer is strong, but not super strong. I had no interest in a big altercation or in shaming the boss.
But if I wanted to hit harder, in that scenario, it would have also been possible to say:
That’s an absolutely unacceptable tone.
And if I wanted to power move I would have added:
I am waiting for your apologies
The latter is a genius checkmate, albeit a highly humiliating and risky one:
Checkmate, because once the boss apologizes he is following your orders and your lead. Suddenly you look like the boss.
Humiliating, because you force the boss to follow a report’s order, calling into question who’s the real boss there.
Risky, because you escalate. Now the boss might even refuse to apologize not to lose face and it might come down to a final showdown: who’s leaving, you or him?
Anyway, let’s go on and see what happened:
After the apology I strike a conciliatory tone.
If you have enough power and want to gain so many points that you actually come out undoubtedly on top avoid the socially friendly “let’s” and say:
OK, make sure it doesn’t happen again and apologies accepted
Note the video “I’ll do my very best” is a further apology, albeit not a very good one.
To begin with, “doing one’s best” is not enough when you’re serious of not accepting abuse. He must do it full stop, not doing his best.
And second, “doing one’s best” implies the possibility, and power, of doing it again.
Not too cool. Ideally you want to be near the same level of power as your boss so that he doesn’t even think that yelling (again) is even a possibility.
I have yet to see a proper video or movie scene of someone handling a yelling session well
If you know of any, please do let me know.
In the meanwhile, here my video on the above case study:
I would like to remind you two major tenets of social power:
- The power you have is the power you think you have
- The power you have is a consequence of your leverage and options
Leverage means, basically, that you are needed in the organization; options means that you can walk away at will.
So to deal with a yelling boss from a position of strength, work on developing your skills and developing your options.
Read how to deal with a bad boss for more.
And that concludes our overview.
Stay strong guys: never abuse anyone and, by the same token, never accept abuse.