What to do when your boss at you?
A boss screaming at you can be a highly distressing experience -especially if it’s a public yelling-.
Let’s be frank here, shall we: a boss yelling at you is demeaning and humiliating. And it’s a highly embarrassing social situation.
But don’t worry.
By the end of this post, you will know what to do when your boss screams at you.
- What Happens When a Boss Yells At You
- BOSS YELLING AT YOU: CASE STUDY
- Handling A Boss Yelling At You: Video
What Happens When a Boss Yells At You
What often happens is that the person being yelled goes into the freeze, flight or fight. In layterms, 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, but more one of the following:
- Say nothing, listening with our head down
- Meekly excuse ourselves
- Say “ok”, “yes” (as if agreeing with abuse would make us look better)
As you can imagine, none of those are highly ideal ways of responding to a yelling boss.
Let’s see a few better ways of standing 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
Screaming can instill a fear of making mistakes in people, which stifles creativity and, ironically, is more likely to induce mistakes.
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.
Never allow anyone to link mistakes to yelling (read below) and especially do not link them in your mind.
- Ignorance does not justify aggression.
And now let’s get to the proper yelling session:
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.
And don’t really listen to what he says. Tune out: yelling people rarely talk any sense. Resist the natural tendency of getting emotional and instead plan the exact wording of your next move, which will come as soon as he stops:
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 but 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
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’s said: you don’t want a debate.
Once he’s done say instead something like this:
I understand you are angry. But I am not OK with you screaming at me
6. Hold Your Own
Now he is likely to either resume yelling or to try make you backtrack because he perceives your words as insubordination.
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:
I made a mistake, 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:
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 your boss to yell at you and then and say:
yeah, sorry, BUT you did X / Y
No, there’s no but. He’s an abusive ahole, so 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 drunk at 2am at his place?”.
That kind of “rationale” humiliates the victim two times.
Don’t allow anyone to do it to you.
8. Demand a Public Apology
Some spineless bosses will go for the easy way out: they had their aggressive display of strength in public and they will later apologize in private.
An apology is a first step, but you will have to demand a public apology.
Thank you, I appreciate you realizing it wasn’t cool and apologizing. At the same time though you aggressed 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. And he probably has a fixed mindset.
It’s good to know.
BOSS YELLING AT YOU: CASE STUDY
The following example happened to me just recently.
It relates to a nonprofit organization in which I’m a board member. Since there are no salaries being paid, the boss’ actual power is not that great.
However, don’t let that confuse you and think that in a company it’s much tougher.
That’s a bad mindset.
Salaries and for profit organization give employees even more chances of acquiring power. If you’re a linchpin employee, a salesman bringing lots of money or if you have great connections with customers/investors, then you’re in a position of strength.
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 :).
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-ish but not super strong. I had no interest in a big altercation or in shaming anyone.
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?
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.
Handling A Boss Yelling At You: Video
I have yet to see a proper video or movie scene of someone handling well a boss yelling at him.
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.