How to Deal With a Boss that Yells

Last week on the CBS show Undercover Boss, Rick Silva, CEO of Rally’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 reminder of a common problem faced by employees: the yelling boss.

One of the greatest tragedies in American business is that we promote people because they are good at what they do--not because they have any kind of management or leadership talent. 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. It’s only natural that when new bosses aren’t able to inspire action and get results and 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.

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. Given these facts it’s no wonder new managers get frustrated and fall into abusive patterns. To make matters worse, research from the International Journal of Stress Management, found that employees of abusive bosses are likely to suffer higher levels of stress that can ultimately lead to serious health problems. The challenge is how to best deal with the “yelling boss” without getting in trouble. A few tips to consider:

Never Take it Personally: More often than not, yelling bosses don’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. Even in those cases where the yelling boss does get personal, the best thing to do is pull back and focus on the task at hand. Consider what you did well and what you can do better. 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 she has effectively lured you into the trap. The best thing you can do is stay calm and just let her burn herself out.

Ask for Direction: If the yelling manager can’t actually answer the question of “what do you want me to do?” he is not managing, he is just venting frustration. In this case, wait until the dust settles and then seek him out to get some direction on what he actually wants you to do in moving forward. Before you approach him, be sure to have some ideas on what you can do to make-up for whatever real--or imagined--problem that caused the situation.

People leave bosses, not jobs. When bosses yell on a frequent basis, they create an uncomfortable environment that leads to higher levels of stress and ultimately less productivity. 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.

Michael “Dr. Woody” Woodward, PhD is a CEC certified executive coach trained in organizational psychology. Dr. Woody is author of The YOU Plan: A 5-step Guide to Taking Charge of Your Career in the New Economy and is the founder of Human Capital Integrated (HCI), a firm focused on management and leadership development. Dr. Woody also sits on the advisory board of the Florida International University Center for Leadership.Follow Dr. Woody on Twitter and Facebook