Sunday, July 01, 2012

How not to lose your cool while manager screams at you

The owner of my company has an intense type “A” personality.  He’s in his seventies and currently holds the position of CEO.  Over the years I’ve seen him lose his temper many, many times reducing his targets to jellyfish. Recently I experienced his anger first hand:

I was busy working on a project due in a couple of hours when our CEO interrupted me asking if I’d notarize some personal papers for him. He said something about where I should notarize as I searched for my notary stamp.  I took the forms and began filling in the date when I realized I was about to notarize someone else’s signature. I said this is for Mr. Smith?  He grabbed the forms and began screaming at me, “WHY DON’T YOU LISTEN.”  That is my brother’s section. I told you to notarize here.

I managed to keep my cool as I completed his request.  He did say, “How did you like being yelled at?” (Which was probably his way of apologizing) as I notarized. I responded with “I’ve been yelled at before.”      

How did I manage to keep my cool?
I was able to put his anger into perspective. Fortunately I had been reading Anne Kreamer's book It's Always Personal: Emotion in the New Workplace.  A couple of days earlier I had read the following paragraph:
Anger in response to frustrations encountered on the job is one of the most pervasive kinds, with 69% of our survey respondents reporting having been frustrated during the past year. This sort of anger lets off steam and relieves stress and almost half the people surveyed cited the perception of coworkers not doing their job properly as prime motivator for frustration – driven anger. (Pg. 58)
As the CEO was screaming at me I realized he was lashing out due to his frustration with my lousy listening skills.  Imagining where his anger was coming from shifted my focus from being yelled at to feeling guilty for not listening.

Another common technique given to change perspective is to imagine your opponent as a two-year old having a tantrum while wearing a diaper.

I kept breathing:
I discovered why breathing helps us remain calm in Penelope Trunk’s book Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success.  Practicing deep breathing was one of the techniques Lindy Amos, a consultant who teaches people build connections through authenticity, gave Penelope to practice at home: Penelope writes:

Lindy told me an American Indian proverb: “The difference between fear and excitement is breathing.” She said, “Fear causes your breathing to become shallow, your muscles to tense, and your brain to go blank.  We communicate to have impact. If we’re not breathing, we’re not even present. There is no chance of having impact if you aren’t even present.  Deep breaths free your constricted chest, oxygenate your blood, and put you in charge of your brain again.” (Pg. 108)
Perhaps most important I have learned something from all of this.  In the days that followed instead of brooding over being yelled at I made a conscious effort to really listen to others.

Do you have any suggestions on how I can improve my listening skills? Have any of you been yelled at in the workplace? How did you manage to stay calm?

If you enjoyed this post you may also like:
A Personal Attack at Work
Making a "Big" Mistake at Work
How To Be More Confident At Work
Boss Attacks Employees Weight
Anger in the Workplace


  1. Luckily, I have not been yelled at in a work setting. I don't think I'd be as calm as you were. Though you may not have listened well, I don't think you deserved to be yelled at. Good for you for taking the high road and, instead, working on your own improvement.

  2. There is some yelling in our workplace from time to time and it is hard to always keep my cool. Most of the time I do. Other times, I do not. The times that I do not really, really feel good.


  3. Breathing through a screaming attack is essential. It also helps when the other person loses control because it always makes me feel more empowered. Granted, there is a fine line between not losing your cool and standing up for yourself.

  4. I like the idea you share about focusing on what the other person is feeling or thinking while they are fussing at you. There are many times when people are in moods related to other things that are happening and just taking out those emotions on others!

  5. I've been yelled at at work plenty. That was how my bosses did business. Once my boss was yelled at by the client (law firm) and then he yelled at me. I made a mistake but the mistake was actually his fault! I ended up defending myself but he said some hateful things. I ended up leaving the office early that day. My co-worker told me that later he indicated that he had apologized to me but he never did.

    I don't believe it's ever appropriate to yell at an employee. They yelled frequently and at all of us there. That was a terrible place to work and I'm glad I'm no longer there.

  6. I think I've only ever been yelled at once or twice by a boss in the past and it did not go over well. I'm pretty sure that I ended up crying either while they were yelling at me or after, but since then I think I've learned to keep my cool. Breathing is a great technique to utilize and one that I often forget to use. You've got some great tips to keeping your cool that I'm certainly going to have to put into practice.

  7. I don't like being yelled at by my husband, so being yelled at in the work environment wasn't a good thing. My last job we were union so management had to tread lightly when speaking with us. You did wonderful, letting it go is my best advice. When I do let things go, it is truly easier to move on.

  8. Another Jennifer,
    I don't think I deserved to be yelled at either. Thanks for stopping in.

  9. Tim,
    I am sure losing your feels good at the time, but there could be repercussions especially when you yell at the boss.

  10. Michelle,
    I am going to continue "breathing" if there are future episodes. I am also going to concentrate on feeling empowered. I know what you mean about sticking up for yourself. I will remember to do so if the screamer is off base.

  11. Melissa,
    Company owner has been stressed - we are building a new store and it hasn't been going well. But still! At least I caught my error before signing.

  12. Homemaker Daily,
    I am glad you got out. I have to admit this incident stayed with me for a few days despite handling it well at the time. Owner is retiring in December - I think everyone including his children will be much happier.

  13. Felicia,
    I absolutely did not want to cry - I've done so in the past a couple of times.

  14. Agapewoman,
    Shame on your husband for yelling at you. My husband never really yells, he expresses frustration. Yelling doensn't solve anything. I had a boyfriend I almost married that used to yell at me quite often. I was always in tears. Good thing that relationship didn't work out. I often think what an awful father he would have made.

    Thanks for stopping in.

  15. Wow. I don't think that i've been yelled at at work but not sure that I would be able to keep my cool like you did. But I may have to adopt the tactic of imagining the person as a 2-year old in diapers having a tantrum. How can you be angry when picturing that?? ;-)