How to Handle the Crazy Boss Screamer
May 14, 2015

How to Handle the Crazy Boss Screamer

by Brian de Haaff

What an amazing response to Tuesday’s article, “How Confident Leaders Silence the Office Screamer.” In that post, I related a story of a veteran kindergarten teacher who charmed an out-of-control student into submission by becoming very, very quiet.

I suggested that the office screamer could be handled the same way. 375,000 people read the post and almost 400 shared their thoughts by leaving a comment. This reader shared a very interesting insight, relating the subject to animal behavior:

Yelling at your dog to stop barking may temporarily startle her, but she just keeps on going because she thinks, ‘Good. Now we’re both barking!’ Changing the situation requires changing our reactions.

Learning to manage our own response helps us stay in charge of the outcome. Another reader tried the technique and found positive results.

I am happy to say that I can vouch for this working. I once was in the unfortunate position of having to handle a manger who had reduced a member of my team to tears. He stood in a dominant position in the office yelling, so I took the opposite position and sat down. As with your kindergarten teacher, [I] spoke softly so that he had to come to me. By the end, we had not only worked out what his issue was and resolved it, but achieved a public apology for my team and a thank you for me.

I predicted that readers would call me out for not suggesting that you fire the screamer. However, that was not the case. Instead, many readers wondered what to do when the screamer happens to be your boss. Yep, that happens. So, how do handle that situation?

Very, very carefully.

When the boss starts screaming at you, your first impulse may be to say, “Can I have my head back please?” However, sarcasm will only inflame the boss’s anger.

Dealing with an out-of-control boss can be tricky for any employee.  After all, the boss controls your fate at the company. You are not on equal footing, and one misstep could cost you.

If you play it right, this may be a great chance to show your maturity and leadership potential.

Here is what you should do. Resist the urge to scream back. Instead, remain calm and listen. When you have the opportunity to speak, speak quietly, and try to not let your body language betray what you are really feeling. Then, do these three things.

Take ownership of your part If the boss is screaming because you did something wrong, assume responsibility and apologize. Do not make excuses. Instead, calmly share your plan for making it right. However, if the boss lashes at you in error, it is perfectly okay to point that out. She may not have all the facts. Later on, she will realize her anger was not only inappropriate but also misplaced. Hopefully, an apology will come your way.

Demonstrate empathy Your boss might lose her temper for many underlying reasons, including work pressure, family problems, or medical issues. There is never a good excuse for screaming at someone, but it helps to know that it may not be about you. She may be struggling with a stressful situation, and needs to take it out on someone — anyone. If this is the case, express your concern. You will surprise your boss when you show kindness instead of anger.

Keep it to yourself When the crisis ends, your first impulse may be to rehash the story with everyone in the office. Even if curious co-workers witnessed the incident, do not gossip about the boss. The manager will already feel embarrassed. She will appreciate your discretion, and that you did not make matters worse by spreading the story. Your co-workers will see your mature response and remember how well you handled yourself.

You may feel powerless to stop the tirade when the boss starts screaming at you. That is a perfectly natural feeling.

Remember — the one thing you can always control is your own response. Keep your emotions in check, and continue to act like the professional you are. If your company is smart, they will take notice. If not, you may want to go find a quieter place to work.

How have you responded to a screaming boss?

Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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