More than six years ago I wrote a post titled Expressing Anger; Not! The premise behind that post is a theme I've talked about over the years, that being that no leader has the right to yell at anybody in the workplace. What I've never covered is what to do if you work with or for someone who happens to be a "yeller". I'm going to cover that right now.

by Paul Cross via Flickr

I will mention this up front; most of the time when someone yells at you you're caught off guard. You're probably not expecting it, and may not have done anything wrong. We can never know what someone's reactions are going to be to outside stimuli and it's hard to always be prepared for that in every situation. For instance, say you are walking next to someone and accidentally hit them in the nose without knowing you did it. If they start yelling you may not have expected it, but when you think about it after they told you what happened you could probably say "yeah that made sense", even though they still shouldn't do it.

But in the workplace, some managers believe that they can get away with pretty much anything. A lot of them have never developed the skills on how to effectively communicate with others, and thus sometimes the behaviors that they exhibit are horrendour. The act of yelling at somebody is extremely egregious, because the manager never really knows what the consequences might be from that action. A person could hit them, or walk out, or start crying. Only the last one is a position of dominance, and if a manager has to go that route to be dominant they need to go, period. There are other reactions as well; how many stories do we see concerning employees that go on shooting rampages?

Having said that, and acknowledging that those types of managers will probably always exist, I decided to give you this one main tip for how to handle it. You have to do it exactly this way, and I'm going to explain why as I tell you what to do.

If someone starts yelling at you, let them finish their rant. Then take about 10 to 15 seconds just to stare at them. Don't say anything during that time, and try not to look angry, although if you look angry it's not necessarily a bad thing because the manager is expecting either anger or tears. Then say something to them along the lines of "I am an adult, not a child, and I expect you to address me in a more adult fashion."

Here's the reasons why you need to do it this way. One, if you try to interrupt the person while they're yelling they're only going to yell more, and then you're going to probably start to yell, and nothing's going to get accomplished. Two, once they've finished yelling, you're probably going to need at least 10 to 15 seconds to compose yourself so that when you make your statement it will come out in a professional manner. Three, it's best to address the behavior rather than the complaint first because the behavior is more unacceptable than anything the manager has to say, even if you have royally messed up.

Doing this will cause an action every time. The majority of the time it's going to defuse the situation and give you and the manager a little time to cool down before conversation proceeds. It might even get you an apology, although I wouldn't count on that all the time. Sometimes the manager might continue yelling, at which point you have to start looking at your options. Depending on the company you're working at you can report them, you can walk out on them, you can quit your job, or you can stand there and take it.

Personally, I've never been a "stand there and take it" type of person, and I'm giving advice that I only had to use twice, but I did have to use it. Both times it worked to my advantage, and luckily both times I was in the right, and my hope is that it didn't work because I'm a big guy. At least one of the times the person I directed it at was bigger than me, but he backed down and apologized.

As Dr. Phil says, we teach people how to treat us. Even if we've done something wrong, we have to be willing to stand up for ourselves to be treated like adults. And nobody ever said that managers are always right, or in the right; I've certainly never said that.