SOS – the boss is yelling!

The boss is full of anger, and the yelling can be heard across the hall, even with the doors closed. In today's business environment, this type of situation unfortunately occurs more often than one would like. Hushed rumors run rampant throughout the company. Many know about “this conduct", but often nothing is done about it from the outside. The employee affected or the entire team are left all on their own. But how does one best respond to this type of situation? In order to find an answer to this question, you have to understand why people get angry. 

What is anger? And why does somebody get angry?

Usually a few things have to add up in order for someone to lose control. It usually begins with stress, and then you get annoyed – something happens that you didn’t want or didn’t plan for, somebody ruins your plans, etc. When you add the feeling of helplessness on top of being annoyed, that’s when it turns into anger.

This anger is rarely directed at the person affected. Maybe this anger builds up, until all it takes is a final straw to make the camel’s back break. This can be anything from an error to simple carelessness, a statement made in passing or inappropriate behavior to make the built-up anger erupt.

Anger is a sign of power and powerlessness at the same time. The angered person is put in a position of power whereas the victim is put at the mercy of the aggressor.

How we instinctively react 

Most humans react instinctively in this situation in accordance with three behavioral patterns:

1) “Fight”, i.e. they get angry too and yell back. With the fight escalating as a result. This leads to both sides having to invest a lot of time and effort in order to re-establish a normal relationship.

2) “Play possum”, i.e. you step back, put up with the anger, let yourself be victimized and feel humiliated.

3) “Escape”, i.e. you more or less just leave the place where the situation is unfolding. There’s no way to settle the issue.

None of these patterns of behavior will help you. You’ll maintain control and come closer to attaining an acceptable solution when you respect the following eight golden rules to managing anger:

(1) Activate your inner protective shield

Imagine that you’re protected by a ‘bullet proof cover’. You see and hear everything that’s happening around you, but nothing can happen to you when you’re under the cover of this protective shield. Try to control your facial expressions at the same time in order not to show your screaming opponent that you’re afraid. Don’t sit there all intimidated, slouched down in your chair and looking at the floor. A dominating or relaxed posture is also inappropriate. The best thing for you to do is sit there as if you’re waiting to engage in an interesting discussion.

(2) Don’t start to justify yourself 

Excuses and justifications, for example: “You’re view of that is all wrong.”, “That can’t be.”, or “How’d you arrive at that?” are not appropriate. If your boss has to draw out the entire situation first, this will only fuel his/her anger, which brings up the next point.

(3) Admit to your errors immediately

If you’ve made a mistake, admit this directly as this will disarm your opponent. If you can make him/her believe that this situation will never happen again, then there will be nothing further to discuss. With the reason behind the anger removed, you just have to wait for it to vanish.


Boss: “You constantly provide me with reports too late. Can’t you plan ahead properly? That shouldn’t be impossible!”

Employee: “Yes, I know, I submitted the reports too late the last two times. I’m sorry! I suggest that we work together to redefine deadlines and priorities. When do you have time to talk?

(4) Give the confronter some time to “let off steam”

An outburst of anger is always an emotional emergency. In this case, it’s helpful to imagine a type of “anger pit”. Imagine your discussion is taking place on two levels. You’re sitting in the living room with your boss discussing a subject in an objective manner, while he/she is below you in the “anger pit” letting out his/her frustration. Give him/her time to let off steam, even when it’s uncomfortable. Don’t not let yourself sink down to their level in the pit. Let your boss do the talking and don’t interrupt. It’s very exhausting to be angry, that’s why the anger will often subside on its own after a certain amount of time. Then you can resume having an objective discussion. Your arguments will then also be heard again.

(5) Don’t discuss insults

When a person is angry, they no longer have control over themselves. Nasty and obscene language is used, which this person wouldn’t use if they were themselves. That’s why you should ignore any cursing, swearing and words used here. On top of that, if you were to respond to the insults, you’d find yourself caught up in a heated debate leading nowhere. You’ll find yourself in the “anger pit” too. I’m not saying that you automatically have to put up with everything. You know in reality how you can best deal with an angry person.

(6) Reflect what’s happening to the other person

In his/her fit of rage, your screaming opponent has lost his/her external perspective that’s used to control his/her conduct in a socially acceptable manner. The reflection technique allows for the situation to be effectively put on display. In other words, it lets you give them a look at themselves by mirroring what’s going on. In this case, you’re only reflecting what you see and hear. Instead of wasting words on allegations, you can make, for example, the following statements while staying as objective as possible: “You’re very loud/” or “You’re very angry.” Don’t judge, don’t ask questions: “Why are you so angry?” and spare yourself from making statements to teach them something, for example, “You don’t know what you’re talking about!” That only adds fuel to the fire.

(7) Show you understand 

Try to understand your opponent and ask yourself: What’s going on with him/her? Why is he/she getting so upset? What happened that he/she had such an angry outbreak? Emphasize that you understand by objectively repeating what’s being thrown at you. If it’s appropriate for you, express your regret or your understanding of the situation. This will help cool down the situation.

Example 1

Boss: “You confused the quarterly numbers in the presentation once again!” You’re a big zero! 

Employee: “You mean to say that numbers were mixed up in the presentation.”

Example 2:

Boss: What am I paying for actually! I had another telephone complaint from a key customer that the order was delivered too late.

Employee: I understand your frustration and the situation is extremely unpleasant for me too. The fact is that ...

(8) Build bridges by using statements with “I”

“I” statements serve as a sort of ladder for your boss to use to climb out of the “pit of anger”. These statements are not aggressive. By using these type of statements, you build a bridge to your boss and signalize your readiness to restore balance to your relationship.

Example 1:

Boss: “The presentation was a total disaster once again. You’re not getting to the point!”

Employee: “It makes me unhappy that you see it that way. I’d like to discuss with you what needs to be improved.”

Example 2

Boss: “I always have to repeatedly explain things to you.” Do you never listen to me properly?”

Employee: “It’s uncomfortable for me to have to ask again. I just want to make sure that I properly understand the subject so that we save time later.”

Similar statements include:

  • I realize that ... and I will ...
  • I’m sad that you see it that way. What do I have to do in order to ...
  • I’ll clarify the situation with ...
  • I’ll create a new presentation and give it to you on time ...
  • I’m sorry if I didn’t express myself clearly. Please give me a second ...

If you are still not able to have a constructive discussion even after signalizing your willingness to cooperate, it’s wiser (after fair warning) to continue the talk at a later point in time. You protect your honor this way and create respect. It’s important here that you signalize the conditions under which you’d be willing to talk again and what your limits are. Then just leave without hesitating. Ignore anything that is yelled at you after leaving. 


Employee: Mr./Mrs. Y, I don’t think that we can get any further with the issue at the moment. For this reason, I’d like to stop the conversation now and suggest that we set up another date for it. I’d like to constructively work with you to find a solution. At the moment, I just don’t see the point of continuing the discussion. 

In conclusion, all that’s left for me to say is, stay strong and steady when engaging with others and use the right amount of tact and know-how to find viable solutions. As always, I’d be more than happy to be your “sparring partner”. Let me know when you’d like to discuss your situation.