Temper, Temper: What to Do When Your Boss Is a Hothead

This past week I received an email from someone who had just begun a new job—and discovered on day two that her boss had a temper. (Apparently another staff member made a mistake with his lunch order and he was unhappy about it.)

Her question to me was twofold:

1. What do I do when he is yelling at someone else? Do I keep my head down and stay silent, as it doesn’t involve me?

2. What do I do if (when) I make a mistake and get yelled at? I want to stand up for myself, but I also don’t want to get fired…

Excellent questions.

On the off chance some of you have had similar experiences, my answer to her is below. 

“With regard to what to do when your boss is yelling at someone else: I understand that your first instinct might be to look away or head out of the room to somewhere safer– and it’s a good instinct if anything is making you extremely uncomfortable.

If, however, it seems like this is just this person’s way of “communicating,” I recommend staying and ‘holding space’ for the person being yelled at. Having witnesses to what is occurring may keep someone with a temper in check– at least to some degree.

Because your stress levels will be going up, I recommend (as much as is humanly possible) focusing on your breath– even to the point of counting to yourself, “Inhale one, two, three. Exhale, one, two, three.”

When someone like this is yelling at you, it can be hard not to become emotional. If you can remain factual and fairly formal, however, that can cool the situation out. So if, for example, the mistaken lunch order situation were to occur on your watch you might say, “It was my understanding you wanted chicken salad. I apologize if you requested tuna salad.”

It can also help to speak to the emotion underlying the yelling, so you could follow that up with something along the lines of, “I understand how frustrating it is when a miscommunication like this happens.”

I hope this helps!

Frances Cole Jones