My coworker yells. :(
July 12, 2017 9:59 AM   Subscribe

A woman who works near me shouts when she is stressed out or frustrated. Her yelling is usually directed at her staff, and sometimes at someone on the phone. She does not shout at me but the yelling is very distressing for me to hear. These shouting sessions last for 2-10 minutes and happen 3-7 times per week. Is there a polite way for me to communicate that her yelling makes me uncomfortable without jeopardizing my position at work?

She and I both have offices with doors, and the doors are about 15 feet apart. She often yells outside of her office (if she's with her staff) or with the door open. However, even if both of us are behind our respective doors and I my headphones are in, I can still hear every word of her ranting.

We work in an office environment at a non-profit. This isn't an emergency room or oil rig or other environment where it might sometimes be necessary to yell because something Very Serious and Scary is about to happen. She is usually yelling about paperwork and other similarly trivial stuff.

I'm a lady in my mid-20s and have been at this job for less than a year. She is (I think) in her mid-50s and has been here for about 30 years.

I do not report to her, and only rarely (1-2 times per month) need to engage with her directly at work. However our jobs are "adjacent" and alienating her would probably not be good for me.

Like I said above, she does not yell at me but listening to shouting in what is supposed to be a professional environment does not exactly help my own productivity.

Her staff have told me they feel uncomfortable with her yelling, but don't seem empowered to complain about it. They are about my age FWIW.
posted by schroedingersgirl to Work & Money (28 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Not sure how big your company is, but, is there an HR person that you can go to about this? How about her boss if not? Good luck!
posted by Hanuman1960 at 10:05 AM on July 12 [3 favorites]


She's been there for 30 years? As much as I wish otherwise, I can't envision any scenario where HR or management would have any interest in interfering, and I doubt she would accept feedback positively.

The best thing you can do is gratefully accept this as an excellent life lesson of what to never do at work.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 10:07 AM on July 12 [28 favorites]


My first impulse is to recommend you talk to your boss about it, if only to ask permission to elevate it to her boss (or wherever your chains of command intersect). Present it like you did here: "This is affecting my productivity and is unnecessary."

Or this worked for me in a similar situation: next time she starts, yell "JESUS HOPPING CHRIST ELEANOR WE ARE TRYING TO HAVE A SOCIETY HERE AND THE WHOLE GODDAMN OFFICE DOESN'T NEED TO HEAR YOUR FUCKING PROBLEMS EVERY DAY."
posted by Etrigan at 10:08 AM on July 12 [58 favorites]


I'm a lady in my mid-20s and have been at this job for less than a year. She is (I think) in her mid-50s and has been here for about 30 years.

If this is how she's been dealing with her staff for 30 years I really think there's nothing anyone's going to do about it. Can you make up an excuse to move offices?
posted by Huck500 at 10:10 AM on July 12 [16 favorites]


Wow, that's incredibly unprofessional and I'm sorry you're having to work in that environment.

If you have a shared supervisor to whom you could bring it up in a non-judgmental way, I'd try that first. If you don't have a shared supervisor, I would ask your own supervisor to bring it up with hers. Focus on how it affects your ability to do your job, not on her (lack of) professionalism. "I cannot phone clients when she is yelling," "I cannot concentrate on this important detail-oriented part of my job because of the disturbance, despite trying to drown it out with headphones," "I have to wear headphones because of the yelling and feel that I am not as available or responsive to my coworkers because of this," etc.

Also, directly to her: "I have a 2pm Skype meeting, please keep it down," whether or not you have a 2pm meeting. She will almost certainly react poorly if she's in the middle of a tantrum, but if she lashes out at you, you then have a very, very good reason to go to her manager.
posted by xylothek at 10:13 AM on July 12 [11 favorites]


(Also, a senior manager who had worked for my organization for 25+ years was finally fired recently because someone finally thoroughly documented her abusive behavior. HR wanted to address the problem; they just had to have the right documentation to do it. There's hope!)
posted by xylothek at 10:15 AM on July 12 [20 favorites]


Just as a data point, I once spoke to an HR person about the abuse that was meted out to my supervisor by HER supervisor--and to everyone else at her level by said supervisor. This was also in an office job (i.e. nothing that serious at stake) and included abusive rants and obscenities ("you fucking idiots," that sort of thing). I was helpfully and empathetically told, "Well, if it's not directed at you, why do you care?" So nthing the above that there may be nothing you can do except change jobs (what I did).
posted by tiger tiger at 10:24 AM on July 12 [3 favorites]


I cannot imagine that in 30 years you will be the first person to complain. I'm so sorry, because this sounds awful, but I think trying to get her to change will not work. What you could do is ask to move offices.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:36 AM on July 12 [3 favorites]


The yeller is a Missing Stair. The rest of the office just goes around the missing stair and your attempts to point out how this isn't normal or OK will be met with great resistance. Unfortunately, this is just all too common that it really is... normal. It is so hard to not be all "Do you people not see this? How do you put up with it? Why?!?!?" But the fact is they do and you trying to change it is unlikely to make any changes.

I would ask to change offices. Don't name names, but just say that there are unpredictable times that area of the office is quite loud and it makes you unable to do your work because: You're not able to take your calls, lead a presentation over the phone, concentrate on X,Y,Z task because the noise is so disruptive. Anyone who knows that section of the office will know it is because of the yeller. Of course, there may not be any open offices because everyone else has moved into them or you may not be allowed to move because of the precedent it would set. :/
posted by CoffeeHikeNapWine at 10:43 AM on July 12 [13 favorites]


While I recognize the wisdom in throwing up your hands and doing nothing, I would have a really hard time with that myself. This is NOT normal behavior, even though people can get used to pretty much anything, and if everyone is looking around the office and seeing everyone else accept it they might assume it's because there's nothing to be done. xylothek's anecdote of a 25+ year manager getting fired because someone finally documented their behavior gives me hope that it's at least possible to effect change, however. Yet as you note, you're new there and don't want to jeopardize your job.

Is your supervisor aware of this yelling coworker? If so, I'd ask her/him for advice - frame it as others have suggested above, focusing on the ways it's affecting your ability to do your job, and just see what they say. Maybe the reminder that this is abnormal and harmful to the workplace would give them the push needed to speak with this woman's supervisor; maybe they can give you insight to whatever politics have kept her safe from repercussion; maybe they'll have ideas you haven't considered - you won't know until you ask. If it doesn't seem like anything is going to be done about the yelling, you can at least ask to move offices - I realize office space is often at a premium so they might not have another space available for you right away, but maybe if you put the bug in your supervisor's ear they can help you move when it is possible.

Failing all of that, by any chance could you work remotely for some percentage of your week?
posted by DingoMutt at 11:13 AM on July 12 [1 favorite]


When it starts, go to her door and say, "We can't have this".
posted by at at 11:33 AM on July 12 [4 favorites]


One tactic is to come out of your office, take your headphones out, look puzzled, and say "Is everything okay? I heard yelling." The attitude you want is calm and genuinely confused and concerned, but---and this is important---not submissive. She will then react however she reacts. Occasionally, this gets yellers to feel mild shame at their behavior.

The best parts about this are that 1) it seems innocent and non-confrontational so if she objects she looks unreasonable, and 2) it gives the people being yelled at a witness, and 3) it gives the people being yelled at some confidence that it's not normal or okay.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 11:41 AM on July 12 [46 favorites]


Please don't listen to people who say that it is hopeless and will never change. For every story like that, there is a story of someone changing their behavior or being shown the door. The suggestion above to come out and look at her is great, even if you don't say anything. You have every right to investigate a loud noise in your office. It also reminds her that others can hear the yelling and that makes a difference for some people.

Your boss and any HR people should also help, just don't expect things change overnight. She is not going to like you if she knows you complained, but she needs to keep acting professionally. If she doesn't, document it and report it when it affects your job. Alienating one person doesn't have to be the end of the world. You can stay cordial to them and avoid when possible.
posted by soelo at 11:57 AM on July 12 [7 favorites]


There are a few mentions above about confronting her in some fashion next time she yells, but I'd like to suggest just having a chat with her during a non-yelling spell. Go out for coffee or something, and just bring this up. Use a lot of "I" statements, just as parents are taught to do with kids. "This is affecting my productivity." "Every time this happens, and it happens a lot, my train of thought and work flow is totally interrupted." "It is very hard for me, or anybody, to just ignore it when you do this." "I'm really having a hard time dealing with this." Make it clear you think that what she's doing is not normal. Keep the conversation calm (that's why it would help to be in a public coffee shop, not her office) and keep steering it back to your "I" statements, and how you really hope she can do something about it. Maybe she will, maybe she won't, but you don't need anybody's permission to have this kind of conversation. If it doesn't work, escalate to HR.
posted by beagle at 12:35 PM on July 12 [4 favorites]


Could you possibly interrupt her when she is yelling (or shortly after) and tell her you are/were trying to make a phone call and having trouble hearing the person on the other end?
posted by drunkonthemoon at 12:47 PM on July 12 [3 favorites]


Thanks, everyone! All of these comments have been super helpful. Keep 'em coming!

A couple of points, just for anyone else who might come in later:

* This job is my Dream JobTM and this is literally the only thing I dislike about the job so far. So I don't think moving on is something I want to do, at least not any time soon.

* We don't share a supervisor and, to complicate matters, my own supervisors all work off-site (they are a team of professors).

* She is pretty cordial (if IMO very chilly) outside of these yelling sessions, so I believe she is well-liked by most people in the organization, especially those who do not sit near her and have never been screamed at.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 1:02 PM on July 12


Perhaps you could suggest she get her hearing checked. "Oh, I thought you were yelling because you had trouble hearing yourself and how loud you were getting."
posted by MovableBookLady at 1:52 PM on July 12 [2 favorites]


I'm sorry you're stuck in this situation, non-profits can be wonderful but are also notorious for this sort of thing.

No offense to MovableBookLady but telling her to get her hearing checked is likely to come across as super passive aggressive and will almost certainly end poorly.

I second the suggestion to speak with her in a non-confrontational setting about it. Use I statements and frame it as "what is upsetting you to the point that this is happening?" rather than making it about you (at least at first). If she doesn't make an effort to change you are justified in leaving the area and working elsewhere in the office when she is causing a scene, and should explain the situation to your mutual boss.

Also document document document, even if you have no intention of ever using any of it for anything. Always document. Have a private Word file somewhere and take two seconds to note what she was screaming about, how long, and to whom each time it happens.
posted by Wretch729 at 3:01 PM on July 12 [2 favorites]


I would contact HR about it. It's a bit of a cop out, but if you are worried about mucking anything up since this is your dream job, you can send an anonymous message to HR since you wouldn't be involved in whatever they do to review the matter anyway.
posted by AppleTurnover at 3:24 PM on July 12 [2 favorites]


If there would be any way in the world of getting a video of a tantrum, I would send *that* anonymously. To everyone.
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 5:29 PM on July 12 [1 favorite]


Audio is fine, doesn't have to be video, btw. I used to rent office space at a small place with maybe 6 people, 4 of whom worked for the same company and 2 of those were the partners/owners. And one of them would get super upset and start yelling, periodically, at one of the other 3. Usually there was some deadline involved. And it got so upsetting I moved out without explaining why, even though I liked him and the other people a lot. It's really soul-crushing to have to witness this stuff; one can only imagine how hard it is on the people being yelled at. I don't have any advice except to say yes, this is awful. You are completely right about that. I hope you can move offices or that something shifts for you so you can keep and actually enjoy and do well at your dream job.
posted by Bella Donna at 8:59 PM on July 12 [1 favorite]


Saw in your follow up post that you're in an academic environment. Sadly, yelling at underlings seems to be accepted, if horrific, practice in academic culture. I'm not sure you'll get much traction in HR, especially if, as I suspect, the yeller is tenured. One of the eye opening parts of academia for me is how often tenure seems to be an excuse for bad behavior.
posted by Doc_Sock at 9:08 PM on July 12 [1 favorite]


One tactic is to come out of your office, take your headphones out, look puzzled, and say "Is everything okay? I heard yelling." The attitude you want is calm and genuinely confused and concerned, but---and this is important---not submissive. She will then react however she reacts. Occasionally, this gets yellers to feel mild shame at their behavior.

I change my answer. This is WAYYYYY better.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 4:14 AM on July 13 [2 favorites]


I would contact HR about it. It's a bit of a cop out, but if you are worried about mucking anything up since this is your dream job, you can send an anonymous message to HR since you wouldn't be involved in whatever they do to review the matter anyway.

Seconding this, except to say don't worry about it being a cop out. It's easy to think of HR as adversarial or overly bureaucratic*, but confronting people like Yeller McShoutsalot is the sort of thing they're there for, especially if as you say supervisors are off-site. You could certainly inform your supervisor(s) that you're submitting a complaint if you feel comfortable doing that.

* I think it's organizations where HR and/or IT forget they work for the rest of us that things get silly.
posted by Celsius1414 at 5:56 AM on July 13 [1 favorite]


Everything else recommended here is great. Another recommendation: if you can both afford it and deem it worthy enough to spend money on, purchase these. They're unobtrusive and can do a great job of canceling out noisy co-workers.
posted by WCityMike at 7:48 AM on July 13 [1 favorite]


I don't know. I always ignore this sort of thing because I'm a woman in a male-dominated field and don't want to show any weakness / difficulty handling "typical business environments". So I'd advise caution. But I'd try the strategy of headphones on "is everything alright? I heard yelling." Or even "excuse me, can you please keep it down or grab a conference room?" (Some people do just have loud voices and/or are easily excited, even if they aren't trying to intimidate and browbeat others.) Maybe "excuse me, I'm on a call" if it is true.
posted by Lady Li at 8:00 AM on July 13 [1 favorite]



* I think it's organizations where HR and/or IT forget they work for the rest of us that things get silly.


Oh god no, HR works for the company, their job is to prevent liability for your employer, bear this in mind if you decide to approach them.

Especially given that it sounds like an academic environment, you really need the background on McYellerson. Figure out why she's still around, who likes her, if she's retiring soon, whatever. Keep an ear out for information on any previous attempts to address this. This knowledge will give you an idea of how/whether to address the situation. Possibly make her your work-friend, for info and possibly so you know the right way to ask her to stop yelling.
posted by momus_window at 7:02 PM on July 13 [1 favorite]


Oh god no, HR works for the company, their job is to prevent liability for your employer, bear this in mind if you decide to approach them.

Your point is correct - to clarify, I mean places where HR or IT act as if everyone else in the organization works for them rather than them working for the organization.
posted by Celsius1414 at 1:35 PM on July 14


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