How do I deal with a boss who is prone to chew me out?
October 6, 2011 12:42 PM   Subscribe

How do I prevent from getting yelled at by my boss while still keeping my dignity?

I live and work at a mental health treatment facility that's basically run like a juvenile work camp. It's a place where someone has to know where you are at all times or else you get in trouble. I was signed up to go to a resume building seminar during work hours but forgot to my boss (which I am supposed to do). She has a short temper and has been getting down on me over the last week for small mistakes and it's been really wearing on my soul to get chewed out that bad. After returing from the seminar, a few of my co-workers said she was quite livid about the fact that I didn't tell her I was going. I need her approval perhaps more than anyone's in order to move to the next stage of the program and ultimately get the hell out of here. If she decides to chew me out tomorrow, I could easily just say "Listen, don't talk to me like that," but I need her as a reference on my resume after I'm out of here. What can I do or say to peacefully (and somewhat submissively, because this program really emphasizes that one respect authority) deal with her while sticking up for myself and not getting verbally abused? Thanks yall.
posted by tunestunes to Human Relations (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
There are techniques for dealing with verbal abuse (and that is what you are dealing with).
But they are not something that you can learn over-night via the internet.

If you really want to learn about verbal abuse, I would suggest starting with a great book by S Elgin, called You Can't Say That To Me
posted by Flood at 12:46 PM on October 6, 2011

This is what human resources is for. Go talk to them. Its always good to keep your cool, and direct the other person that you will not be disrespected in that regard. Its one thing to be upset, its another to be verbally abusive.

I had a boss like this, and he decided to literally point his finger two inches from my face and chew me out on something that was a non issue. This occurred in front of my coworkers at the time. I proceeded to inform him, I was taking the rest of the day off. I thought about human resources, but ultimately decided it wasn't worth it, and with dignity in tact dropped off my letter of resignation. I never felt so good.
posted by handbanana at 12:49 PM on October 6, 2011

I once had a boss who yelled, and for various reasons I didn't want to put up a fuss about it. So in instance where I knew a yell was coming I would concentrate more on my own reaction, that is, remaining calm and quiet in the face of the screaming, and just letting it roll off my psychologically while my boss got it out of his system.

I usually chose small, physical things that I could do without anyone noticing. So, if we were sitting at a desk, my hands would be in my lap but not visible, and I'd be pinching my palm. Or, gently biting my tongue, or curling my toes, clenching my calf muscles, etc. Something to distract me and keep me calm while the storm was erupting around me.

But having a yelling boss sucks and I'm sorry that you have to put up with it.
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:49 PM on October 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

If this was me I would swallow my pride on this one and own up to not letting her know. I'd take in some kind of treat and apologize before she even had the chance to tear me a new one. I've found that baked goods can sometimes smooth things over enough to avoid the verbal abuse.

This is not a good policy for the long term, just for this case. After all, you were supposed to let her know you were going. You are in the wrong here, humbling yourself and apologizing for the mistake is a good way to go.
posted by TooFewShoes at 12:51 PM on October 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

Stand there and listen. Apologize for your mistakes and ignore other statements. Answer the last question your boss asks. Take time to compose anything you say. If the boss interrupts you, let her and start over when you get the chance to speak.

Above all, remain calm. Think you can't? You're wrong. You have the ability. Remember that. Do everything you can to not let her see that you're upset. If you can't even listen without getting enraged, just let the words slide past you and then apologize generically.
posted by Etrigan at 12:54 PM on October 6, 2011 [5 favorites]

I'm sorry you have that kind of boss. Been there, done that, and found that I could often get through the situation fairly painlessly by hearing them out, looking at them directly to let them know I registered what they said, and then saying, "Understood. I won't let that happen again." (Or, "Next time I'll let you now in advance" or whatever correction they offered.) They want to know they are being heard and respected. This is probably doubly true with your boss, who is in a situation where she is going to be manipulated a lot. So it's even better if you can listen to her with a view to "Can I learn something from this?" and respond on that kind of level. I know it's hard because when someone seems to reflexively chew one out, one tends to have this "Here we go again" feeling whenever they open their mouth. But that just feeds into their sense that they are not being respected. Respect her even if she doesn't seem to deserve it right now.
posted by BibiRose at 1:00 PM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

What can I do or say to peacefully (and somewhat submissively, because this program really emphasizes that one respect authority) deal with her while sticking up for myself and not getting verbally abused?

Well you are in a unique situation in that it sounds like this whole getting yelled at thing is part of the program (like it would be for boot camp or whatever). So unless I'm reading this wrong, sticking up for yourself directly is probably not going to work and there's not really any way you can avoid getting yelled at. In that sort of situation I would suggest remaining completely calm, answering in short sentences, and not getting into an argument. You will probably have more luck trying to get through the program without letting it get to you than you would have trying to make her stop.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:07 PM on October 6, 2011

This is not something to go to HR with, HR is there to protect the company, not the employees. If you really want to prioritize getting the recommendation from your boss (I'm not sure I could do that, but more power to you), then I would go in and apologize before she calls you in and tell her you won't let it happen again. If she gets pissed tell her you understand her frustration and you'll work on improving.

I have a friend who works in a relatively small industry who went to work for a notoriously mean person. Everyone told her she was going to hate him and the job because of him and that she wouldn't last six months. She decided that she wanted to make the move for her career and that she was going to get along with him. When she started working for him, he did try to be shocking towards her and pull all the tricks that upset other people and she just laughed at him and didn't take anything personally. Sure enough he ended up loving her and she didn't have any of the typical problems with him.

You could decide to start getting along with her, first and foremost by not taking her actions personally. Empathize with her position and communicate that you want to help her succeed. It just might work. If ultimately this abusive behavior continues to be part of your experience, you might want to prioritize your own well being over the recommendation she can provide you and find another position.
posted by Kimberly at 1:14 PM on October 6, 2011

Document it. You probably have, or easily can have, a hot/yahoo/gmail account. Send yourself email describing the behavior. When you have a log of, say, 5 serious events, go to HR.

Meanwhile, go to her before she has to come to you. "BossName, I screwed up yesterday and forgot to tell you where I was going. I'm sorry, and I'll do my best to make sure it doesn't happen again." If you have trouble managing lots of rules, ask her for help in learning how to do that; you want to turn her into a mentor, not an enemy.
posted by theora55 at 1:35 PM on October 6, 2011

I've had some terrible relationships with bosses before, but I've also had some success in fixing them. Sometimes I find these interactions can spiral off each other. You resent your boss being so controlling, she resents your resentful attitude (which you may be conveying subtly if not outright) and the whole thing builds into a battle for power that you'll never win. I've also watched managers get increasingly furious with staff who either deny or make excuses for getting things wrong, when an apology would have sorted everything out instantly.

I've found taking a step back and disengaging can help. If you honestly and calmly in a neutral tone say that you're sorry for not telling her about the seminar and you'll make sure you keep her informed in future, she may be much more reasonable.

I sympathise that you have to work with a short tempered boss, but its not in your interest to escalate it any further.
posted by *becca* at 1:37 PM on October 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

You say I'm sorry, I was wrong, it won't happen again.

I don't like to play "pile on the questioner" but honestly, your question reads a little entitled to me. You know the rules and you goofed up and didn't follow them. And the one you violated isn't a trivial one at almost any job. I'm a white-collar professional who works at a desk with minimal supervision, but it would never be considered acceptable for me to simply go off somewhere for several hours without accounting for that time. You're presumably in a program of some sort for a reason and this is part of the game. You have to play it by the rules if you want to move ahead.

I'm not defending treating people badly and it's crap for someone to berate you in anger. I don't think it's morally right or productive. But here's the reality - those people exist and they're often someone's boss. In the general workforce you suck it up as long as you have to and you get out, knowing that these people get the employees and the lives they deserve because nobody can stand them.

But the way you get the freedom to do that and stop taking their shit is by doing what you have to in order to get to that level of freedom. You focus on the things you have to do, stop making mistakes, work hard to follow the rules, get the signoffs from the jerks you have to appease and GET OUT of this facility/program.

If you're being mistreated then by all means, take it up with an appropriate authority. If you just don't like having to live this way then there's a solution and you know what it is: get done.
posted by phearlez at 1:59 PM on October 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

One time my husband was at a meeting with a co-worker who had a habit of yelling at him. My husband responded by simply saying in a normal tone of voice, "please don't yell at me." His coworker never yelled at him again.

I think if your boss is yelling, it's polite and fair and respectful to say, "please don't yell."
posted by bananafish at 2:08 PM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is it actual yelling? Like raised voices? I am wondering if your boss thinks she's just reproving you, and you are hearing it as more extreme than that.

Also, I'm partly asking because there's a habit going around the Bay Area of people saying "Don't yell at me!" whenever they hear something they don't like. For instance, "Hey, you took an hour lunch instead of your half hour. That's hard on your coworkers. Please don't do that." "Don't yell at me!"

It's turned into a joke at this point: "Could you please stop eating my lunch?" "Don't yell at me!"
posted by small_ruminant at 2:50 PM on October 6, 2011

This is not something to go to HR with, HR is there to protect the company, not the employees.

This is an oft-quoted and ill-advised phrase. They protect the company, yes, but they do it by making sure the company follows its documented procedures and the applicable laws when dealing with the employees. There are exceptions, of course, but you probably already know if you work for a place like that.
posted by gjc at 5:38 PM on October 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

I would think about trying to decouple your boss from the reference. You should never rely on someone to be a referee unless you are totally confident they will sing your praises. Your boos sounds like a vindictive cow. Can you join linked in and ask some colleagues to write nice things about you. Is there a doctor or other professional you interact with that would be willing to vouch for you? The other trick is to apply for work while you're already employed - then the fact that you don't want to alert your current employer to your plans means you don't need to use them as a referee.

I would not use this person as a referee. i would tell this person to grow the fuck up and learn how to communicate. Don't be a hostage.
posted by the noob at 9:38 PM on October 6, 2011

Age, experience, self-confidence and alternatives give you power. None of these are quick.

Business isn't a democracy, and it's the only place where feudal relationships are tolerated, and sometimes, encouraged. You are at the mercy of the local lord.

I hate it. As an old man, I am immune to it, but even as a younger man, I told people I was. My rule was that I could do anything I damn well pleased as long as I was right most of the time. If they wanted to fire me, well, I was looking for a job when I found this one. I know how it's done.

When you are young, you have little personal power. The trick is to navigate the interval until you do. Pick your battles well; don't try and win every fight. Admit mistakes and ask for the accuser's help.

( Then, keep an eye open for weakness, and when you sense it, drive a stake through the heart of your adversary! HAHAHAHHA REVENGE!!!!) Just kidding about that last part.

Remember, you are already dead. No one has any power over you that you don't willfully grant them. Live well, and on your own, if need be.
posted by FauxScot at 4:27 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have more experience of the passive-aggressive rather than the aggressive-aggressive but it sucks just the same. It can be especially hard to deal with a micromanaging and distrustful boss (leading to frequent reprimands) when you come from a more relaxed environment. The fact is, the boss has a right to be pretty mean and or restrictive without actually breaking any rules.

The usual strategies of accepting criticism and saying you won't do it again, and getting things in writing can only help so much. I recommend relying on an EAP program, friends or therapy if it's hurting you. Lots of people look like they can handle these things, but no one should so don't be afraid to lean on someone for help.
posted by Gor-ella at 7:28 AM on October 7, 2011

« Older Please help me feel nauseous / sick to my stomach   |   Automatic log in to a Mac on restart? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.