the problem with yelling at work

Episode #6 – The Problem With Yelling At Work

In episode six of Relationships at Work, host Russel Lolacher discusses the impacts and problems with yelling at work.

We all get a little frustrated at others at work. Could be about them, more likely it’s about us. That’s ok. It happens. BUT how we react to that frustration is a whole other thing. And yelling at others, is never OK. For this show, Russel cites interviews with Stanford University professor and author of THE ASSHOLE SURVIVAL GUIDE Bob Sutton, shares real world stories from his own experience and those shared in his community, and provides tactics you can take to address this impact to the employee experience.

The articles Russel mentions, include:

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  • the impacts yelling can have on coworkers and the culture
  • the different ways yelling can show up at work with real-life examples
  • how yelling can be addressed from leadership and as the yeller

“Have you ever been congratulated for yelling?”

Russel Lolacher



We all get frustrated others at work could be about them more likely it’s about us. It’s okay. That happens. But how we react to that frustration is a whole other thing. And yelling at others at work. It’s never okay. Today we’re talking about yelling at work.

It’s Relationships at Work, the Employee Experience and Workplace Culture podcast. Welcome, welcome. Welcome. I’m your host, Russel Lolacher. Thank you so much for joining us once again. And thanks for the kudos. Again, I know I plugged this a few episodes in but privately publicly love I’m feeling I even had one person just privately have a moment and kind of explain their own horrible experiences at work. And just felt that this was a nice space to have a conversation about that, to bring up issues or, or themes or concerns that may not be getting as much attention. And she felt really appreciative that I was going and doing this. So that’s why I do this is hopefully being a value to people. So that really hit me in the heart. And and yeah, I look forward to doing more of these episodes. And if there’s topics that really resonate with you that you’re like, you know what, I’d really like to see a discussion on that, or I’d like to see a deeper dive into that theme. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me, my email, maybe I don’t mention it enough on the show. It’s [email protected] Okay, reach out, I’d love to hear from you. Even if it’s a little criticism, a little bit of concern, I can handle it, I can handle it, I want to make the show better. This episode, we are talking about yelling at work yelling at work. Oh, I’ve got two stories to start us off to two stories from my own experience with my own eyes and my ear holes, hearing people raise their voice for no reason at people who didn’t deserve to be yelled at. One example was I was working in an office. And the salesperson routinely was yelled at. And it wasn’t in a closed office. It wasn’t a door shut. This was the owner coming out onto the general floor and breeding them for their, I guess perceived incompetence or not hitting particular targets, or how they just weren’t measuring up, and they’d go on and the volume everybody else could hear. They couldn’t not hear plugging away doing our own work. But this was something that happened, I would say at least at least once a week. Now, I don’t care if this individual was good or bad at their job, obviously not up to the snuff of what the owner thought should be happening. But for that person to stand up, walk out of their office, and to put on that kind of performance yelling at this individual. I don’t know how they thought that was okay. My other experience was actually somebody who didn’t leave the office. They had an office that was actually sort of centralized, while the rest of the cubicles and desks were kind of around them in a U shape outside of this particular office, which had a closed door. Anyway, that door wasn’t always closed. It was actually open a lot of the time. But that individual that manager would yell, not get up, not walk out, not ask at a regular tone. But literally yell from his seat. He did not get up to get somebody’s attention. He wasn’t doing it because he was mad. He was doing it because he was lazy. i It’s hard to say. But needless to say he would raise his volume to yell out to those. Well, I guess needing to be an earshot he had to raise the volume. We had email, we had instant messenger. There were so many other ways of communicating, but it would be very much get in here or have you seen this? Or what are you doing about that? Okay, it was more like barking orders than it was reprimanding or throwing vitriol at somebody it was just a high volume yelling to get our attention. Both of my examples come from positions of power. Not that it gives them any any any excuse. One was a place of discipline, that first example and the other one was more of a positional thing. He was in his office. He didn’t want to get out and he wanted to demonstrate that his authority was to be heard. reminds me that I’d love to do An episode on proxemics which is the communication that location provides, ie where your desk is compared to where somebody else’s desk is or how high somebody’s desk is compared to somebody else’s desk. Anyway, I’m putting that in my cap for later. Yelling at work, whether it’s disciplinary, whether it is just the way you communicate. Is that okay? I’m gonna say it’s not. But there is arguments for it like Steve Jobs. A yeller, Jeff Bezos yeller,

Martha Stewart, Bill Gates, a few more named Jack Welch, big personalities, big heroes, to a lot of people all considered the Echelon the place that you want to reach to in their industries, all huge yellers. So I did a little bit of looking at some articles around yelling at work. And there came up this Harvard Business Review article from 2013. And they talked about how it really depends on the culture, whether yelling is condoned or not. Now this is going back to 2013. I’m feeling things have actually changed quite a bit in the last decade or so. But in this article, it was saying how in industries like sports, or the arts, people are more passionate, they’re competitive, and that it’s okay because it’s more inspirational if somebody is yelling. In the article, they actually say these leaders apparently benefit from the acoustic intensity of their authenticity, and the opposite authenticity of their intensity. Sure, justify it if you like. But as long as they aren’t assholes, it’s okay. That was a quote from Stanford professor and author, oddly enough of a book called the asshole Survival Guide, his name is Bob Sutton, and you’re going to hear his name quite a bit, because he pops up a lot. If you Google yelling at work, he seems to be quite an authority on it. So back in the 2013 article, he said to him, it’s all about context, and culture and the history of that relationship. IE, if you’ve worked together a long time and that person’s always been a yeller, it’s okay. I want to take a step back because things have changed. So if you have a culture where you’re saying, well, it’s okay, because we always done it. And that’s how people are inspired. Okay, fuck that. Because there is there’s been a movement in Hollywood for a long time. Time’s up. It’s it’s touched on quite a few topics. But one of the things that has come up is bullying at work. And there’s a well known producer named Scott Ruben, who is successful. This is a producer of film, TV theater. And he has long been known as someone who gets things done, he creates things that make money, really well respected in the industry. But he also has had a very long reputation of being a dick. Like throwing things at people yelling at them. There is apparently a long list of assistants that have been paraded, run screaming and crying from working with him. But it’s always been condoned, because it’s always been done. And because he makes everybody money, people say, well, it’s okay. It’s just how he operates, it got normalized. And then you have all these assistants that will put up with this. Because the belief is, if you can survive him, you can have a great career. It’s just one of those things you got to go through to make it in this business. That’s insane. So hopefully, things are changing. If you want to know more information about that. There’s a podcast called THE BUSINESS that’s done by KCRW. Just do a little quick search on that one on Scott Rubin. Really interesting, what these people went through your mind will be blown. This was okay. I’m talking sharp pencils tossed at people’s heads. Not good. Not good. So let’s get back to the yelling. I found a New York Times article back from 2012, where that same guy, Bob Sutton, the professor was saying that actually yelling can be quite abusive, if it causes staffs to think about it to a point that they bring it home with them. And we both know, we all know that work life balance is bullshit. So of course, people are going to bring what happens at work into their home life. There is no we’re not robot. You can’t just flip a switch and go okay, now it’s all good. Now I have washed that way. That’s not how this works. And that’s not how the world works. He went on to say that you may feel demeaned and de energized and develop symptoms like insomnia. Well, that sounds important to note. Thankfully, Bob got a little bit more up to date in his 2019 article in, where he says people have more depression and mental health problems. They’re more likely to get physically sick, they’re less likely to work hard, and they’re more likely to be less is creative, and they’re more likely to make mistakes. This is all the results of being yelled at. For whatever reason, if a volume is being hauled at you, it can really make you less helpful, productive, happy. Professor Sutton also mentioned that surveys over the last years have shown that there’s really not been much change. People are now working under more pressure more hours than they have in the past, which makes people more grumpy and more apt to yell.

Mental health is really being impacted in our world. It’s so stressful. So of course, people are not handling these pressures, so well, they’re gonna yell, they’re going to be more apt to yell because they don’t know how to react to this frustration. The problem is, is just it makes everything so much worse. It was funny, I was on LinkedIn not so long ago. And Scott Stratton, I am a big fan of the Scott Stratton. He’s Mr. Unmarketing. He posted just the other day while I was putting this podcast together. You don’t get to scream at people that work with or for you. They are grown ass adults. And you especially don’t get to do it. If they aren’t adults. Hashtag on leadership, hashtag protect your people couldn’t agree more? What are you displaying from yourself by yelling? It certainly isn’t authority. All the things you’re showing and flagging and waving is your bullying is your inability to handle a situation. And as we’ve already talked about, look at the impacts it has on your team, your staff, the people that are earshot of you remember I was talking about that owner that would come onto the floor to yell at her salesperson. My day was impacted. The people I worked with were impacted. We weren’t the target of the vitriol, but we sure felt it. It sure impacted the rest of our day. We come in happy and then we got to see a coworker get demoralized and demeaned in front of us. That is not a happy, healthy workplace culture. So I reached out to my community online and asked them for stories that they’ve experienced about yelling at work. Here’s one worst was one day when I was still fairly Junior on the job. One workspace was very open, we refer to it as the goldfish bowl because everyone could watch us work there. One day, a supervisor decided I shouldn’t be pre sorting material in this location, but in another location. So he yelled at me. I stood there stunned and frozen as all eyes turned toward this middle aged man unloading on a 23 year old. It just echoed throughout the entire building, all because she was working someplace that that person didn’t feel like they should be working there specifically. Another story. One day, this co workers being more obnoxious than usual and decided to watch and listen to some heavy metal music videos at full blast while they were in their office. So the person telling the story, walked to the office and politely asked him, please turn it down because the music was distracting. This is not a confrontational person. This took a lot of effort for them to get out of their desk walk over and put themselves on the firing line to somebody they knew was not going to handle feedback like that very well. And sure enough, she was right. So the coworker became an hinge just losing their shit. I’m working my ass off and you’re pissed. Just because I want to listen to music. I’m the hardest working person here. I deserve to be able to relax, I need interaction. I am not an asshole. I am not a fucking robot like you, and so on and so on and so on. And when the boss showed up, that same coworker blurted out at the boss too, obviously, there’s a lot more going on with that individual then about their work. But still the impact they had. Okay, last story. This individual was set to get a flight out of town for work, and it was all agreed upon. She’d work with her boss on when she was supposed to leave. So of course, when you’re going to take a flight, you got to leave, you know, a couple hours early. So you make a flight blah, blah, blah, all agreed upon. But her boss’s boss decided to bring her into the office to have a conversation. Now the individual let them know I have a flight to catch. I do have to go. But this person insisted and said you have to be part of this conversation and it was making it harder and harder for her to leave. And when she got up to go which she had to make her flight, he screamed at her from three offices away about how incompetent she was and insubordinate and her direct leader did nothing. Didn’t back her up didn’t try to defuse the situation. Nothing. How can yelling at work hurt the employee experience? If it goes on and on? I mentioned this earlier. It’s then considered acceptable, even a standard of leadership in some organizations, because if somebody higher up in the hierarchy yells, then other people are going to see oh, I’m going to have to yell to to get the position like that.

I’m going to have to yell to to get the position like that. Because understand the behavior you ignore, is the one you condone.

And how else doe it hurt the employee experience?

Stress to existing stress. Many of us already have pretty stressful jobs, trying to meet deadlines trying to, you know, deflect all the requests and ask that are of us, or at least jobs that demand concentration. So add yelling on top of that, to disrupt us to take away from that workflow. Even if the yelling isn’t directly at us, and is directed to somebody else, it becomes part of your day you wear it. So what are the things you can do right now to improve workplace culture or employee experience? around yelling? Well, if you’re an empathic leader, you would pull that person aside and let them know how they’re making you feel be vulnerable about it. You can identify how the volume might be impacting others, even ask them if they’re okay, maybe they’re having a horrible day of it, maybe the week, maybe something’s really bad is happening at home. And having a sympathetic ear might change the direction of how they show up. I’d also like to add culture into this, because there are other cultures that may be more loud, expressive. So they may not understand that this workplace culture might not be as accepting of that kind of expression. And it may not be appropriate for a professional environment. But they don’t know because no one’s ever had that conversation with them. And what’s something to do if you are the yeller yourself? Oh, here comes the self reflection, here comes the self awareness. What is the reaction of those around you while you yell? What’s the impact? What is the level intention of the room after you’re done yelling? Is it better? Are people more motivated? Are they going thanks so much for yelling at me, you’re the best. Have you ever been congratulated for yelling, do the whole looking in the mirror thing and understand and take accountability for your own behavior. And I don’t care if you work in an office, or virtually people can yell over their webcams as well. It still has an impact. Everybody wants to be able to go to work in a healthy, happy environment. And shattering that piece with yelling is never okay. Never, I don’t care what industry you work in. I don’t care if it’s always been done that way before. It’s not good. And we should never work in a culture that thinks it is. I’m gonna leave it there. Something to think about the importance of not yelling at work. Maybe that’s what the name of this episode should be. So please take a moment and think about whether you’re the yeller. Or if there’s people that yell at work that you could possibly help either talking to their direct report or if it’s somebody you feel comfortable pulling aside and having a conversation with? How can you make the workplace culture a little bit better around those yellers from an empathic, compassionate place. Because they may be handling their frustration unbelievably badly, they may be having a horrible day. Or they might be a bully. But we don’t know until we engage until we get more information. And we all want to work in a healthier, happier place. So that’ll do it for this episode of relationships at work. Thank you so much for listening. My name is Russel Lolacher And I look forward to talking with you again. Take care



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