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I've noticed this trend in my workplace where more and more people yell at each other, especially managers and executives to regular employees (who don't yell back).

Personally it's making me uncomfortable, and when I've tried to bring up the issue with some coworker, the general consensus has always been that the employee "screwed up" and that basically it was their fault. In other words this behavior seems to be well accepted.

Since this behavior started from the the executives, it seems pretty difficult to bring up the issue to the manager of a "yeller" because, very often, there is chain of people adopting this behavior above someone. Just to give an idea, I have personally witnessed the CEO (of a company with over 1000 people) yell to two different people in the last year.

The main reason I've seen for this behavior is that an employee made some kind of error or (even more often, maybe) contradicted their superior a bit too much. The only times I've heard some "yeller" talk about that, was some female manager saying that basically they were irritable in that occasion because of their period.

Occasionally I've heard some people who were yelled at by their boss complaining and one important thing is that nobody seems to ever receive an apology.

Is it somehow normal?

Is there some simple action that a person can take to avoid becoming the target of this kind of behavior?

  • 2
    I think we should update either the title or the body, because "is it professional" and "is it normal" are two different questions, and we're getting answers to both. Might be the reason for some of the discussion. – Erik Dec 4 '17 at 13:33
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    In some professional environments, like the construction trades and sports, it's expected that you'd yell otherwise no one will hear you. By "professional" you probably mean "white collar office jobs". – brian d foy Dec 6 '17 at 21:27
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    When you work on an assembly line. Definitely that. – Omegacron Dec 6 '17 at 22:50
  • It might be important to point out whether people yelling simply means being loud, or if we're talking about verbal abuse, which sounds like it fits the description. If it is verbal abuse, Phillip Kendalls answer is the most fitting (verbal abuse is NEVER okay). If they are simply being loud, that is fairly normal in a lot of workshops and factories, both due to necessity, and culture, and Carpetsmokers answer is more fitting. – MartinArrJay Dec 7 '17 at 12:14

13 Answers 13

250

Except in cases of immediate physical danger, it is never acceptable to yell in the workplace. End of discussion.

To answer your secondary questions:

Is it somehow normal?

Not in any company I've ever worked in. Unfortunately, it seems to be "normal" in your workplace, which is going to make it very hard to deal with.

Is there some sensible action that a person can take to avoid becoming the target of this kind of behavior?

Work in a company where this kind of behaviour is not tolerated.

  • 29
    This is "Not an answer" to the question. After the lengthy preamble, the first question is "Is it somehow normal?". A correct answer would be that it depends on the culture, company and country. For example, the Army depends on yelling. A busy kitchen depends on yelling. In both cases it may depend on authoritarian reprimands and retributions. I think the original question needs to be rephrased to specifically state if they are talking about a specific type of environment, such as for example a white collar United States based corporate office. – Sentinel Dec 4 '17 at 11:12
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    @Sentinel I think it's very clear from the question that the OP is asking from an office perspective. Your two examples don't even make sense in context to the question. It probably does depend on company culture as to what is acceptable there but that doesn't mean it is acceptable. My company culture could allow for bosses to hit employees but that still doesn't make it acceptable or normal. – TheLethalCompany Dec 4 '17 at 11:41
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    Disagree with this, from prior experience I can think of plenty of situation where it was acceptable to shout in my office. For example when a computer was infected with a virus, shouting at everyone to unplug their network cables was the correct thing to do. – Korthalion Dec 4 '17 at 11:59
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    Generally when someone says "end of discussion" it's usually preceded by something that is absolutely completely wrong. – Jonathon Cowley-Thom Dec 4 '17 at 12:23
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    In lots and lots and lots of companies yelling is not considered unprofessional...........Start of discussion. – Pieter B Dec 4 '17 at 13:14
113

Is it somehow normal?

It can be, depending on what sort of work you do. Most of the other answers are written from the perspective of relatively well-paid knowledge workers; and for those types of jobs the other answers are correct: it's not normal to be the target of shouting on a regular basis. That doesn't mean it doesn't happen; in some companies it still happens, but those are also the sort of companies people tend to run away from.

However, I left school at 16 and worked low-income jobs for a few years before moving on to an office job, and in my experience this is an entirely different world. It is definitely normal to be yelled at in that kind of environment. It happened at practically every job I worked at in that period.

I've been yelled at for making simple mistakes, not working fast enough, or once – as a 17-year old – received an extended 15-minute bollocking in front of the entire company for pointing out that blocking the fire exits is perhaps not a good idea, and probably illegal.

So this:

The main reasons I've seen for this behavior is that an employee made some kind of error or (even more often maybe) contradicted their superior a bit too much.

Matches my experience exactly, and is something that is considered "normal" in these kinds of jobs. It probably shouldn't be, but unfortunately it is.

  • 4
    I'd say there is a difference between "normal" and "commonplace" in this situation. It's not normal to yell at people, even if it happens a lot in some companies. – Erik Dec 3 '17 at 15:42
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    This is the only correct answer. What or what is not acceptable depends on the company culture. Yelling in a rugby football training company would be the norm, not the exception. Private companies of various kinds will have cultures depending on the owner. – Sentinel Dec 3 '17 at 21:34
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    @Erik: Depends on your definition of "normal". The one I go with is "ordinary or usual; the same as would be expected", which would be the case here. – Mehrdad Dec 3 '17 at 23:23
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    Yelling at employees may be usual in some work places. It might even be expected or tolerated by the employees. That doesn't make it right. – Wayne Conrad Dec 4 '17 at 5:04
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    @WayneConrad Oh yes, I fully agree. I just attempted to describe what is considered normal (or, as Erik called it, "commonplace") based on my experience. – Martin Tournoij Dec 4 '17 at 7:49
43

Sure! Yell like a champ!

I was in the Navy for many years, as a nuclear reactor officer. Needless to day, yelling is more or less a professional obligation in the Navy. I yelled all the time; I loved yelling and was good at it. I think yelling is normal, so to answer that part of your question, I'm going to explain how it can be effective.

Don't yell at individuals in public

Yelling at people in public is humiliating, especially if you are their boss and they are your subordinate. Now, if you are a drill instructor, humiliation is kind of the point. But even in the regular military (and I was an enlisted Marine, as well) yelling at people in public is counter productive. That is not useful or professional.

In the military, peer to peer yelling is the most dangerous kind, since that usually escalates to peer to peer punching. As a leader, don't tolerate that with your subordinates, and do not, do not engage in that with your peers (especially as an officer). Conflict among leaders erodes trust in leadership.

Yell at groups in public

If everyone messed up as a team, then they aren't really being a good team. Nothing builds a team like shared adversity. What better way to get them to share adversity than to yell at them? This method works well with some sort of shared discomfort, something that forces them to all be together suffering, like shining all the brass fittings in the engine room for 2 hours one evening. Just make sure that the depressing shared punishments are balanced against shared accomplishments and shared rewards. Again, do not underestimate the team-building value of shared adversity.

Yell to keep people awake

Do you do training? They sure love them some training in the Navy. As everyone knows, training is boring as all get out. If you have to sit through the training, you are probably planning on falling asleep. From the training-giver's perspective, that is non-optimal. Training is boring, but you often want people to at least pay semi-attention and hope that something sticks (you know, like what do do when the ship is sinking, etc).

The solution is, of course, yelling. Don't speak your training, yell your training. It is harder to fall asleep when someone is yelling at you, and enthusiasm tends to be contagious. Note, that this actually take a lot of practice. You have to know what you are going to say before you start yelling or you ending raving in gibberish. I would run through an hour long training in the mirror at least once before giving it, and keep index cards in hand. You can't go up and spout gibberish, lunacy is just as contagious as enthusiasm.

Yell for motivation

Lets say you've progressed beyond save-the-ship training and gotten to save-the-ship practical application. Your minions, to save the ship, must get together in a team of six, drag a charged firehose down a 30 foot metal ladder into a (simulated) raging inferno while wearing firefighting gear and breathing tanks. Now you are practicing this in the Persian Gulf in the middle of summer, and the (simulated) fire is in the 115 F engine room.

No one is excited about that. Do you know how much you sweat in a facemask when it is 115 F? A lot, like more than Patrick Ewing. I've seen people sweat through a firefighters jacket in under an hour. But you know what gets people motivated? Some yelling! Yell encouragement! Yell profanities! Yell some stories about people who won a Navy Cross in WWII fighting fires (again: requires preparation).

Every once and a while, yell at someone in private

This is another dangerous kind of yelling. You want to develop trust in your leadership with everything you do. There are three markers that indicate the situation might be right for a private yelling.

First, only yell if the person has done something with vast potential negative consequences. Broke something that keeps the aircraft carrier from launching airplanes? Congratulations, Petty Officer, the President of the United States is literally going to be briefed about your shortcomings. Did something that jeopardizes reactor safety? You better get your yell in, because you know the Captain is going to be yelling at you soon, and people might start losing their jobs. Instill in the recipient a healthy fear of what could have gone wrong.

Second, you have to know what you are going to yell about (sensing a trend?). If you just go spouting, you will yell something that doesn't make sense, and your victim will be moved from fear to contempt.

Lastly, do not yell at someone that doesn't care. Yellings are reserved for those for whom you have respect. If the person is a dirtbag, yelling is just a waste of your breath. Write them up a formal counseling and hope they get drunk at the next port so you can kick them out of your division.

Ultimately, an occasional private yelling reminds your better workers that a. you care, and b. they should care too.

Conclusion

Yelling is perfectly normal and professional if done right. I'm a database architect now, so my human interaction is mostly restricted to sneering contempt for people who ask me about the contents of the database and don't know SQL. I can honestly tell you that the part of leadership I miss the most is the opportunity to yell.

So, wear your passion on your sleeve! Give a s**t; heck give all the s**ts! Lets go warriors! Ooooraaaahhh!!!!

  • 2
    Amen to the above. – Sentinel Dec 5 '17 at 11:12
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    Yelling for "reactor safety" seems to be included in the physical danger of the accepted answer. In fact, military are in the business of physical danger. Yelling may be more acceptable as performing bad in the army/navy/air force may mean people killed. – Shikoba Dec 5 '17 at 12:41
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    @Shikoba no, because this isn't spur-of-the-moment 'look out' yelling, it's planned after-the-fact 'pay attention!!!!!' yelling. It's completely different. – the dark wanderer Dec 6 '17 at 5:05
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    Good answer but out of context to the question. – TheLethalCompany Dec 6 '17 at 16:12
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    @TheLethalCoder In my defense, the title is "when is it considered professional to yell." Who needs to read the question, when you can just answer the title? – kingledion Dec 6 '17 at 21:27
30

Is there some sensible action that a person can take to avoid becoming the target of this kind of behavior?

When someone is yelling, the absolute best thing you can do is to respond in a very quiet voice. Force them to listen to your response, and you will find that most of the time they will slowly lower their voice too as you continue to communicate.

Is it somehow normal?

No, it is not normal in my experience, but you seem to be working at a company that allows this behavior, there isn't much else you can do about it.

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    Responding with a quiet voice is actually a good suggestion. I recall it has some psychological aspects that justify its effectiveness. Escalating the volume is surely not the way to go. – DarkCygnus Dec 2 '17 at 20:03
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    @DarkCygnus Nor is "stop yelling at me" in most cases, as the answer will most likely be: I'M NOT FAKIN YELLIN AT YOU. – yo' Dec 2 '17 at 21:38
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    A low, quiet voice can be way more intimidating that yelling in an uncontrollable manner. Yelling can be painful to the ears and stressful to the listener, but "growling" invoke sentiments of fear and starts a whole different response. That's why the parent that comes close to the kid and do a quiet, discrete warning to stop the bad behavior is usually way scarier than the yelling one. Yelling kills the respect quickly. – T. Sar Dec 4 '17 at 10:40
  • And if you are extra polite, it makes the other ones bad behaviour stand out to a point it actually becomes embarrasing for them. A technique that your wise old lady at the entry desk used with perfection. Just make sure you don't thake on a mocking undertone. – Daniel Dec 4 '17 at 20:01
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the general consensus has always been that the employee "screwed up" and that basically it was their fault.

If an employee constantly screws up, they should be fired, not yelled at.

However if they screw up very occasionally or for the first time, then one should enquire why they screwed up. Maybe the instructions they had to follow were unclear. There could have been a misunderstanding. Perhaps the procedure is wrong, and should be corrected to reduce the chance of screwing up. Perhaps the labeling on a package was ambiguous. Perhaps they have been given conflicting orders from different managers. There could be many causes, but the causes should be discovered, in order to avoid more screwups.

Unless the employee is not capable of doing his job, the cause will usually be "not really their fault" and more something that should be an opportunity to adopt better practices. Most people don't screw up on purpose and would rather avoid it, if possible...

Thus, yelling is usually the result of a manager who is not willing to accept that the screwup is in reality the result of them not taking the time to think things through and explain them properly, then monitor the employees and make sure instructions are understood, making appropriate changes if necessary.

Sadly, not everyone gets this memo. Some still think yelling is productive. It can be, in some cases, but most of the times it just builds resentment. Why should you give your best to a boss who will yell at you? You get the idea.

Is it somehow normal?

No.

Is there some sensible action that a person can take to avoid becoming the target of this kind of behavior?

You're in trouble. If you're in this situation, you will have to reverse-engineer the thinking process of your managers to figure out what they really want, then navigate conflicting rules, and give them what they want. It takes the mind of a politician. It could work, if that's your thing.

Ultimately, if your manager is a psycho, honestly you need another job. Life is too short for these things.

  • 7
    And also, if several employees constantly screw up, it may be that it's in fact management that is screwing up. – RemcoGerlich Dec 3 '17 at 11:26
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    @RemcoGerlich that's my point, yeah ;) – peufeu Dec 3 '17 at 11:39
  • you can't fire incompetent people from large organizations, you can only promote them to a position where they can do less harm – Jeremy Leipzig Dec 5 '17 at 20:23
11

If you work at the Docks or Airport it might be OK to yell, if there's an emergency it's probably necessary. Yelling during a critical operation such as surgery or diamond cutting may result in an expensive mistake and immediate termination.

To demean and punish an employee in front of everyone is unacceptable, demoralizing and unprofessional conduct, it should be reported to a superior or Human Resources.

You should keep track of the occurrences in written format. Repeat behavior amounts to bullying and intimidation.

Be certain to ask customers if they can be put on hold if you suspect an eruption is imminent; unless you're on a Video Call with a superior or Human Resources.


If you're concerned about the success of the above suggestions or drawing unwanted attention to yourself try using search tools for information about "yelling mental health" or similar term.

Buy them a book, find a poster, a cartoon or comic, even professional psychology guides/aids or gifts like "soothing bath beads", "kindness candles", "massage balls".

Secret Santa or interoffice mail can deliver them an embarrassing hint to shut up and behave in a professional and adult manner.


Look for something like the Therapy Aid below.

  • Send it to their personal fax machine or the main one from an anonymous number.

  • Print it off and post it in the lunchroom or use your Graphic Designer skills to create your own poster. You can make it appear to come from Head Office, people may not phone to check and if they do they're raising the flag instead of you.

  • Drop it on their desk - don't get caught.

Send gentle hints at first if you want to be fair, escalating or creating an 'office joke' out of it only if it continues; we don't need a question in a few months from them.

Don't yell to get your way.

High resolution .PDF version: https://www.therapistaid.com/worksheets/anger-management-skills.pdf .

Other useful (or condescending) aids suitable for children and adolescents: https://www.therapistaid.com/therapy-worksheets/anger/adolescents/2

  • If the Therapy Aid would be like this picture (with JPEG artifacts), there's a chance they would get very angry. In fact I am also very angry now because of this, grrr! – Sarge Borsch Dec 4 '17 at 6:21
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    @Sarge Borsch - I added a high resolution link and a link to more aids for children and adolescents. – Rob Dec 4 '17 at 6:54
9

I worked on a trading floor of a major investment bank. It was reasonably common for traders to scream horrible things over the phone at traders at other banks in order to brow-beat them into getting a better deal or to intimidate them when the counterparty messed up a trade. You could tell that they were getting screamed at by the counterparty.

Interesting thing was that it was acceptable to scream at the "enemy" but the people could shout expletives at the other banks, but the second they got off the phone they were all sweetness and light to people at our bank.

The other instance was in which people were yelling was when traders would scream orders back and forth in order to coordinate trades on the loud trading floor. Also I've seen situations where people would scream something because of some emergency (i.e. someone screaming and running back and forth yelling to stop the trading system). It's an extremely high stress environment, and most people end up being very tightly wound, so when someone lets go, they let go.

There are some rare situations where people would just lose it, and start screaming at each other.

As far as what to do. There was a situation outside of banking where a coworker started screaming at me, and I just zoned out and imagined that I was somewhere else. It turned out that having someone scream at me and not having a response got me a lot of respect.

One interesting thing is what you could scream about on the trading floor. People would use extremely foul language that involved bodily functions or implied incest, but no one ever cursed anything that was remotely sexual (i.e. implied incest was fine, but implied sexual violence was not), religious, racial, or homophobic. That would get you instantly fired.

  • An open outcry trading floor is not a typical workplace – Neuromancer Dec 3 '17 at 20:24
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    It's not an open outcry trading floor, but just a front office trading floor. Also, it's typical for some of us. – Joseph Wang Dec 5 '17 at 1:12
6

Is it commonplace and ordinary? At many workplaces it is. This is something completely dependent on the corporate culture and the personalities of the people involved. In your workplace, the CEO has been known to yell which means that all the other managers are going to follow that behavioral cue. The truth is, in a company like this is it very hard to change the culture. If only one manager yells, it is usually easier.

This is not to say that it is the most effective way to manage. It is not. People resent being publicly shamed and often sabotage those who do it by working slower, making more mistakes, taking hidden actions that come to light after they leave etc.

The useful question in this situation is not, is it normal as clearly it is where you work. The real question is what can I do about it?

First decide if there are other reasons why you want to stay. Is the pay particularly good, is the work particularly interesting, are you getting experience in something that will take you to a better place in your career later on? Those might be valid reason to stay and learn to cope.

If there is nothing special about this workplace, then consider if you want to move on. There certainly are places (and many of them as well) where yelling would be considered to be bad. When you interview, ask how issues are handled when something goes wrong. If you want, explain that the company culture in your current position is that people are yelled at publicly and that you are uncomfortable with this. The companies that yell will likely mark you off the list at this point, but that's ok, you want to find out before you accept another position. It may take a little longer to find the next job, but it will likely be a better fit for you.

Should you decide to stay, then you need to learn some coping skills. The first and most critical is to not take it personally if it is directed at you. The person is yelling because he or she likes to yell. It doesn't make you a bad person that you made a mistake. Take note of what you did wrong and don't do it again, but let all the anger slide off without letting it get to you. It isn't always easy to do this and meditation is the best way to learn the skill of letting things go.

The next thing (and one of the reasons why some managers wrongly think this is the best way to manage people) is to make sure your personal performance at work is good enough that you don't get yelled at. Outstanding performers are not yelled at often even in bad places.

When others are being yelled at, try not to watch or listen. If the manager won't give the employee the courtesy of privacy, then you can at least do so.

If you get promoted, take note of how this yelling makes you feel and then don't give in to the temptation to do it (which admittedly can be very strong when someone massively messes something up). This is a learning experience on why this is a poor management technique. Remember to always praise publicly and criticize in private. Remember that the goal is to improve performance and fix mistakes not to lay blame.

If you are ever a second line or higher supervisor, make sure to notice if subordinate managers are yelling and bring that up as a performance issue. The only people who can stop this sort of behavior are senior managers. If you become one, make sure to get out of your office enough to see how your subordinates are treating their subordinates and nip this behavior in the bud as soon as you see it. Make it clear that retaining their job is dependent on stopping the behavior.

At the employee level, you have very little recourse to stopping the behavior. You can complain to HR, but chances are they will not be your friend in an issue like this as long as the manager is seen as being effective at getting the work done. If they were looking for a reason to fire him, it could work, but really it is generally not a good idea.

  • A more effective way to prevent being yelled at might be to blame other people for your faults and find ways to not contribute anything worth being chastised over if you do it wrong. (Think Wally from Dilbert.) – Erik Dec 4 '17 at 15:57
1

The question, and most of the answers, focus on the means of delivering the message rather than the message itself.

I suggest stepping back from the volume and focusing on the content.

If what is occurring is verbal abuse, then it is verbal abuse and is not acceptable. It sounds like this is endemic in your organisation in which case trying to change others is unlikely to be successful and will simply cause you personal distress. Leave.

If what is occurring is venting of frustration, this may be acceptable. I had a boss who used to rant in very colourful fashion when the heat was on. I also knew a chef who would insult his ingredients. The key here is that the target is not a person, it is basically about the venter, not someone else. I don't mind this, I find the possible parentage of burnt butter amusing and just try not to laugh.

Then there are the special cases. I have seen yelling used as a tactical tool in negotiations. @joseph-wang mentioned the games that traders play with each other. And of course noisy environments require an increased volume. All of these are special environments and need to be evaluated within their context. Look at what is being said not how then judge the appropriateness.

  • I couldn't quite work out what is meant by "parentage of burnt butter". – Wilson Dec 5 '17 at 13:48
1

The only time it's acceptable to yell is either to grab someone's attention, or to put emphasis on something that needs done right now.

For example, staying in IT, if you see someone just hit ctrl+enter on a delete with no where on the production database instead of dev and they have autocommit on... it'd be perfectly acceptable to yell NO! CANCEL THAT! CANCEL! or something of the sort. Followed by a calm, no-yells-involved discussion on why the hell you were connected to a production database, with autocommit on, without some sort of flashing bells and whistles to remind you.

Yelling at him will fix nothing. The only thing it'll make sure of is that the next time he accidentally deletes a bunch of records he'll just sweep the problem under the rug and hope nobody notices, instead of raising the red flag and talking with others or allocating the time to figure out how to recover them.

And consider that no one likes to be yelled at. If you keep yelling at employees for any stupid mistake, all the smart ones will get fed up and leave (and they'll have no problem finding another job), and you'll just be left with the ones who are too incompetent to find another job and leave, leading to even more yelling, and a toxic environment that will make even more smart employees leave.

0

If you get yelled at, take some time to get over it and schedule a private meeting. Let the person know that you don't respond well to being yelled at and if they want you to fix an error and work to prevent future errors, they shouldn't yell at you.

Part of being professional and an adult is sticking up for yourself, but you have to do it the right way. Either these people will respect and appreciate how you handle the situation or they won't. At least you will have done your part. Hopefully, you won't have to leave.

I've known a few people who have had luck with this. In one case, when the supervisor was going to yell at the entire team, it was suggested to this person to not attend the meeting. Not ideal, but at least there was some respect for this individual.

0

Only time I (or anyone else) has ever had to yell to other workers is when we are all in the same room and one person would like everyones attention for some sort of announcement, or to ask everyone to help with a particular task. Other than speaking to a crowd, it's generally not very professional to yell at someone for any reason. If you're yelling at a single person in the middle of a discussion, you're essentially saying "I have no valid argument to counter that statement, but I'm going to talk louder to make it seem like I do". Don't raise your voice, strengthen your argument. If what you're saying is perfectly logical and valid, there's no reason to get worked up

EDIT: If your phone connection sucks and you have to yell, it's often alright but still not professional looking to yell at clients

-6

It depends on the culture. The company culture, the industry, the country.

Just watch Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares for an empirical example of how, when and why yelling should be employed.(Professional and commonplace use of yelling)

Understand, that despite some of the other answers, which amount to naïveté and wishful thinking, much more than yelling is often the norm.

  • 8
    Being the norm does not mean its professional or right. – Polygnome Dec 4 '17 at 0:21
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    In Gordon Ramsay's case it is obviously professional, and it being right or not is irrelevant to the question. – Sentinel Dec 4 '17 at 8:05
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    I'm pretty sure Gordon yells because it increases his show's ratings, not his cook's performance. It's not a very good example imho. – Erik Dec 4 '17 at 8:32
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    And if you watch some movies about Ancient Egypt, you'll notice, that beating your workers is perfectly professional behaviour. Or you see a warning light? – user50700 Dec 4 '17 at 13:16
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    are you actually trying to use reality TV as an example? Gordon Ramsay yells at people because they are idiots that are basically giving people the guarantee of food poisoning. @Erik also makes a very good point about the potential boosted ratings. I think you are misunderstanding what is ment by yelling in this context. We are not talking about simply raising your voice. You are right, in loud work places people raise their voice to be heard and that is normal. In this context, we are talking about harassment, which is not normal in the workplace – SaggingRufus Dec 4 '17 at 13:29

protected by Jane S Dec 5 '17 at 4:12

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