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Once or twice, my boss has told me that I'm being unprofessional by exhibiting emotion in the workplace. For example, when I get passionate about something that really shouldn't happen, my voice tends to get louder.

I understand that the behavior is unprofessional and that I should have better control of my volume.

The trouble is, my boss exhibits the same unprofessional behavior all the time.

What's the best way to deal with this? Should I ask them about it in the moment? Should I wait until a one-on-one? What's the right place to give such feedback?

By "such feedback" I mean

  1. that they are being unprofessional by shouting and
  2. that they are not doing what they tell me to do.

The first is more important than the second.

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    Sometimes we aspire to be better than we have the ability to be 100% of the time. You may want to reflect on how you handle criticism if you often find yourself thinking about how people who criticize you are hypocritical. No-one is perfect. – ColleenV Jun 3 at 16:41
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    Managers punch down, its not a fair world. – Mark Rogers Jun 3 at 23:09
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    If I do things wrong and tell you to do them right, you should absolutely do as I say and not do as I do. – gnasher729 Jun 4 at 7:04
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    A long time ago my boss told me to talk to one of my subordinates about their timekeeping. I had to tell them it was affecting their work and people were noticing despite the fact that my own timekeeping was also bad. The fact that I wasn't following the advice didn't make it bad advice (it was embarrassing to deliver though). Imagine you are a team leader who has an issue they have trouble dealing with (lateness, emotional outbursts etc) are you happy for your subordinates to engage in the same behaviour because telling them not to seems hypocritical (whether it is or not is debatable). – Eric Nolan Jun 4 at 8:25
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    IF you have trouble controlling your temper, you really shouldn't be coaching others in how to control theirs. And you shouldn't be trying to coach your boss unless you really know what you are doing. Managing upwards is a careful skill, best practiced slowly and quietly. – Stian Yttervik Jun 4 at 8:37

13 Answers 13

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Just concentrate on improving your own behaviour, you know that you have things to work on, so work on those.

Criticising your manager isn't really going to solve much, but might introduce friction.

If anything, you can ask if they feel that your emotional outbursts have improved at your next one-to-one (if it's more than a few weeks off).

Let your improved behaviour passively be the prompt for them to improve theirs.

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  • Agree that confronting the boss should be avoided. Disagree that they'll magically get better via OP's performing good behavior: IME that's an entirely false promise. – Daniel R. Collins Jun 4 at 12:18
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    @DanielR.Collins "being a prompt" isn't meant to be a promise. It's a prompt that can be picked up on or not as the case might be. – Snow Jun 4 at 12:23
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I'm a boss, and I'm sure I am guilty of asking people to do things all the time to correct behaviors that I struggle with myself. Usually I'll admit this when I know I am doing it. That doesn't change whether what I am asking is valid.

Your boss is a human being, just like you with the same failings. The best you can do is be constructive in your feedback the way you would hope they would do for you.

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In my eyes there are only one situation in which you could bring that up to them and that's if your boss is a reasonable person and has already expressed or shown that they were looking for feedback on how things should go. My current manager is like that (manager, not boss) and if there's a problem usually things can be brought up to him. Either during the act (if it's a small meeting with trusted people) or later during calmer times: "Sometimes conversations get a bit too heated, we should be careful".

I don't think you should mention anything about what thee told you anyway, such as "you told me not to shout but you do". We don't want to shout because it's not pleasant and not professional, it's not about who said what.

But I think that in any other situation, you don't really have anything to say to them. If they're particularly hotblooded or never asked you for feedback, any criticism could trigger them and just make things worse. People that get angry easily don't usually like people to tell them to calm down.

It's even worse if you try to tell your boss that they are unprofessional AND that you try to catch them contradicting themselves.

Worst case scenario, you'll be right but you'll be fired.

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Think twice before confronting your boss.

Your boss is the one who gets to define the rules around the workplace for you, not vice versa. Trying to teach them manners is fairly unlikely to work. Best case, they will listen to your criticism and that will be the end of it, but your relationship will be strained forever because you went against their authority. Worst case, they can make your work life miserable in many different ways.

If you can't just learn to live with your boss the way they are, you might want to consider looking for another job (with a potentially more pleasant boss).

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    I don't like how this seems to suggest how OP's task is ultimate submission (I believe that it is not — however unpopular this idea may be on this platform currently). I also don't like how you reach for "leave the job" so quickly; it's pretty clear from OP's question that this is far from that level of frustration; they had been loud too. This rather seems to be a nitpick on a principle. See Snow's answer for an example on how to deliver the same answer, while finding the right weight of things. – Levente Jun 4 at 3:56
  • @Levente I see your point, but OP is evidently frustrated enough to contemplate bringing this up with the boss. I'm not trying to suggest that quitting should be the first course of action. I meant to say that they should just learn to accept it, and only if they're 105% sure it's not going to work, then perhaps the very last resort is to look elsewhere. IMHO it's always easier to change the way we perceive others than to make others change to fit our preferences. Does Andy Lester's answer feel like a better-worded version of my answer? – TooTea Jun 4 at 8:00
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    I have my issue with Andy's answer for his stance on the first point: total one-sided submission. I have hard time aligning with that one. Please also see this comment I made elsewhere; it's very relevant here too. (Actually so relevant that I will put it in my user bio soon.) – Levente Jun 4 at 14:04
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What's the right place to give such feedback?

There isn't one. It's not your place to give your boss feedback about how you think they are behaving or performing.

The only problem with this situation is that you don't like it. That's OK. You don't have to like it.

If you try to "fix" the situation by telling your boss that they are being hypocritical, you will achieve nothing and at the very least cause friction between you and the boss.

The Serenity Prayer applies here: "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

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  • If the boss is treating you, or,somebody to witness inappropriate you have to tell them, or if it is a worse offense, somebody responsible. I don’t see why that should not be the case. In the case of a typical human error with no clear definition if it is unacceptable, it is a good idea to only do this carefully. – eckes Jun 4 at 13:14
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Personally, it would be bad for my mental health to work for a hypocrite who shouts. And I value my mental health highly. So if I was in your shoes I'd be getting my resume out there. Not necessarily saying this is right for your situation, only what I would do. Of course it can't do any harm to up your game also. Shouting in a professional environment is usually not helpful.

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    I'd only prepare the resume after fixing the problems with my own behavior in this case. Can't blame the boss for doing what I'm doing. I mean he's blaming me for doing what he's doing. If I'm right, he's right. If I want the boss to change I must prove that it's possible to change by changing myself (that's not always true, but in this case, being the same fault, it stands). – brett Jun 5 at 8:28
  • @brett Well I take the view that no matter what I improved about my own behavior, I still wouldn't want to work for a boss like that. It's not a case of blaming the boss for me as much as just accepting the way he is and taking appropriate action in light of that. In my experience in life, I haven't found much success with pinning my hopes on other people fundamentally changing. – Brad Thomas Jun 5 at 16:27
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Often "it's (un)professional" is used as a general-purpose justification. The manager doesn't feel like saying "I get nervous when women show emotion around me" so throws in something about professionalism. They know it's a fake excuse, and once you know that they know that you know ... things are easier. It can be a workplace "because I said so".

But it's always going to be a bit awkward, and a sign of a too-authoritarian manager. Why can't they just say "talking loudly in the hallways distracts everyone else"? A way to get that last bit of "but I'm still technically being lied to, with the professionalism excuse" out of your system is to make jokes about it with co-workers. "Guess I'm not professional" (don't force it -- you'll probably hear co-workers doing it once you start thinking about it).

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Don't try to blame others for not following the rules to win you an excuse to stop working on your behavior. You're not going to win anything. Especially if you only look for excuses and boss behaving the same is only your interpretation of the facts. This can backfire deadly.

Don't forget that the expectations for boss and for a regular office worker are not the same. The boss might speak louder because they need to get the message over the regular office noise, or it's the local culture that expect people higher in the hierarchy to speak louder (BTW. you've totally forget to add the country tag). Speaking loudly when the boss is in the same room and is speaking with other coworkers is nowhere welcomed.

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Is your boss aware of their own behaviour?

Your boss notices this "unprofessional" behaviour of yours. Take it into account and improve your own behaviour. One of the more direct approaches is to ask a person you trust and with which you are often in the same situations and agree a passphrase. So your person of trust can indicate to you that your overstepping. This immediate feedback helps with learning cycles.

This shall be your primary concern. Because if you change then you do not contribute to escalation. This will make "heated" discussions easier. Over time it might make you the "cool headed" person to mediate heated discussions. Simply because you were there (are there now) and can read situations easier.

Does your boss wants to change their own behaviour?

Your boss has noticed your behaviour probably (my guess) because your boss still behaves the same. Except they do not want help or no one provides help.

I suggest addressing any vulnerability to do only in a one-to-one meeting. In person. No email, no messaging. (It is only very confident people that can stand an "accusation" that has an audit trail and not react defensively.)

If you address with your boss then ask passively and for understanding like "Looks like you are very passionate on . Why is this?" If your boss wants to talk about you might learn a few things. If your boss dodges the question, then leave it be.

Personal experience

Personally I have addressed this a few times during my career.

In one job I clashed hard with a colleague in the same team over different work approaches. Which led to heated discussions which were loud. Our tones became aggressive as we each "defended our corner".

Our boss took us both aside in a one-to-one and pointed to each of us out that we both were unprofessional.

After a steam off phase we started discussing together why each of us reacted passionately over the next few days. Which got at times heated too. But we had allowed one of our team colleague to call out with "Play Tetris or else". This was for both of us the big "Stop talking and calm down" flag.

Thanks to this colleague and the talks this colleague and I built a great work relationship and worked happily for a lot of years.

Good luck and remember to change yourself first. Prove yourself to others and others just might allow to get help from you afterwards.

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I am shocked how many "don't say anything" answers this question has! A 1-1 meeting is a TWO-WAY street. It is meant to provide feedback both ways.

So naturally you bring it up there. Not when your boss addresses issues he has with you but when it's your turn to bring up anything that bothers you in the general work context. Not all 1-1 are particularly structured, but all in which I participated in so far had an explicit or implicit way to ask both ways for feedback.

I would only advice against bringing it up, if your boss has shown to lash out against anything that could be perceived as personally criticising them. Otherwise it's a natural part of the feedback process.

Being your boss they can still decide not to change their behaviour for reasonable or unreasonable reasons. The 1-1 is not meant as a trial but as an exchange of information that the other person then can act on. Therefore you don't bring it up in an accusatory way, you just state that you find that particular behaviour bothering/distracting whatever or that you feel it impacts the team morale or the like. The more junior you are the more you need to avoid suggesting explicit ways to improve, especially in areas where your boss should be more knowledgable, so if you want to imply what they could do different choose softer formulations the lower in the hierarchy you are.

The important part is that both are indeed independent - you giving feedback about what feels wrong to you and they giving feedback about what they feel you do wrong. It would only become somewhat connected if they give a justification for their screaming (like deadline close and they feel they need to motivate you) that would also hold for your screaming. Then you might want to clarify exactly when this is considered a valid motivation technique (just a random example, I'm not saying it ever is^^).

Note that what bothers them and you doesn't need to be symmetric, e.g. if I'm not bothered by other people chewing lunch in the office but they are by me chewing a chewing gum, I might not bring their chewing up as a negative about them, I might just ask for clarifications on what chewing is fine when or whether all chewing annoys them etc.. The boss can also bring up that I did not follow his orders well enough while I won't bring that up with him, because well, I can only ask him to do stuff, not order him around by the nature of our roles.

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  • 'I am shocked how many "don't say anything" answers this question has!' — I have a theory: the community here may be divided into employees, supervisors/managers/C-level officers, independent freelancers and even company owners. Sometimes you can see different answers from them, often allowing insight into on behalf of / in favor of which group the poster speaks up... – Levente Jun 5 at 21:03
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Bring it up in a sprint retrospective.

Sprint retrospectives are meetings deliberately designed around analyzing how a sprint worked, bring up any problems that arose during the sprint, and talk about how things could be improved for the next sprint. I think that this would qualify, so if you're working in an Agile methodology, you could bring it up during a sprint retrospective - possibly prefaced by bringing up your own tendency to escalate in volume when excited, and your efforts at controlling that, and asking your team members for feedback on how well you did so and any ideas on how to help you do so in the future.

Don't make it a personal attack on the boss, or call them unprofessional - just bring it up as a topic for the team members (boss included) to work on improving in the future. Part of the point of working in an Agile fashion is to allow for continuous improvement, and you can't improve things if you're not willing to acknowledge areas that need to be improved.

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  • That's interesting because it's trying to utilize a feedback cycle that's regularly used for improving things. But due to the nature of the issue, I believe it could be better to bring up the issue in a one-on-one instead; not in public, in front of the entire team. If such patterns are unprecedented in the team, it would take the manager as surprise, and leave them incredibly little room to maneuver in handling this, resulting in embarrassment. This in turn could yield resentment. Then again, this also depends on the team culture. – Levente Jun 4 at 14:59
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    No. This is certainly NOT the type of thing you should bring up in a sprint retro. – Gregory Currie Jun 4 at 16:39
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    It is not a good idea to bring up personal critic when others are present, not as a boss and not against your bos. You would effectively have the. Lose their face. – eckes Jun 5 at 10:09
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I think the answer from Owen Reynolds is onto something, and has been unfairly downvoted: emotions aren't all equal in the workplace. Many workplaces tolerate or encourage a kind of get-it-done anger, but don't want to see crying, screaming, whinging or other outbursts. This is probably a complex function of culture and gender norms but the bottom line is: your behaviour may actually be quite different than your boss's, in ways that are important to the workplace.

For example, I've known adult male engineers who can work themselves up into a tearful rage over how unfair was vhs's trumph over beta's; or what a tragedy that the CF-105 Arrow was cancelled (that's a Canadian thing). That's really, really different than a "goddamit" or even f-bomb over a delayed delivery or a server crash.

So this may not be entirely fair, and it may well be that your boss has room for improvement, but the attitude of well-you-do-it-too is not likely to be productive. Try to take an objective look at your own actions; if you feel that these complaints are discriminatory (because your actions or words are characteristic of your gender or culture) you may well have a valid case to bring to your enterprise's HR group. But decouple this from your Boss's behaviour.

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As a few other answers/comments have pointed out, you are not your boss's boss, and depending on what type of person your boss is, they might not take criticism very well.

There's very little you can do about this sort of thing without risking your job in most workplaces, but there is one option open to nearly every employee has that could could give them some power in this kind of situation: Join a union (or start one, if there isn't one already).

The point of unionization is about giving agency to workers low in the hierarchy in their workplace. A single employee who voices criticism about their boss in a non-unionized workplace could just get fired and replaced by someone who is more "obedient". As such, workers without a union don't really have any agency in their working conditions. Some workplaces (and some bosses) are more friendly about criticism and feedback than others, but it's extremely rare for it to be entirely safe to criticize people in the workplace with more power than you. In unionized workplaces, on the other hand, a worker can bring up a grievance they have with their boss to a union rep, and have the union bring it to management. If management refuses to address the issue, they would be at risk of their entire workforce going on strike, which could be very costly to them. Replacing a single employee is a lot easier than replacing all your employees.

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