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How to deal with a boss who always shouts and yells at most members of his team? (Except his favourite employees of course who he is very friendly with).

We have become very sure that he enjoys intimidating us, and most of us are trying to avoid him and to keep the communication only via email as much as we can.

closed as off-topic by Lilienthal, gnat, Aaron Hall, HopelessN00b, sleske May 19 '16 at 14:58

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  • "Real questions have answers. Rather than explaining why your situation is terrible, or why your boss/coworker makes you unhappy, explain what you want to do to make it better. For more information, click here." – Lilienthal, Aaron Hall, sleske
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19

We have become very sure that he enjoys intimidating us

There's your problem. Stop looking scared. It's natural to feel a little uncomfortable, but your team needs to show some strength. Be as stoic looking as possible. Everyone needs to do this. Take a deep breath and relax. When he is done, it is business as usual.

Don't try to show him that you're going back to work with extra effort by looking busy trying to solve this problem. Take your time. Don't forget to breathe.

Also, make sure to be a little more attentive if he ever manages to address you in a respectful manner and put a little more effort in getting the task done as quickly as possible.

Your boss isn't a complete idiot. Your team has shown him that yelling gets results and bosses like getting results. It's up to you to shape his behavior if you ever want it to change.

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    And when you first start doing this, he is going to yell a lot more, so don't think it's not working. Keep at it. It gets worse before it gets better. Your team has to stick together. – user8365 May 19 '16 at 12:08
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    Yes, it's called "extinction behavior". When bullies are confronted, they escalate briefly, hoping that more of their bullying behavior will work. Then it dies out. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica May 19 '16 at 13:41
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    Close. It's actually an "extinction burst." And it applies to any behavior that has previously paid off that is no longer working. – Amy Blankenship May 19 '16 at 16:57
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Force a de-escalation. This is done by patterning the behavior you want him to follow. If he raises his voice, do not act frightened, but respond in a calm, soft voice. This demonstrates that you are the one in control. It also has the additional affect of creating a dissonance to those observing.

When someone yells, and another cowers, it appears to the observer that the person doing the yelling is justified. However, if the person being yelled at stands their ground assertively, but not aggressively, it appears to the onlooker that the yelling is unnecessary, and the one yelling looks like a fool.

Do not try to out-shout him. Remember, the goal is to change his behavior. When you speak softly, people will naturally speak more softly, or even be silent so that they can hear you. A soft voice and relaxed posture is actually a dominant stance. It shuts down a bully very quickly. Yelling back will get you disciplined, cowering reinforces the behavior, but quiet dominance will end it.

I have used this and it is very effective.

  • I like a calm "excuse me..." when they've cut you off with a yell the first time. If they keep yelling to you after that you can just get up and walk out of the room. This answer is great. – Lightness Races with Monica May 19 '16 at 14:39
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit The big dog doesn't bark, he already has dominance. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica May 19 '16 at 14:42
  • Exactly! Spot on. – Lightness Races with Monica May 19 '16 at 14:42
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    @AmyBlankenship I was using a metaphor, not dog theory. Kind of like when I say "A wolf remains a wolf, even when he has not eaten your sheep." I'm not talking about the sociology of wolves or their eating habits. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica May 19 '16 at 17:25
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    Right, but the reason it's even a metaphor was due to bad science ;) – Amy Blankenship May 19 '16 at 18:05
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The boss's behaviour as described is clearly out of order - he's a bully, plain and simple. As he appears to be showing quite deliberate disrespect for you and selected others, approaching him directly is unlikely to be fruitful. You need to go to either HR (the preferable option) or his own boss and make them aware of the unacceptable behaviour. They probably already are aware to some degree but they also need to know it is having a damaging effect on the team.

Sadly this approach doesn't always work well. If the boss is the most senior person you have noone to pull rank on him. They may tolerate his behaviour because he's perceived as too valuable to upset or because they too are intimidated by him. Or they may condone it because they are good friends with the boss and of a similar outlook. In any of these cases, you do risk being fired as a result (though if you are fired, it may be a blessing in disguise), and your other options are to leave or put up with it. Putting up with it has the immediate advantage of keeping the pay cheques coming, but is liable to be detrimental to your mental health the longer it continues for, so I wouldn't recommend it.

  • Immediately taking the step of crying to somebody else when you can solve this yourself very simply (see other answers) seems like a huge overreaction. Life is most fulfilling when we sort things out ourselves; we don't need to start legal action every time someone says a mean word. Besides, this is likely to make your relationship with the boss much, much worse instead of improving it. Not a good plan. – Lightness Races with Monica May 19 '16 at 14:38
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit: sure, if you can avoid crying while reporting abuse then do so. – Steve Jessop May 19 '16 at 15:11
  • Powerful people say "I'm going to attempt to solve this problem" before breaking down, running to the nearest authority and going "he/she is abusing me!" then waiting for somebody else to fix it. Of course, if you've tried and failed, then ... well it's a work environment so if your boss is not responding to basic human social techniques then maybe you need to get HR involved. But it should certainly not be your first step. I'm certainly not saying people don't have a right to go to HR in the first instance (they absolutely do), but that it would not be my recommendation, & I wish fewer did. – Lightness Races with Monica May 19 '16 at 15:31
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    The point is, the OP was describing persistent abuse of multiple individuals over a period of time - that is, behaviour that has become totally entrenched by being implicitly condoned for a long time. I totally agree that if the boss had acted out of order on one or two occasions, that would be very different. In an ideal world we wouldn't be starting here, someone would have taken the initiative much earlier. – Julia Hayward May 19 '16 at 15:40
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    I worked for a public company subsidiary and had a boss who was a bully like this. Managers in other departments heard him screaming at me and one told me I needed to go to HR. My boss was offsite the rest of the day and I went to the HR director who said she would set up meetings with our department to discuss it the next week. The boss heard about it, came back in to the office and fired me that day, having a low-level HR clerk process the paperwork, even though the HR director was in her office. This is a cautionary tale that going to HR doesn't always work out the way you hope. – Chris E May 19 '16 at 16:23

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