How to cope with an extreme aversion to being yelled at as a professional? [closed]

user2896564 08/25/2017. 6 answers, 5.511 views
professionalism software-industry united-states company-culture mental-health


As the title suggests, I have a fairly severe problem with being yelled at. When it happens, I enter a state that makes it difficult to work. My mind doesn't feel like it's quite there, I have a harder time keeping my thoughts together, I experience a kind of "dis-associative" feeling. I begin to think very irrationally. This lasts much longer than I would like--it severely hurts my productivity for 2-3 days, and it takes time afterwards to fully get over it. Perhaps 1-2 weeks to fully recover.

For this particular incident, I've also noticed that I've become afraid of my boss. Even though I don't think he'd ever hit me (for multiple reasons), I still feel myself tensing up when he gets near. I don't feel safe at work anymore, especially around him, even though this particular incident only lasted a few seconds. The senior developer that he yelled at with me (it was a mistake we'd made together) seemed to be fine.

I often have intense feelings of self-loathing over this quality about myself, but I don't know how to get rid of it. It's something I developed in childhood (it was just tumultuous). This is the first time it's come up in my professional life, so I will be exploring ways to get over this--online resources, perhaps even mental healthcare of some kind.

For the sake of this question, I would like to assume that it's something that won't go away. I would also like to stress that this is a very specific issue. I don't have problems being criticized--I actively seek out criticism, as I want to improve professionally. I don't enter these states when being yelled at by strangers.

I don't fully understand what's needed to make me enter these states, but it's been very specific in my experience. It has to be someone I trust and am close with (in this case, it was my direct-report boss that I've known over a year). It's not just verbal chastisement--it's high volume, hand gestures, and so on. Intense anger being expressed directly at me (or at least when I perceive it that way).

I am currently in school, and will graduate soon with a Computer Science degree (I have a pretty good GPA). I have been doing a paid internship internship at my company for the past year on and off, a total of about 8 months of experience. They'll give me a job offer after I graduate, barring extreme organizational/budget changes.

Overall, my boss is pleased with my performance--the yelling incident was due to a mistake I made that several other people in the development team made (I'm not excusing my mistake, just providing background), and my boss just "blew his lid" at the number of times he was dealing with this mistake, rather than me specifically (it was the first time I'd made this mistake).

My questions:

1) How common is it for bosses to yell at their employees?

I can understand a boss yelling for repeated, simple mistakes or open defiance (even though I don't condone this). I try my best to keep my boss happy, not stir up trouble, do what I'm told. I try to understate my qualifications and abilities on my resume and during interviews, so that I won't have any trouble meeting expectations.

2) If yelling isn't ubiquitous in the workplace, how can I screen companies/managers to avoid working at a place where this is considered acceptable?

I'll be job searching before I graduate.

3) Is there a good way to communicate my special aversion to yelling to my boss?

Is there a way to gauge his response ahead of time? He's (culturally, not politically) conservative, and I'm afraid of coming off as a whiny millennial intern. I don't know how to communicate how big of a deal this is for me without pulling out sob stories from my childhood. Most importantly, I don't want to accept a job offer if this will continue to happen.

1 Lilienthal♦ 07/31/2017
Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Remember what comments are for. Sharing your personal experience or diagnosing the OP is not it.
4 Lilienthal♦ 07/31/2017
Final close vote cast. While we can cover the general question of "should I expect to get yelled at at work?" the rest of your question and details of your situation make this off-topic here. You should consult with a mental health professional. They are specifically trained to deal with these situations and how to communicate around them at work. They should also be aware of whatever legal protections might cover your situation. We are unable to provide that information here.

6 Answers

Steve Smith 07/31/2017.

To answer your specific questions:-

1) Incredibly rare. As other commenter have said, I've been in IT for ~20 years and never even witnessed it, never mind had it directed at me. It has no place in the modern workplace.

2) Unfortunately that is difficult (though it shouldn't be a problem). I would visit the workplace (if possible during the interview) and glean what you can from the atmosphere.

3) Simply tell him that you won't accept being yelled at; if he has a problem then it needs to be discussed in a professional manner like professionals. I wouldn't shout it back, but say it forcefully and stand your ground. Even if you've made mistakes, that is no justification for being shouted at like a naughty child.

Other commenters have mentioned therapy. I don't think this is required; most people have an aversion to being yelled at, and that is quite normal. I think you've just been unlucky to end up working with this immature boss. It's your boss that has the problem here, not you.

HLGEM 07/31/2017
It may depend on the industry, I would have said it was very common, but I spent a lot of time working for the military or for military contractors.

Erik 07/30/2017.

You shouldn't have to cope with this. Yelling at colleagues or underlings is extremely unprofessional.

You should never have to bring this up in interviews, and if a colleague (including a manager) yells at you the correct response is to:

  1. State, calmly, that they are being incredibly unprofessional and you consider this discussion to be done. (If you think they are yelling in rage and you fear they might get violent, it is also perfectly fine to say nothing and just walk away.)

  2. Leave the immediate area, regardless of what they say or threaten to do

  3. Raise a complaint with the colleague's manager about their behavior.

  4. If raising a complaint does not help, raise the same issue with first your HR department and then if that doesn't help either, a lawyer, because this kind of behavior is fairly likely to constitute a "hostile work environment".

It is never okay to yell at a fellow professional and it should not be tolerated.

Lilienthal♦ 08/01/2017
Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.

gnasher729 07/30/2017.

Repeating Erik's first sentence: You shouldn't have to cope with this. Yelling at colleagues or underlings is extremely unprofessional.

Is your colleague shouting because they are panicking for some reason? Try to calm them down to a level where you can proceed reasonably. Much later, when the actual problem is solved, you can tell them that they should never shout at you, even in a state of panic.

Is your colleague shouting because something went wrong and they are angry about it, and is this not something that happens often? Walk away. Wait until they have calmed down, assuming the colleague knows they are wrong anyway, and will come back apologising.

Is your colleague shouting because something is wrong, and they do that repeatedly? Don't accept it. You walk away, but you first tell them that you don't accept them shouting at you, and that is why you are walking away. I wouldn't talk about being unprofessional but keep it as simple as possible: It's the shouting that you don't like, and the shouting isn't accepted. If that colleague is incapable of learning, it's time to go to your manager or HR.

If your boss is shouting at you, you do exactly the same thing. Your boss has no right to shout at you. Could this lead to losing a job? If it does, then it's good for you. You'll find a job that doesn't involve shouting. On the other hand, you may be successful changing the environment at your current job.

PS. I don't know how common it is, but I knew one woman whose boss was a genuine lunatic. Most of the month he was a nice person. On full moon he changed. He shouted at her, she would shout back louder. When he was back to normal, he brought her flowers. Not much you can do.

2 TomTom 07/30/2017
I will -1 this bevcause - while you can all argue, it happens. Sometimes people get upset. Justified? SOMETIMES. But even if not - blablaing around the issue will not help the OP.
gnasher729 07/30/2017
@Eric: As long as you don't yell at me :-)
gnasher729 07/30/2017
@TomTom: What are you going on about? The steps: Get yelled at. Identify the situation. Handle it appropriately. How does that not help?
1 gnasher729 07/30/2017
@TomTom: I read your more elaborate comment elsewhere. The OP didn't ask about where and when to yell at people. The OP asked what to do when yelled at
1 Erik 07/31/2017
@TomTom getting treatment is a personal choice (that I would support, but it's up to OP) but from a professional workplace perspective, breaking down over being yelled at is a perfectly fine response because it should not happen and the real issue is NOT the OPs response to the yelling.

dlb 07/30/2017.

Yelling at work should be a very rare occurrence if it occurs at all. I can think of few situations where it would be considered even remotely professional, thinking of safety/emergency type situations that might require immediate reaction and bypass normal professional behavior. I do understand that culture differ, so in some cultures that answer may not be true, but in the US, I it just is not OK behavior.

Now, I personally have been put into a position where I ended up being the one who did the yelling. It was for complete and repeated incompetent behavior where I was given instructions to get the persons to either straighten up and produce, or get rid of them, but without being given the authority to fire them, only instructions to get them to leave. In frustration, this resulting in yelling incidents. Regardless of the provocation, very unprofessional on my part, and absolutely apologies to all who were present and subjected to the incident, well, except the instigator who did not even understand the severity of the situation even after the yelling. Frankly, as a witness, I would have expected a similar apology from anyone else in a professional environment who subjected the workplace to such an act, or I would have left the organization.

You are correct with your feelings that you should not be subjected to such an environment, either as the target of the tirade, or a witness. Such and environment needs to be corrected, either via HR as the company is risking hostile work environment charges, or by simply removing yourself from the place. The 2nd of those options is likely to be the easier route. One time occurrences happen, but any sign of a repeated pattern and you, or anyone, should remove themselves from that organization.

All of that opinion said, what your describe personally seems like it may go beyond a typical anxiety reaction to a stressful event. You are describing more of an anxiety paralysis that may need personally intervention. Consider if your reaction might be beyond a workplace question and might cross into health. Think about talking with a therapist and what you describe may be crossing into PTSD type reaction. Not a diagnosis in the least, just saying that your reaction might be reason for concern and would be worth talking to a doctor or therapist for their opinion and possible coping techniques. They may well be able to help you with a few quick ideals to help you anxiety coping techniques if you do need them.

user2896564 07/30/2017
Thanks...I've gotten a lot of comments about the likelihood that there's something going on that I need help for. I can understand how someone, anyone might yell when there's enough of a stimulus--my case is just a boss that seems to have emotional control problems, and a culture that hasn't done anything.
1 dlb 07/30/2017
@user2896564 First move is then to look elsewhere. If there is a organization problem, then you don't want to be a part of that organization. Even elsewhere, if may happen at times, but should be rare. As long as you can handle occasional outbursts that stress can trigger, you should be fine in another place. For most of us, it is a pain, and stressful on its own to look at changing jobs, but you must look out for you long term career and a bad situation is not a help to that.
2 dlb 07/30/2017
PS, don't let terms like therapy or doctor carry stigma. Coping tools can be as simple as knowing when to take a few deep breaths to clear your mind. Coping with stress and anxiety are important to preventing long term burnout.
1 MSalters 07/31/2017
Yelling at work if fairly common at my company, especially in the test lab. Although that might have something to do with the fact that we make aggression detection systems (for prisons, mental institutes and the like) ;)

Dominique 07/31/2017.

As you say yourself, you are not capable of performing while being yelled at, so I advise you to communicate this to your boss (using an e-mail), something like:

Dear, two days ago, you have passed me some messages, but due to the intense sound you produced, I was not capable of following the content of your communication.
Therefore I'd like to ask you to pass me the messages again as a reply to this mail.
Like this I'm sure that no part of your communication will be missed.

In top of this, I'd like to propose the following communication:
when you communicate to me, please give me the time to take some notes, so that we are sure that no communication gets lost, which will heavily improve the efficiency.

Thanks in advance

Like this, you explain to your boss that his behavior is not good for business. He can react in two ways:

  • He responds to your request, calms down and does not shout anymore.
  • He shouts again at you. At that moment, this is a form of harassment, then you print this mail and present it to his boss.

Good luck

2 Score_Under 07/31/2017
"but due to the intense sound you produced" I would suggest that this is much too passive-aggressive and would only further endanger the relationship between you as professionals and as people.
1 Dominique 07/31/2017
I agree that this formulation might be quite aggressive, do you have a proposal how to formulate this in a nicer way, without being too soft?

Pieter B 07/30/2017.

Yelling comes from somewhere. Most of the times the yelling person has the problem not you. Keep that in your mind.

What often helps in these situations is bluntly asking: "Why is this such a big problem?" Then the story about why it's such a big issue will come out and you'll have changed the subject of the conversation, from you getting yelled at to the yeller telling why he is yelling. That is when a few things can happen:

  • The yeller will realize its't not a big deal at all.
  • The yeller will tell you the problem and you come to a solution to defuse.
  • You won't come to a solution, but at least you steared away the argument a bit.

You're in a better position now.

What will absolutely not work is telling someone to: "Calm Down". That will only result in more yelling and you getting more frustrated.

1 TomTom 07/31/2017
That is a logical non answer. The OP has problems handling being yelled at and gets into a dissociative state. He obviously can not handle being yelled at - telling him to handle it sort of is totally not addressing the question.
2 Pieter B 07/31/2017
@TomTom If you get into that dissociative state, a goto answer can help immensely. I've had it when certain persons would pressure me for an answer and I would "shut down" not able to answer. I taught myself to say in such situations: "let me look that up and I'll give you an answer in 10-30-60 minutes". Having that studied and practiced answer ready helped me a lot. That's what I'm advocating. You know you don't do well in certain situations, get some ammo ready. And teaching yourself a reaction can help a lot. - Download Hi-Res Songs

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