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Advice | Work Advice: My boss yelled when I interrupted their diatribe about the election


Reader: My employer went into a massive screaming fit when I told them, “Take a deep breath” while they were in the middle of a rant about the election. They told me I had no right to control how they express themselves and that I wouldn’t get very far in life if I couldn’t stand their yelling. They didn’t ask me to vent, and I didn’t ask them to share what they thought.

I don’t think I’m wrong for wanting to have a scream-free workspace, and I feel I owe an apology. What do you think?

Karla: No, it’s not ridiculous to want a workplace without yelling. But like the famous Norman Rockwell portrait of a Thanksgiving family dinner, it’s an ideal that doesn’t always reflect reality.

There is a pervasive belief in certain industries that getting ahead means absorbing years of abuse without questions or protests – that tears come from success and tantrums are just unpolished gems of frustrated genius. That mindset leads to billionaire CEOs cutting half their workforce, firing anyone who objects, and offering the remaining workforce a choice between long, intense hours patching up a sinking ship or a three-month severance package. The ones that stick around, by that calculation, are the truly dedicated, “hardcore” employees, compelled by an urge to succeed. (As opposed to being forced by, say, poverty or the threat of deportation.)

Hesse: I don’t think “hardcore” means what Elon Musk thinks it does

In contrast, during the “Great Resignation,” thousands of employees discovered a new roadmap to success: being able to recognize and walk away from abusive situations. Unemployment is still at a record low and many employers consider honey superior to vinegar in attracting talent. Empathy, respect and emotional intelligence are characteristics of leaders that people enjoy working for.

All of which is to say that your boss’ phrase “you’ll never get very far if you can’t handle my tirades” is worth sniffing.

While it’s true, you won’t get very far trying to teach your boss those skills – “exhale” is right up there with “just calm down” and “throw water on a fire” in terms of unsuccessful defusing tactics – it does don’t mean you have to stand there and endure a high-decibel filibuster.

‘Micromanaged and disrespected’: the top reasons employees quit their jobs during the Great Resignation

“This is too stressful for me to listen to. I have to leave,” spoken in a neutral tone as he pulls away, is an effective way to disconnect. Further pursuit by them at that point is aggression; then you let them chase you all the way to Human Resources office, the security desk or a group of witnesses.

When things have cooled down and all parties seem stable, that’s the time to follow up for a debrief: “I respect your right to have opinions and feelings about current events – I know I have them – but I’d rather that we didn’t’ don’t discuss them at work. Everyone has different points of view and I don’t want to be put in a position of disagreeing or arguing with my boss, especially if it will affect our working relationship.” If you feel like adding some spice to the honey, “I don’t appreciate being yelled at, especially if it’s not even a work issue.”

A truly professional, respectful boss who occasionally loses perspective will respect your opinion and may even apologize for taking the burden off you. If they’re the thin-shelled type who see any relapse as an attempt to take control – because “control or be controlled” is the only form of interaction they understand – you could find yourself without a job. If you suspect the latter scenario is likely, you may want to have a private conversation with HR to let them know your side of things right before you have the conversation with your boss.

By the way, following up is optional. It’s okay to decide that the confrontation isn’t worth the risk to you, or that this incident was a rare seasonal event, and future exposure can be managed or avoided, for example, by making plans to be somewhere else during the next season after the elections.

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