9 Reasons Angry Bosses Should Hold Their Tongues

Over the last thirty years, my wife Catherine has held senior management positions in banking, manufacturing, and non-profit companies. She’s given a lot of thought to understanding how and why a manager works best.

Sometimes she writes down her ideas and insights about management. And I sometimes then ask her if she’d be willing to write an intro to that material, and allow me to use it as a blog post. (I’ve had so many truly awful bosses that I love the idea of in any way getting out into the world her ideas about how to do it right.) And sometimes (as she did with “10 Mistakes Even Good Managers Make“) she says okay.

This is of those times. So … take it away, Cat!

Being a manager can be one of the most frustrating things in the world. You need your staff to work hard, work smart, and do relatively simple tasks—and so often they simply don’t. Instead, they take much longer to do things than you expect, they make huge and costly mistakes that are easy to avoid, they communicate poorly, and they prioritize ineffectually.

They just don’t do what you want them to. And of course that can be terribly frustrating. There isn’t a manager alive who doesn’t sometimes want to scream at a poorly performing employee something like, “Look, you dolt! This task it is so simple you must be purposely messing this up, because even as big of a screw-up as you can’t possibly be this incompetent!” Feeling that kind of frustration at his or her staff is as much a part of the manager’s job as brushing their teeth is a part of their daily routine. Having reason to feel angry a lot a lot of the time is an inescapable component of the management package.

Good managers, managers who care that the job they need doing gets done right, can often find themselves so frustrated that they blow-up at their staff.  Oftentimes, they blow-up in front of others. But blowing-up at all, much less in front of others, is absolutely the most counter-productive management technique ever.

When you regularly, and especially publicly, show anger to your staff, here are nine extremely counter-productive things you’re also doing:

1. You’re training your staff not to think. Managers are often frustrated at their staff  for not thinking things through. But by getting angry at them, you are actually training your staff to not think—because thinking requires confidence, and independence of thought. But when a mistake can result in a public dressing down, your staff will lack that confidence, and won’t risk independent action. They’ll stick to the safer, non-thinking way.

2. You’re making your staff less productive. When someone shows anger at you, the natural human response is to show anger back at them. Because you are their boss, however, an employee toward whom you have shown anger cannot respond in kind. They can’t have it out, and get over it. But their natural angry response doesn’t go away. They usually won’t say anything directly to you, but they will remain angry. And that anger will cause them to be unproductive. They will fume; they will stew; they will think about quitting; they will be angry at the company—and, until their anger dissipates, they will be significantly less productive.

3. You’re diminishing your own authority. When you are routinely angry at your staff, your staff will bond together for mutual comfort and solace. They will roll their eyes behind your back; they will give someone to whom you’ve been harsh a comforting hug. They will tell each other that they are right, and you are wrong. They will get into the habit of discounting what you say. They will do this because they are nice, and feel sympathy for the co-worker of theirs whom you, by showing them anger, have treated unfairly. They will do it because they are upset. After a while, now matter what you say or how you say it, your staff will be in the habit of thinking that you are wrong. Your authority, your ability to lead, will dissipate away.

4. You’re causing your staff to lose respect for you. Losing your temper makes you look out of control. And no matter what other great qualities you may possess, no one respects anyone who can’t control themselves.

5. You’re giving your staff the message that it is okay to break company rules. Your staff knows that your behavior is not what is called for in the employee handbook. They see that you do not respect the rules, that you get away with breaking the rules, that, because you are in a supervisory position, you have even been rewarded for breaking the rules. When you blow up at them, the clear message that you send your staff is that in the company for which you all work, it is perfectly okay to break the rules, as long as you have the power to get away with it.

6. You’re guaranteeing you won’t be effective in your own responsibilities. If by blowing up at your staff you’ve made them dislike you, they’ll watch you walk right toward an open manhole cover, and never utter a word of warning. Your staff might respect you; they might even like you; they might know that you are good for the company—but you are making their daily life miserable. Most people won’t purposefully and actively do you wrong, but it is a rare person who will risk the anger you’ve proven yourself all too ready to display by putting their own day-to-day misery aside, and warning you that you are about to make a big mistake. Mostly they won’t care if you make a mistake. If anything, they’ll hope you do, so that maybe someone will yell blow-up at you the way you do to them.

7. You’re undermining your staff’s ability to work as a team. Because no one wants to be the one getting yelled at, your staff will compete with each other to be the one to whom you show the most favor. They will find that the best way to avoid your anger is to have it directed at someone else. This will cause them to start actively working against one another.

8. You’re encouraging your staff to make the same mistakes over and over again. Everyone wants to be right, to not make mistakes. It is hard for people to change, because the first step in changing is to admit that whatever you were doing needs changing, that you’ve been in error. Admitting that you’re wrong is hard enough under the best of circumstances. But when someone is angry at you, or you know is prone to being angry at you and others, then your tendency is to hunker down, dig in your heals, and grow ever more stubborn. It’s a way for people who can’t take flight to fight.

9. You’re destroying morale. Every time you get angry at them, you make your staff hate their jobs.

Also, remember that it’s not just about “blowing-up.” Because people need their jobs to live—to actually obtain food, clothing, and shelter—everything you do as their boss becomes emotionally magnified. Every eyebrow you raise at an employee will feel to them like a shout; a sharpness in your tone will register as a major reprimand, a short flash of anger like a  rage. It is an inescapable part of your role as a manager or supervisor that any display of anger will become an emotionally significant event to a member of your staff, for the simple fact that you hold their livelihood in the palm of your hand. And that power you have over them means that they cannot respond to your anger in kind. They can’t fight back, because they know doing so could get them fired. So what happens? They take it. And taking it makes them feel humiliated. And humiliated is one of the worst ways any person can feel. If you routinely humiliate your staff by, to any degree, “blowing-up” at them, then their success, your success, and the company’s success is certain to suffer accordingly.

Note: If you have or know of a boss to whom you would like me to send this post, send me their email address (send to johnshore @ sbcglobal . net), and I will happily do so, along with a simple note saying only that an anonymous reader asked me to send it to them.)

Related post of mine: 10 Mistakes Even Good Managers Make

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • http://blueberrypancakesfordinner.wordpress.com blueberrypancakesfor

    i just sent this to a teacher friend who has the principle from hell. i told her if she wanted i would send it to him anonymously.

    • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

      Tell her I’ll send it to her from me. I’ll include with it a note simply saying that a reader asked me to send it to him.

  • Marie

    Number 9. That's the one. Right there. NUMBER NINE. WOW, Catherine and John. WOW. And THANK YOU BOTH!

    I am GILDING number 9. I am GILDING it and hanging it on the elaborate, pretentious door of my former "boss".

    I'm glad I read this. The schmuck in me still sometimes wonders if "all those disingenuous power trips" that made me drop my tools while I was working were permissible. I'm less of a schmuck as time goes by. I hope.

  • http://nametagsandhairnets.blogspot.com stephanie

    My last boss (before my current, excellent boss) had quite the manic rage problem. At first glance, he was an awkward, seemingly passive type until something would trigger this insane rage. It was like watching the Hulk emerge. He'd huff and puff and yell at whoever "crossed him" or "disrespected him." He'd yell to demand their respect but ultimately would lose it all b/c of the ridiculous display of anger. He did it in front of customers, in front of staff and as his right-hand, I was left to clean up the mess. All 9 of those points are right on the money!

  • Gina Powers

    OUTSTANDING. Cat, you rock. So did your last two posts, John, I've just been uber-lazy lately.

  • Diana A.

    This is so true. I wish my former boss could/would read this.

  • Shannon

    That's a great post – a lot of those points I'd never considered. I've been yelled at in the workplace in front of others – it can be very embarrassing and does make you angry. However, I didn't stew and consider quitting. I called that person out on their behavior – I said it was very disrespectful, rude and unprofessional to treat me that way in front of others and stated that the next time they felt the urge to blow up they best call me aside in private before I complain up the ladder! You have to nip that kind of thing in the bud real quick – I don't care what your position is; you aren't being paid to scream in my face (especially in front of a crowd – i.e. witnesses) and I'm certainly not getting paid to stand there with a horrified look on my face while you do it. That simple! ;-)

  • http://www.facebook.com/unholyblackdeath William Ely

    Great post! In the next year I am going to be dealing with my own employees for the first time and I have been going over and over in my head about how to deal with them. I think I need to do more reading on the subject. I have no desire to be a shitty boss.

    • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

      Did you read the other one I linked to in this one: "10 Mistakes Even Good Managers Make"? That's an awesome post, I think. I'm going to try to get my wife to start doing these posts more often; I want to collect them into a little e-book. She got a true genius for this stuff, and has cared and thought passionately about it since forever. Anyway, I'm babbling. I'll pass on your kind words about her thoughts here.

    • Diana A.

      In addition to what Cat has written, I would also recommend “The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working” by Tony Schwartz. This book focuses on increasing productivity in the workplace, including but not limited to good vs. bad management policies. Also, check out http://www.kolbe.com and http://www.warewithal.com. Half the battle when it comes to getting the most out of your employees is picking the right people for the right jobs and the Kolbe Index really hits the nail on the head. Just my two cents.

  • http://farfromthisshore.wordpress.com Don Whitt

    Thank you! Words to live by. I just printed this out and posted on the outside of my office (1f that’s okay!!!).

  • Robert Meek

    Been there, done that (shamefully), been there had that done to me (more than did it myself).

    I agree, it trains you to not to think. It makes you less productive. It diminishes the boss's authority. It causes staff to lose respect for the boss. It gives staff the message that it is okay to break company rules.

    Etc.

    I agree with all of it.

    But what I don't know is how to fix it. I never could. Especially on the recipient end. It was like working in hell.

  • http://www.BuzzDixon.com buzz

    I'm reminded of this quote (but not the originator, alas!): "In no other sport is losing one's temper punished as swiftly & as surely as in boxing."

  • Don Whitt

    Cat,

    This is fantastic and true. Thank you.

    I’ve been a manager for over two decades. I’ve worked for some of the biggies – names we’d all recognize and even for a CEO or two running for office.

    And I’ve found that so often the business world rewards the tyrant – the big bad daddy model of manager. It’s because that individual has something that the company needs – companies often trade sanity for genius. Witness Steve Jobs, e.g. Steve is an asshole. No one will argue with that statement too strenuously.

    And that message of assholiness cascades down into middle management – that assholiness is next to CEO-liness.

    And then bad management takes over. Fires flare and we reward firefighting instead of planning coupled with tempered execution. Resistance is not only futile, it’s suicidal. Point out that aforethought is preferred to reaction and you’ve limited your career.

    How do we fix this pandemic in business amidst the “run hard, run fast” world of business? You see some cultures who attempt it, but as soon as their stocks trade lower, the BOD’s step in and fire the silly buggers who proposed long-term planning and humane treatment of staff. The assholes take over, the stock rises for a couple quarters and the cycle starts again.

    Certainly, we can start at the managers who care – they will fight the good fight and treat their teams like gold. But they’re swimming upstream.

    • http://pearloftheprairie.blogspot.com Pearloftheprairie

      Great post, Cat. You've clearly spent a lot of time thinking about this.

      Don, great explaination for why the the dickheads are always the ones in charge. Think of how many people you know move whose careers are shaped by leaving a job because of an abusive boss to jump into another that turns into the same situation. It seems like working for a living means staying at a job until you just can't stand it anymore.

      I think management by anger is deeply rooted in our culture, even respected and rewarded as you describe. In addition, having a Severely Baptist rageololic for a father helped cement the "Angry God is Angry!" expectation of authority. In a family, the eight-year-old needs to hide from the rage because they need to eat; the adult employee uses other techniques to deal with the rage because…well, they need to eat.

  • http://luwandi.wordpress.com Beth Luwandi

    Dang my post got put on the Jan 14 version of this posting.

    is it okay that I paste it here in present day?

    I love that you posted this. Your timing is really impeccable, John. I can't help thinking you're doing this to manage us. And that you do-manage us quite well, either intentionally, instinctually, or Divinely! wink wink. (probably all three.)

    Although I will say since you and Cat went on a date with DR, we all know she's your favorite here. :)

    That aside, I really do appreciate this posting.

    The fact good management so seldom happens is just a pity.(to put it REALLY mildly) No wonder Cat makes the big bucks! Plus she IS beautiful; there's always THAT!

    Please don't divorce her… :)

  • http://www.barnmaven.com Barnmaven

    I have been so fortunate over the years to have really good managers. I've had some bad ones too and I've always been happy to bid them farewell. The best have been flexible, patient, have turned my mistakes into learning experiences and have offered praise frequently. My boss now is just like I have written, and he has earned my respect and my loyalty. I hope that I in turn am a good manager to my staff. I try to be like my own manager, even though I know I have days I fall short. I'm also fortunate in having staff I like and trust, who are go-getters and who get the job done. Employees like that make it really easy to be a happy manager.

  • denver

    Could you write one of these for condescending, management-jargon-overusing, dress-you-down-in-a-soft-voice-while-smiling, say one thing and then change it two days later without notice and get angry that we didn't magically know the rules had changed, ears must be plugged with cotton because they don't listen to a damn fool thing any of their underlings say let alone take it into consideration, treat their employees like worthless peons, lecture them on how they have to put up with your crap because "everyone who has a job has to do that", have no idea exactly WHAT your employees do all day but then proceed to tell them how they can be more efficient at something that doesn't apply to them, graduate of the Marquis de Sade School of Management -type managers? Because then I will have an email address for you to send anonymously to. Repeatedly. :)

    • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

      Oh, yikes. YIKES. You have my sympathy today, denver!!! I'll alert Cat to this particular (and soooooo obnoxiously common) dynamic.

      • denver

        LOL, thank you. My whole department, I think, is on the verge of storming the proverbial Bastille. People are jumping ship who can. It's a shame, really, because this used to be such an AWESOME job.

  • Jo

    I second Denver's request. What do you send a manager who:

    1) Rarely gets up from his desk and stares blankly at you if you happen to catch his eye.

    2) Doesn't voluntarily talk to another employee unless it's related to work/business.

    3) Mostly sends out "warning" emails or "wrist-slappings" about seeminly trivial things like timeliness, items on desks, and no more Birthday office celebrations.

    4) Makes you take the Walk Of Shame every time you have to have a "bad news meeting" instead of discreetly emailing you to meet elsewhere.

    5) Doesn't communicated about normal life things or seem to care whatsoever.

    6) Doesn't attempt to mentor or give regular praise (save for a solitary 'thank you.')

    7) Makes you feel less than human b/c you can NEVER do exactly what he has asked. You can try, but it's, of course, impossible.

    8) Uses the employees in his department as pawns to play the in-office managerial games with competing staff and management.

    9) Seemingly doesn't defend his department, so we're all left to daily survival.

    10) Is too confusing/scary/passive-aggressive to send an anonymous email b/c you're afraid if he somehow finds out about you, you'll get squashed.

    ?

    And, this is not just perception–it's the environment of the company. It has been confirmed by people in other departments plus current and former employees.

    Any Answers are appreciated :-).

  • Joeboo

    I am a boss who is not a boss. That is, my company makes me do the work of a boss without promoting me to the appropriate position. I don’t have the power to hire or fire, but I do have to check and correct the work of people higher up in the food chain who earn more than twice my salary.

    Naturally, I’m a bit teed off about this :-)

    My editor is one of those old school types who believe firmly in the stick above the carrot. What I have learned about people management, I’ve learned from him. His stick approach has worked on me. I rock at my job, because that’s what the job requires. Yes, I have felt sorry for myself when being chastised. But I got over it. Why should I not demand the same from the team I now nominally manage?

    It would be nice to have the time to make small-talk that is not business related and team building on a daily basis, but I’m too busy plugging holes and fixing mistakes. I worked an 11 hour shift last Saturday. Usually it’s only 10. When you’re working with a daily deadline, there’s simply no time to play nice.

    My job is quality control. To point out mistakes. That’s what they pay me for. It is not an easy job. So far I have held my tongue. But I am also aware that if I continue to do so, I’ll probably be dead from something stress related by the time I’m 45. And if those are my choices, I’d rather be a live tyrant than a dead manager.

    This is business, not bunnies. The company gets as much mileage out of every employee as it can – for as little money and effort as possible. It’s ugly. It’s nasty. It’s uncaring. And it relies on a solid business principle: Fear is a great motivator.

    Getting employees to perform at work and use their own time to complain about how poorly they are treated is business genius.

    At least I’m safe in the knowledge than my boss is still worse than me. And his boss is WAY worse than him. At the top of our corporate food chain sits the proverbial man who smiles when he kills.

    And yes, he does live with the folks on the hill.

  • Chikita

    I have read over this list and constantly getting new revelations not just as a supervisor of adults, but also as a mother of 3. Our mode of operation at home affects our mode of operation at work and vice versa. Sometimes we parents do not realize that we are doing #'s 1, 3, 5, 8 and most definitely #9. Being a mother of 3 (1 daughter and 2 rambunctious, healthy boys) and supervising adults has caused me to mature in ways I never thought possible. I don't know if you post your articles on parenting websites, but this is one that I highly recommend. Thanks for listening.

    • Kay

      I was thinking the same thing, that not only is this good for bosses, it’s good for parents to read!

  • Linnea

    I’d recommend that people read “Jerks at Work” by Ken Lloyd. It covers a lot of common workplace “people problems and problem people”: bosses who are jerks, clueless co-workers, etc.


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