COWARD'S INBOX | What to do if the boss yells at you in public

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We’ve a boss who would regularly dish out four-letter words whenever someone commits a mistake, fails a deadline or production target. I’ve not encountered this situation yet and I’m worried on how to react if that happens to me in the future. Please help. How do I respond? – Nervous Nelly.

There’s a five-year old kid showing a kindergarten classmate the new weighing scale inside their family bathroom.  “What’s it for?” the visitor asked.  “I don’t know,” the five-year old replied.  “All I know is, when you stand on it, it makes you very mad.”

As an individual working for someone like the one that you have described, it’s inevitable that you will also face a similar situation that would place you under a great deal of emotional stress as soon as you step on a weighing scale and the number shown is unfavorable to your toxic boss.  

It’s great when things run smoothly, but sooner or later there will be some form of disruption in your relationship with the boss which will place you on the hot seat. Whatever is the cause, it’s easy for anyone to panic and for emotions to run high, resulting in a more difficult situation for you.

This is not an easy task especially if you have a high-level manager snarling and pointing an accusing finger at you in the presence of other employees and customers.  Nevertheless, you can handle the most difficult situation with your boss, if you decide to do it the right way.  Here are some approaches that you can use to defuse an emotionally-charged situation:

Predict a difficult situation in writing.  The ideal solution is to prevent the occurrence of a problem. For instance, if you think your current resources may not be ideal to achieve a target, explain how this scenario could adversely affect the company through a formal memorandum (or e-mail) addressed to your boss.

Spell out in detail what would happen. Be frank and honest with your assessment.  Support it with verifiable data. Say something like: “This week’s production goals were not met because I am the only one working on the project. I suggest that you allow me to do overtime work if not hire temporary workers to take up the slack.  If this continues next week, then I’m afraid we may not be able to deliver on time to our customers.”

Your biggest challenge is how to meet some budget limitations made firmly at the top level.  If that’s the case, then adjust your recommendation with several cost-effective solutions.  The way to handle it is to proactively avoid a debate and come up with a solution that solves the problem.  If the boss sees your point, he would be reasonable enough to take up the matter with top management.

Maintain your composure regardless of the circumstances. If it would help you, count from one to ten. Because you don’t want to go down to the gutter with your toxic boss, even if you feel like whacking his face with a baseball bat.  It’s just too tempting to just blow off steam and tell your boss off. However that will not accomplish anything and just tends to make an unpleasant situation even worse.

Keep your cool even if you think you’re blameless and the boss is not ready to accept the responsibility. Stand your ground. The way to handle this is to calmly deal with the facts and avoid getting into a heated discussion. Besides, your boss may use your negative reaction to pin you down with something more grave that borders on the violation of your company policy on “disrespect to person of authority.”

This is difficult than you can imagine. Even though the boss may know the reasons for the failure, he may not accept being the only fall guy. That is why there is a need for you to predict a difficult situation in writing…always. When the right time comes, you are ready to defend yourself with such document. 

The situation can be dangerously tricky if you are to deal with an incompetent boss or someone who would always blame you for his mistakes. If this happens, the best approach is to establish your reputation with your colleagues and other members of the senior management team.  You may not go over your boss’s head, but the word can go around fast if you are preceded by your reputation as a fast-tracker and non-nonsense achiever.  This alone can be your best argument for having a toxic boss.

DO YOU WANT TO CHALLENGE THIS ADVICE? This article is for non-management workers who may not have the courage to raise an issue against their toxic bosses for fear of retaliation or job insecurity.  Send your question or feedback to or follow Rey Elbo on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random management thoughts.