Interacting with an Angry Boss

The most popular example in today’s media of an angry boss comes from the movie “Horrible Bosses.”  In this movie, Kevin Spacey’s character is seen yelling, often times blackmailing, his employees.  This gives bosses a bad reputation, as the majority of bosses are nothing like this.  But, it is important to understand what an angry boss is truly like and what to do in those situations.

Fortunately, as an undergrad, you have likely dealt with an angry professor, roommate, friend, or customer in some capacity.  If you are able to think about an angry boss in the same context you did for these examples as an undergrad, you will be able to help yourself out during your next encounter.  There is no reason to act different around angry bosses in Corporate America than you would an angry person as an undergrad - they are just angry people at the end of the day. 

Here are some pointers for interacting with an angry boss:

Understand What is Making them Angry

If you can get an understanding of what is making them angry, you can help remediate the situation.  Let’s say your boss is upset because your team did not hit their sales quota for the month.  Ask yourself why and what you can do to improve performance to reach that quota next month.  

Your ability to listen will be of major assistance in gaining this understanding.  If your boss is visibly angry, they are likely short-tempered and do not have time for answering petty questions or dealing with you in general.  Listen to what they are saying and internalize how you will help fix the situation.  Then, just go out and try to fix the situation.  If your boss is upset about sales numbers being down and you go and show your boss you are working to fix the situation by closing sales deals, that will reflect positively and help them lighten the mood.

It is Likely Not Your Fault

From my observations, angry people are not angry at one person.  It is a series of frustrating events that build and build until they reach the boiling point.  If someone is upset and taking it out on you, remind yourself that this outburst is the result of a day’s worth of frustrations.  Don’t beat yourself up over it.

Do Not Be Angry in Retaliation

Fighting anger with more anger leads to… more anger.  It is not worth anyone’s time to be angry in retaliation to someone else being angry.  Just let them vent and display their anger and move on.  I’ve found the best way to deal with an angry boss or customer is to be quiet and let them yell and scream and get it out of their system.  It takes thick skin to do this, but you will not damage your relationship by sitting their quiet.  You risk your relationship being damaged if you start showing anger in return.

Be to the Point

If you require something, like a signature, from a boss who you can tell is visibly angry be concise and to the point with any communications.  Let them know you need a signature for Project A to move forward and let them sign it and walk away.  Maybe leave the document on their desk for signature with a sticky note on it with further directions.  The key here is to understand the situation and what is making them upset.  You don’t need to put yourself in a risky situation where you could get yelled at (because no one wants that), so be aware of your surroundings.

Be Transparent

If your boss is angry as a result of poor sales numbers, be transparent and honest with them about what went wrong.  You can own up to the situation and let them know you are actively working to correct it.  If you are the owner of the problem, I’m sure your boss will respect that you stepped up to admit it.  Definitely do not lie about the results or what went wrong when they are upset - that will create an even larger whirlwind.

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So through these pointers you now have some tools for dealing with an angry boss.  In my experiences, I have seen angry bosses on very rare occasions.  Hopefully you won’t come across to many angry bosses in your Corporate America experience.

Thought Starters

  • When was the last time you dealt with an angry boss?  What did you do?
  • How did you feel after your interaction with an angry boss?  If you were in their shoes, what would you have done?