How to Deal with an Angry Boss: 5 Simple Tips

by Sep 18, 2013

They overreact, intimidate and make your life a living you know what. They are angry bosses, abrasive leaders, and workplace meanies.

Everyone knows how unprofessional an angry boss can be. Unfortunately, your boss is still your boss and creating a good relationship with him or her is important. In the end, your angry boss has the upper hand and, if they really want to, can find a way to get you reprimanded, demoted or even fired.

The tricky part is figuring out how to stand up for yourself with an angry boss – in a way that is effective and allows you to keep your job. Fighting fire with fire is not going to work and keeping quiet will take a psychological and physical toll.

With all that said, here are five steps to deal with an angry boss in that angry moment:

  1. Listen. Listening is hard, especially when your angry boss is yelling at you and looking at you disapprovingly. Most employees are tempted to retaliate and defend themselves, but listening is a wiser choice. Let your boss vent out some of that anger before you respond. Make sure to acknowledge that you are listening by making eye contact and using nonverbal cues, like nodding your head.
  1. Acknowledge. Next, let your angry boss know that you understand he or she is angry. Validating their feelings will help them remain more open to feedback as the conversation continues. This might sound like: “I can see that you are really angry with me.” 

You might also describe their aggressive body language, such as clenched fist or a red face, so that they are alerted to their unprofessional behavior. I’ve learned in my years coaching angry bosses that they may not even know they are engaging in such physical behavior. This might sound like: “I can see that you are angry about this based on your body language and tone of voice.”

  1. Repeat. Your next step is to repeat what your boss said back to them to the best of your ability. Tell your boss what he or she told you, showing that you were listening. Reiterate the main concerns without repeating negative words that your boss used so that you can move the conversation in a more positive direction. We call this “taking the sting out.”

So if your boss is telling you he or she is horrified by your incompetence at answering customer service questions, for example, you might say:I can see that you are angry about this based on your body language and tone of voice. What I’m hearing is that you don’t like the way I go about problem-solving when it comes to customers because I asked the IT Dept about how to resolve it instead of going to my team lead first.”

  1. Apologize. I know it feels like your boss is constantly getting mad at you for no reason, but if you did something wrong that set this interaction in motion, own up to your mistakes and apologize. Even if you don’t see the mistake, don’t think an apology is warranted, or think that your boss is being ridiculous, it’s still beneficial to apologize. Whether you see it or not, it was clearly a mistake in your boss’ eyes and they are looking for acknowledgement. 

In the long run, it will slow down your angry boss’ anger, and allow you to have a more productive conversation about how to move forward. Taking the first step may also influence them to apologize to you!

  1. Ask. Step up and ask your boss how you can make things better and let them know what you need to be successful. If your boss responds by saying there is nothing you can do, suggest a couple of your own solutions to the problem. An angry boss usually can’t think of a good solution on the spot, so it is beneficial if you suggest some solutions of your own. Then try to agree on a solution and send an email confirming your understanding of the solution. Documentation will protect you in the future.   

With all five of these steps in mind, here’s what it’ll sound like:

I can see that you are angry about this based on your body language and tone of voice. What I’m hearing is that you don’t like the way I go about problem-solving when it comes to customers because I asked the IT Dept about how to resolve it instead of going to my team lead first.

 My apologies for doing that, I can see now that wasn’t the right way to go. I’d like to have a strategy for the future when I’m not sure who to ask. Should I just always ask my team lead first?”

These five tips should help you to deal with an angry boss in those heated interactions you may face. In case you are not successful, you might suggest that you continue the conversation at a better time when your boss calms down. Explain that you’d like to continue the conversation when they calm down, and then exit their office.

If your boss is frequently disrespectful and angry, and speaking up for yourself hasn’t changed their behavior, take it to a higher power. Speak to someone in a higher position than your boss and see if they can help you solve the behavior. You can also try HR.

Your employer can address this behavior by getting them a coach like me. I have found that abrasive leaders can and will change with the right push, even if it doesn’t seem like it in the moment. Seriously, I coach angry bosses myself, even wrote an ebook about it

When speaking to HR, if you need some tangible evidence that your boss is engaging in bad behavior, check out this free diagnostic. It’ll ask you to select the behaviors your boss is engaging in, and you will receive a report you can provide your HR Dept.

If you’re looking for a resource for yourself, give my book, BACK OFF! a try. It’s got lots of useful tips, and I honestly poured my heart and soul into it.

Whatever the organization chooses, make sure to continue standing up for yourself in the moment, or else you are reinforcing your boss’ behavior. And if you see him or her go after another employee, step in for them as well. The more the behavior is challenged the more your boss is inclined to change it.

About Catherine Mattice Zundel

Catherine Mattice Zundel, MA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is President of consulting and training firm, Civility Partners, and has been successfully providing programs in workplace bullying and building positive workplaces since 2007. Her clients include Fortune 500’s, the military, several universities and hospitals, government agencies, small businesses and nonprofits. She has published in a variety of trade magazines and has appeared several times on NPR, FOX, NBC, and ABC as an expert, as well as in USA Today, Inc Magazine, Huffington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, and more. Catherine is Past-President of the Association for Talent Development (ATD), San Diego Chapter and teaches at National University. In his book foreword, Ken Blanchard called her book, BACK OFF! Your Kick-Ass Guide to Ending Bullying at Work, “the most comprehensive and valuable handbook on the topic.” She recently released a second book entitled, SEEKING CIVILITY: How Leaders, Managers and HR Can Create a Workplace Free of Bullying.

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