Ask Liz: How to Handle a Boss's Angry Outburst?

Liz Ryan

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Dear Liz,

A few weeks ago, my boss dismissed another employee in our department. The conversation happened in my boss's office (call him John) and it was loud, abusive, and generally awful to have to listen to through the very thin office walls. The worst part is that my co-workers and I agree that John fired our co-worker (who truly did need to be fired) in such a threatening, angry way not to intimidate that employee - who was being fired anyway - but to intimidate and ‘show off’ to the rest of us! John could have easily met with the employee in HR, or in a conference room somewhere, rather than in the middle of our department. Any advice for us survivors, who would like to express our discomfort with the angry display?

Thanks, Jennifer

Dear Jennifer,

Okay, that's just pathetic. ‘Let me scream and shout at this guy, who's out the door anyway, in order to impress/scare the remaining staff members. ’ It is unfair to all of you (not to mention the poor scapegoat) to suffer through this kind of aural abuse. I do have a suggestion:

Talk to your workmates about this issue, and plan to bring up the topic at the next general staff meeting. (I hope and assume that your whole team gets together with John from time to time. ) At that meeting, one of you can start off the topic with a bland question or update on the fired co-worker's responsibilities, transition issues, etc. Then one of you - whomever is particularly brave or just feeling her oats that day - can add, “You know, I'm not sure about anyone else, but I was very uncomfortable being so near and so much in earshot of the discussion when [the fired guy] left the company. I'm sure you wouldn't know this, John, but the walls are paper-thin. "

So as not to leave this brave soul hanging in the wind, one or two of the rest of you must chime in with similar sentiments. The key is that you're making a personal observation- “I was uncomfortable" - not slamming John, exactly. But with luck, he will get the point. He probably won't say so, because it's so embarrassing. But I'll bet that's the last time you'll have to be witness to the Great Ape chest-beating display. Puh-leeze!



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Liz Ryan is a former Fortune 500 HR executive, workplace expert and the founder of WorldWIT, the world's largest online network for professional women ( ). Liz writes and speaks internationally on workplace issues, and lives in Boulder, Colorado.


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