The sound of people yelling is biologically engineered to make us panic. More than any loud, disorienting sound, researchers have found that screaming human voices trigger fight-or-flight responses in our brains and make us feel scared.
That’s why when someone you work with escalates a situation with yelling, it can feel alarming. What do you do? You may not be able to control your coworker or boss’ temper tantrum, but you can control how you respond.
Here are three tips on how to handle yelling in the office:
Don’t yell back
The number one thing to do when yelling occurs is to not react with the same level of emotion and aggression. Yelling will only escalate the situation further and let it continue. If you hear yelling nearby, don’t join in the screaming match. Your immediate goal should be to remove yourself from the situation.
Recognize that nothing productive comes from yelling in the workplace. A 2012 study found that workers who dealt with verbally aggressive clients had a lower ability to recall the situation and understand the instructions.
Understand why they’re yelling
It’s helpful to understand that when people yell, this emotional response is usually not about you. It’s often a reaction to stress or pressure. Try not to take it personally. Instead, take a step back and understand why your colleague is yelling.
Career coach Marie McIntyre told Monster that yelling often comes in three shapes in bosses. In the first type, the yeller is a “highly emotional person” who cannot control their impulses, and you “may be able to ward off future meltdowns by recognizing triggers and proactively taking care of those small problems that tend to set the person off.”
In the second type of yeller, screaming is a form of controlling others. For authoritarian figures, it’s how they manage the workplace “with fear-based tactics.” Asking many questions about what’s setting these bosses off can help these yellers know that you’re working hard to resolve the problem.
For the first two types of yellers, screaming is a form of discipline; for the last category of yeller, it’s something they enjoy. This kind of yeller “gets their kicks making people feel like dirt,” according to Monster. There’s little that can be done there to stop them, the article states.
Decide if it is worth addressing
Is this a one-time flare-up or is this worker known for constantly losing their cool? If it’s the former, it may be best to dismiss the yelling as a one-off unfortunate response and get back to work. But if the yelling is impacting the ability to do your work, then you may want to address the situation directly by talking to the yeller or telling your manager or human resources about it.
But what do you do if the screamer is your boss?
Ask a Manager’s Alison Green is firm: employees should leave if their boss is a chronic yeller because yelling creates an abusive work environment. In her U.S. News column, she advises employees with yelling bosses to first attempt to address the situation before escalating it to human resources.
Green advises employees to tell the boss that, “I really have trouble hearing your feedback when you yell at me. I definitely want constructive criticism, but it’s hard for me to take it in when you’re yelling.”
In the long-run, people who are forced to deal with yelling at their workplaces are advised by experts to jump ship and find a calmer environment.