Yelled at Your Direct Report and Feel Terrible About It? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I really messed up—and I’m so embarrassed I’m thinking of quitting my job. I yelled at one of my direct reports during a team meeting.

I was very tired because I had been up all night with a sick kid, and I was super stressed because several of my own deadlines were looming. She just kept pushing and pushing her own point of view about a decision that already had been made two weeks earlier.

At first I tried to be diplomatic by saying, “Okay, we need to move on.” But she just kept going: “I think this is going to cause big problems for us; you should reconsider; blah blah blah.” I finally interrupted her and let her have it. In front of everyone. I don’t even remember what I said, but I know I raised my voice. All of the faces on the web conference just looked shocked.

My boss is in Thailand on vacation, so I can’t talk to him. I am beside myself and really need some input.

Lost It

Dear Lost It,

Geez, don’t quit. There really is no need for that. That would be short-sighted and would really hurt your career, not to mention ruin your boss’s vacation. Just the fact that everyone was so shocked makes it clear to me that this is not a habitual thing. So get a grip.

You have clearly broken trust. Here is a great blog post by our trust expert Randy Conley that will give you step-by-step directions on how to rebuild it.

The first order of business is an apology. This will be time consuming, but you need to apologize to each member of the team individually. Ask someone you trust on your team about what you actually said so that you can apologize properly. With any luck, you didn’t call Pushy McPush Push any names, and you didn’t use profanity or obscenities—but you do need to find out just how bad the damage is.

Once you know exactly what you did that was so awful, go to the object of your ire and tell her you are sorry. No excuses, no ifs, no buts. Just “I am sorry. I am really sorry. Please forgive me.” You can promise that you will work hard to do better in the future.

Then do the same with each person who was on the call. You obviously take your job very seriously and are very chagrined that this happened, so I am guessing your people will cut you some slack. We are all only human. Sometimes our pre-frontal cortex, which is in charge of self-regulation, just gives out. On top of being short of sleep and concerned about your workload, I’ll bet your blood sugar was low or maybe you were dehydrated. This might be a good time to review your own self care routine so that you can stay more balanced in the future. You might be able to make some small changes to ensure you never go ballistic at work again.

Once you have properly apologized, you will want to review what made your team member engage in the behavior that put you over the edge. Did you not properly hear everyone out before the decision was made? Or is there an expectation that once decisions are made it is okay to revisit them? This may be an opportunity to discuss team norms around decision making—it sounds like everyone may not be on the same page.

You are going to be fine, Lost It, I promise. Everybody behaves badly sometimes. It’s okay. Apologize, make a few changes so that it doesn’t happen again, and move on.

Love, Madeleine

About the author

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

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