Jacob Kaplan-Moss


No Yelling

It’s never acceptable to yell at work.

Okay fine, there are exceptions: if something heavy is about to fall on someone, please do shout “watch out!” But in normal circumstances, it’s never okay to yell. It’s particularly unacceptable to yell at someone – colleagues, customers, etc. – but it’s also not acceptable to yell at your computer, at the broken coffee machine, out into the air generally, etc.

The norms of professional behavior call for a “cool”, maybe slightly detached emotional demeanor. This isn’t to say that you need to be Spock – it’s fine to express a range of human emotion. But it’s expected that you’ll put a limit on the intensity of your emotional expression. If emotional expression were a ten-point scale, with 1 being “a computer” and 10 being “soap opera”, at work you should never get much over like a 5 or 6. The standards of professionalism call for you to regulate your emotional expression. And while this is true of most emotional expression at work, it’s particularly important with anger.

Notice that I’m choosing my words carefully: I’m not saying that it’s not okay to have emotions at work; I’m saying that there’s a limit to how you can express those emotions, particularly anger.

It’s fine to feel things, including anger! We’re human; we have emotions; we have them at work. It’s okay if you feel angry at work (though, if anger is a frequent emotion at your job, it might be a time to consider if you maybe need a different job). But you have to be able to regulate how you express that anger and stay within the bounds of professional norms. It’s not acceptable to express anger by shouting, throwing things, insulting people, and so forth.

If this is something you struggle with, if you find you’re failing to regulate your anger at work, here’s how to fix it: therapy.

People who know me have remarked that I seem to be really good at staying calm at work, and most of them I think assume this is something inherent to my personality. It’s totally not: when I was a teenager, I had pretty serious anger management issues. I was in therapy for about eight years, I think, learning skills and tools to manage that anger. I’m grateful for those tools to this day: while I do occasionally feel angry at work, I’m able to use those tools and keep a professional, calm demeanor.

If you find yourself yelling at work: that’s not okay, get therapy.

I write mostly with an audience of managers and other organizational leaders in mind. This means that my imagined audience is one that has some responsibility for setting and enforcing organizational norms. Thus, when I write “no yelling at work”, I am hoping that this is a line you’ll draw at your workplace (if needed).

So, because I’m expecting – and hoping! – that my readers will be in a position to set some norms around expressing anger at work, I need to give a bit of a warning about how our perception of anger intersects with race and gender.

Generally speaking, we’re more likely to perceive anger in Black people, women, and particularly Black women – even when that anger isn’t really there1. This is a bias you need to be aware of before you give someone feedback about behavior that you think might be an expression of anger. This isn’t to say you need to avoid giving feedback to underrepresented minorities! But it does mean that before you do, you should take a second to check your biases and be sure the feedback is warranted. The key is to make sure you’re giving feedback on behavior (“you shouted at Jim”) and not the emotions you assume might be presenting (“you were angry”). (That’s why this article is titled “No Yelling”, and why it focuses on how one expresses anger.)

  1. This is super well documented; see, for example Halberstadt et al, 2018; Motro et al, 2022; Cooke and Halberstadt, 2022 - and that’s just barely scratching the surface. ↩︎