No more yelling!

If you ever watch the HBO series Succession, here’s one very toxic boss, Logan Roy

By Caitlin Kelly

My favorite place in the suburban New York county where I’ve lived for decades is an indie art film house; some weeks I’m up there multiple times to see a film. I love movies!

Its programming director was recently fired for yelling at his staff, leaving one in tears.

There have always been bad-tempered toxic bosses, but in some places there’s now (happily!) a diminished appetite for them — as several high profile male NPR radio hosts have also learned in recent years, also fired for abusing their staff.

I welcome this, as someone who grew up in an emotionally abusive family and then worked in journalism, one of the most dysfunctional of industries; with a constant oversupply of eager job-seekers, nasty bosses can thrive and rise, thrive and rise, usually without any form of accountability. If they keep losing talented staff, well, hey, whose fault is that?

Having also survived years at boarding school, also being yelled at by old women who were our housemothers, I have little appetite for people unable to hold their damn tongues and be civil. I don’t care how frustrated you are.

I’ve survived quite a few terrifying bosses, one a woman at a trade magazine publisher in Manhattan, who thought nothing of shouting abuse across the room at all of us and, when I dared confront her, stood very very close to me and leaned in further….her pupils oddly dilated. I quit within a month, and with no job waiting and newly divorced.

At the New York Daily News, I dared to ask the photo editor a question in an open newsroom so large it ran from 34th to 33rd street. His idea to humiliate and intimidate me, he yelled at me that I was asking a really difficult question; how to fill out a photo request. What a dick. This was a wholly normal question for a new employee offered zero training. I was then 50 — and quietly told him that being abusive wasn’t going to alter my request. He then ran to my boss to complain about me. Such a FUN workplace!

And, of course, there was another trade magazine boss, a weird little troll who shouted at me for disappointing him when I was editing a 48 page trade magazine with no staff at all, able to offer only extremely low freelance rates that guaranteed careless work from the only writers we could afford.

He came into my very small office and, as I pleaded with him that I was doing my best, snarled: “Define best!”

I was, no surprise, fired a few days later.

I ran into him decades later while riding our shared commuter rail line. As he went to sit beside me, he asked: “Do you remember me?”

“Yes,” was all I said.

Journalism attracts people who are smart and tough and highly impatient, expected to produce flawless results very, very quickly…not a great combo. Then the most demanding rise into management where, sure, they have high standards — but also can get away with shouting and raging with impunity.

I’ve even encountered this toxic arrogance as a freelancer, like a young woman then an editor at the Columbia Journalism Review (ooooh, the delicious irony) who I finally had to hang up the phone on since she was unable to let me finish a sentence.

And, funny thing, she too has since risen in the industry.

I shook for an hour after that phone call — because if you’ve been the subject of a lot of yelling, especially as a child, it really evokes a sort of PTSD.

So every time another abusive manager loses their job, income and authority, I’m thrilled!

Have you been the victim of such bad behavior?

How did you handle it?

15 thoughts on “No more yelling!

  1. Not a manager, but a coworker. He yelled at me over something that I didn’t even know was causing an issue. The crazy thing is, I used to respect and really like him, and if he’d talked to me calmly and in private, rather than humiliating me, I would still like him. Thankfully, we no longer work together, and I plan on putting him into the novel I’m writing now. My revenge will be enacted!

  2. sthrendyle

    The only bright side of COVID was that for the first time in, well, ever, the government paid out money to help laid off/economically impacted workers and, I believe, finally gave some of them a bit of breathing space to where they could look at their lives and go, “I’ve gotta get the f**k outta here.” A lot of workplaces probably weren’t aware how toxic they were until people didn’t bother coming back to work. It is interesting, however, that to climb the ladder in most professions means moving out of what you were hired to do and getting promoted to ‘managing people’ which is truly a skill unto itself that has nothing to do with highly-technical problem solving or clever copywriting. Before they know it, they have the golden handcuffs of job seniority and a decent salary; enough to “afford” a family and a mortgage. So, now they’re ‘stuck…’

  3. sthrendyle

    Another thing I noticed in the three rather brief excursions I’ve had into ‘organizational communications’ is that it really only takes one person to make your life miserable. Everything is about ‘teams’ and ‘cross-functionality’ and ‘a multi-disciplinary approach that respects all points of view’ etc. Well, I’m sorry, but some ideas are just plain stupid and the people who propose them haven’t got a clue and can dominate meetings through sheer force of will. I would never tell an accountant how to do his job and would hope that he’d keep his nose out of mine. Nothing’s ever perfect, is it?

    1. So true! When you wrote “it really takes only one person to make your life miserable”, I couldn’t agree more. Time and time again, in each new company that I worked in, it was one single person that ruined everything.

  4. Journalism? One of the most dysfunctional of industries? Try law firms. 15 years of abuse in Paris law firms. I was even thrown out into the same street by two different law firms, one located across from the other. Is it any wonder I hate lawyers? Subject to yelling and harassment, I wrote this, years ago, on my blog –

    Harassment impacts women economically. Women who have been harassed are far more likely to change jobs than those who didn’t. These shifts can upset a career trajectory. Researchers found that women, compared to men, experience far more serious effects from interruptions to their work path.

    Because of harassers, I have endured multiple stretches of unemployment during my working career. Here in France and over a period of many years, I have left five different companies due to harassment, bullying or “interference” from men. (One of my harassers, a senior Partner in a global law firm, was a woman, an American.) In each case, I was either financially compensated (insufficiently) or not compensated and tossed out into the street. My crime? I dared to stand up and talk back to my tormenter. And so I was the problem, not the one who had the power and was abusing it. I was called insubordinate. I remember looking the word up in the dictionary, just to double-check its meaning – defiant of authority; disobedient to orders. And I wondered, if I were a compliant or obedient person, how should I be expected to respond to a tormenter?

    In each case, I found myself utterly alone. Not one single office colleague – who were themselves targets or witnesses of the harasser – nor the Human Resources departments who were 100% cognizant of the recurring problem – supported or defended me. They all turned their backs and closed their eyes. Enablers, all of them.

    Millions of men and women take an economic hit and endure financial and emotional strain due to unemployment caused by harassers. And where are those harassers today? Doing very well indeed. Still working, still raking in the big money. Utterly uncaring, unrepentant and unpunished for their actions.

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