What I learned from screaming at my boss.
I’ve screamed at work twice.
The first time.
I was a 17-year-old movie theater supervisor.
It was 3am. We’d been slammed all day thanks to American Pie, The Blair Witch Project and The Sixth Sense. My next shift started in 8 hours, so I wanted to get out ASAP. Unfortunately, my fellow teenagers were messing around instead of completing closing tasks.
I. Lost. It.
I berated them for not taking their jobs seriously, punctuating my rant by hurling a cup of nacho cheese into the wall as hard as I could. They quietly finished closing the concession stand, and I got home before 4am.
The second time.
I was a 26-year-old L&D manager.
I was working on a management training program. Each session participant received a binder with activity materials and job aids. I didn’t have the budget to get stuff professionally printed, so I was putting everything together on my own in the office.
But there was a problem. The coloration of the binder cover and spine weren’t quite right when printed on the office printer. The blues were off. They were identical in Photoshop, but they didn’t match on paper.
I checked with my boss to see if the slight blue variation would be OK.
He didn’t like the difference and asked me to fix it.
I spent the next two hours messing around in Photoshop, slightly tweaking the colors over and over again in an attempt to outwit the office printer that had become my nemesis. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get the spine and cover to match. I was getting … frustrated.
I returned to my boss’ office to plead my case. This was the best I could do with the available resources. Did anyone really care about the color of the binder cover? Would they even notice the difference? How could this possibly impact the quality of the program?
He still wasn’t happy and told me to keep trying to fix it.
Again. I. Lost. It.
I hurled the binder across the room and launched into a tirade about the futility of binder quality control. I assured him no one would care about the color blue because I DIDN’T CARE ABOUT THE COLOR BLUE!!!
I finished my rant, apologized for losing my temper, left the room and compiled the rest of the binders using the mismatched components. We never spoke of the incident (or binders) again.
Thanks for reading ECOSYSTEM by JD! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
I shouldn’t have screamed. It’s never OK, especially when the stakes are concession products and training binders. Chalk the first instance up to being a young, immature supervisor. The second was an outright mistake - and a learning opportunity I continue to reflect on 15 years later.
You get what you pay for. We should have professionally printed the binders. Then I wouldn’t have gone bananas. Limited resources result in limited solutions. I’ve crafted a career out of duct tape and creativity, but I know it can only take me so far. If you fail to justify investment, you can’t realize your full value.
Come with options. I should have walked into my boss’ office with a clear problem statement and three potential solutions. We could send the binders out to print for (insert dollar value). Or we could change the design to better accommodate the limited printer. Or we could stick with this design, not spend the extra money and deal with the inconsistency.
Utility trumps form. The binder cover and spine didn’t matter. The contents mattered. There’s no reason to invest excess time and effort into design that doesn’t add utility. This lesson was reinforced when I worked in contact centers. When walking around the office, I took note of the materials posted on agents’ cubicle walls. It was never the pretty stuff we made. It was the ugly slides and checklists created by their peers that proved most helpful. Utility trumps form - always.
Focus on what matters. Those binders weren’t helping the company make more money. They weren’t improving customer satisfaction scores. They weren’t keeping employees safe on the job. They were a distraction, an example of siloed thinking. L&D must focus on the problems that matter most to the organization and deliver solutions that drive measurable results. That’s how we justify investment, improve resources, advance practices, shift mindsets and elevate our function.
A different approach.
It’s been a long time since I last screamed at work. 20 years of experience - and lots of customer service work - help me stay patient and focused on the bigger picture. I’ve also found better ways to express my professional displeasure.
I found myself back in operations two years after my last scream. During one busy afternoon, I tasked a group of college interns with managing crowd control. I told them precisely where to be, when to be there and how long they needed to stay. I walked away for 10 minutes. When I returned, they were all missing. I found them goofing around nearby. Their smiles vanished as I approached.
But this time, I didn’t scream. I didn’t rant or rave. No cheese was thrown. Instead, in a calm, quiet voice, I said “I’m disappointed.” Then I turned and walked away.
The interns returned to their positions and completed their assigned tasks. They came looking for me in the office later that day. They apologized for their behavior and assured me it would never happen again. I thanked them for the gesture and knew I wouldn’t have to worry about them for the rest of their time with the company.
TL;DR: don’t scream at people.
One thing this week
Reject a meeting. If you don’t take control of your time, other people will.
Look at your calendar for this week. Find a meeting that conflicts with another commitment and/or doesn’t require your presence. Reject it - with an explanation. Ask for notes or a recording to watch later. Remind people they must earn your time.
Talkin’ L&D. I’m launching a weekly talk show on LinkedIn Live Audio.
Talkin’ L&D is a fun, informal opportunity to chat with peers from around the world. The show will broadcast every Monday at 10am ET. Join in on the conversation or listen along while you work. Follow me on LinkedIn for show announcements starting in February.
Next week, I’ll tell you the story about the time I broke Splash Mountain.
Be well. JD.