Humiliated In Front of Customers

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about: He told me sit down, be quiet he was going to tell me how it is. I said, “Can I please say something?” He said “Be quiet I don’t want to hear you.”

I work at a large store in the electronics department. We are short handed, but we are constantly getting pulled to the registers up front to help out. Today when asked to go to register I said, “I can’t right now we are too busy.” The next thing I know, the manager is in my face yelling at me in front of associates and customers, telling me he is the boss and if he tells me to do something I better do it if I want to keep working there. He had me in tears I was shaking. He told me sit down, be quiet he was going to tell me how it is. I said, “Can I please say something?” He said “Be quiet I don’t want to hear you.” No one there knows my past, but my first husband was physically and mentally abusive to me. All I could see was my ex’s face as I was being berated. I don’t even want to go back there. Please help me, I can’t quit crying.

Signed, Afraid to Return

DearĀ Afraid to Return:

I can imagine how upsetting the situation was and how you feel now. Things like this can replay over and over in your mind and make you feel terrible. As hard as it is to believe, I’d like for you to think of a couple of things that might make it easier to sleep:

1.) A night’s sleep will help you feel better and in a few more nights this immediate hurt will fade. If you can work things out with your manager or just get back to work without more upset, you will feel even better over the next few days.

2.) Your manager is thinking about this too. He may regret his outburst or still think it was justified. But, no matter how he feels he would like for work to be back to normal soon. He knows this is upsetting for everyone, including you. He just wants the work done and done right–he doesn’t delight in having people unhappy. Both of those things mean that as difficult as it seems, you can move past this. If you need the job you will want to find a way to return, but with a feeling of dignity and confidence. Not only will that help right now, it will be a good way to strengthen yourself to the point that old hurts and fears don’t ruin your present and future.

First, separate this situation from your personal life. Your boss isn’t your ex-husband and I doubt your boss considered hitting you or threatening to hit you, as your husband might have done. He didn’t yell obscenities at you, as your husband might have done. He isn’t married to you, so you don’t have to live with him, sleep with him or eat with him. He was just an angry boss who didn’t handle the situation well. You know him, so you know whether this is typical of him or not. If he is mean to people all the time and often yells at employees, then you have the assurance that it isn’t just you. You’ll also have the sympathy of others. If he usually doesn’t get angry, then you know he was very upset, but it probably won’t last, because that’s just not his style. He may only lose his temper when employees don’t follow instructions. That’s not unusual for a lot of managers, parents and others who have to get things done and want cooperation.

It sounds as though he didn’t want to discuss the situation, just vent his anger. (Maybe he has gone through this before and is tired of explaining that “Report to the front” isn’t request.) Whatever the situation, your manager’s direct role in your life is isolated to your work world. You don’t have to take him home with you. Thank goodness, right? Once you have this firmly established as a work situation, you can decide how to best deal with it. It’s embarrassing to be yelled at in such an apparently demeaning way.

It’s frightening to have someone tell you to sit down and be quiet. I’ve had that happen to me on several occasions and I recall the tightness in my gut. But,in spite of how unpleasant it is, it’s temporary and can be dealt with.

First, consider what his anger was about, so you can understand his viewpoint. You don’t say if you have ever failed to report to the front before. If you have or if you have complained about it, maybe he felt you were purposely being insubordinate. If your tone when you said you couldn’t help was considered offensive to the person you said it to, maybe he or she reported that to your manager and made it sound even worse than you meant it. If people were lined up at the check stands, maybe your manager was just in a panic to get help up there and he couldn’t believe you would refuse to go. The bottom line is that he was correct to say something to you–he really was, and I think you know that. But, HOW he said it didn’t help things at all. There was no communication, just yelling and anger. You don’t say if he gave you an official warning or said he wants to talk to you when you return. If he didn’t maybe you can go to work and allow yourself time to feel comfortable again, before you need to talk to your manager. In that time you can show, by your actions, that you have learned a harsh lesson but are not letting it effect the way you do your work. Probably other employees will talk to you.

Remember that any of them could report what you say to the manager. So, make it repeatable. You could say, “I can understand why he was angry, I just wish he wouldn’t have yelled at me like that and embarrassed me in front of people. But, I want to put it behind me and get on with work.” You would probably say it differently, but the idea is to say something that could be repeated and would show you to be a mature employee. Having said that, let me also mention another option. If you feel that the manager was truly abusive in the way he approached you and if he has done this to others, maybe you will feel you need to go to HR to protest his actions. You could acknowledge your mistake but say that his actions were not respectful and were bullying and abusive. You could even mention that customers heard him and seemed upset by it, if that is what happened.

The problem with making such a complaint to HR is that you would probably not feel comfortable working there after that. Unless your manager is treating everyone badly, all the time, it seems to me that making a formal complaint would not accomplish much, except causing you to feel worse about work. I suggest you sleep as much as you can, then go to work with a smile of confidence and self-respect. You have been doing a good job and you are a good part of the sales team and your manager knows that. If your manager wants to talk to you about this again, just listen and respond when you can, without arguing. If he doesn’t seem to want to talk to you, just focus on work and let him see you as a dependable employee. There will be a temptation to let this play round and round in your head.

Try to fill your thoughts with something else. You aren’t the first person who has been chewed out rudely by a boss and you won’t be the last. Others at work may be looking to see how you handle it, and they’ll admire your self-control and strength if you can keep moving forward. They may have seen you being upset before you left, but now they can see you back as a mature adult who knows how to handle adversity. I know this is very, very challenging, but it will be over with and fade into the past before long. As long as you work there, you will probably have to juggle the competing needs of your department and the calls to go up front. Now you know what has priority! Best wishes to you. If you have the time and wish to do so, please let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.