The Secret of Not Yelling When You’re Having a Bad Day Using The S.T.O.P. Principle

Written byTBOG

Workplace Emotions Consultant | Family Wellness Instructor | Certified Physiologist| Developmental and Social Psychologist | Managing Partner TSAGEandTBOG Consult | Cherie Blair Foundation Mentee Alumna | CoFounder Remake Africa

Jul 27, 2023

“I’ve tried really hard not to yell at my employees. But sometimes I just can’t seem to avoid it. I yell so hard, and then I feel so guilty afterwards. I know it isn’t really just about what my staff are doing, it’s just me, having a hard day and transferring the frustrations. Is it really possible to stop yelling? What’s the secret?” 

– Ezra


Many employers or managers can readily relate to Ezra’s frustrations especially when you have employees that do things their own way, or you’ve repeatedly corrected over an issue but no change is forthcoming or just generally irritate you, yelling seems to be a ready outlet. Some schools of thought readily believe that an erring employee should be replaced with a more competent one but the assumption in that logic is that there is a pool of competent hands simply waiting for you to beckon on them. With the current brain drain phenomenon, we know that this is not true. The other school of thought believes strongly that managers are to train and mentor staff into productivity and only a person who is without a teachable character should be replaced. Whatever the case is it really possible not to yell?


It is practicable to stop yelling and I can assure you that thousands of managers and employers do it, some of whom I have personally engaged. The secret to this is empathy. I am not particularly talking about empathy for your employees [which is necessary] but empathy and compassion for yourself. Empathy finds expression in emotional generosity but being emotionally generous is impossible when you are stressed, running on an empty emotional charge, or feeling inadequate. You know how dramatic you become when you’re stressed, how heightened your emotions become and how in that state everything seems worse. But when you get calm, you see with logic and reason and you’re able to respond without yelling. On the days you feel irritable, realize that it’s a part of your humanity. There’s no need to feel shame and there’s no need to blame anyone.


Here’s a creative way to view this. Put yourself in the driver’s seat and imagine your irritation as a blinking light on your dashboard, when you notice it, do you ignore the light, and pull out the wire to stop the light from blinking or do you park your car somewhere safe to check it out? I bet you went with parking your car, yeah? That’s exactly what irritation is, a blinking light to inform you that something is off. Which of these reactions are you prone to when your employee is acting out in a manner that thoroughly irritates you:


  1. You try harder to control their behaviour even if you end up yelling.
  2. You beat yourself up for not being good enough as a manager. [Of course, you end up yelling less but this is a sure ticket to ‘guilt lane’].
  3. You swallow those upsetting feelings and numb the emotions. [The problem with this is that these pent-up emotions burst out later in a totally different way].
  4. You are grateful for the “signal” and you use the opportunity to check in with your emotions so that you can figure out how to return yourself to a state where you can respond as an empathic leader.


I bet you agree that option 4 seems like the best answer. I need you to see your irritation as a message that’s prompting you to engage in immediate acts of self-care so as not to break down emotionally and resort to yelling and raging reactions that will most definitely make you feel remorseful afterwards. Fear is an outcome of frequent outbursts and while some believe that when employees are motivated by fear, they’re more likely to push themselves to be more efficient just to avoid being punished, there are others who generally believe that leaders that are feared are perceived to wield more power. So, they embrace yelling. There are many sides to this and I hope to touch on this in the next article.


It is, however, a big deal if leaders feel that fear can be a primary tool for asserting their dominance because if this is your definition of leadership, then I make bold to say that it is flawed. There are many reasons why leading through yelling and intimidation is not the way to go. If you ever were an employee before starting your business, how did yelling make you feel? How committed did it make you to the organization? How much of your creativity and ingenuity did you allow yourself to wield knowing that taking [even] healthy risks could put you at risk? How much psychological safety did you feel? How emotionally invested were you in the organization? I could ask a bundle of questions along these lines but it’ll all point to the same thing. In a yelling environment, employees do their best to stick to the routine on the ground, creativity drops and fear becomes the predominant emotion at work.


So, on those tough days when you feel irritable, rather than yell, practice the S.T.O.P. principle:


Step 1: Slow Down.

Just drop whatever agenda you have for the moment and breathe. You need to remind yourself to calm down so that you don’t get hijacked by the fight or flight response system [a result of an adrenaline surge] that’s present with big emotions like anger or rage. In the fight or flight response system, you’re likely to react emotionally rather than respond logically. But to lead appropriately, logic is what will help you overcome yelling. So, when you feel that outburst coming, take a few deep breaths and watch how that simple exercise will help move you from the illusion of emergency created by your brain to focus on the present moment. Taking this pause before taking any action can save you tons of regret.


 Step 2: Thankfulness:

Sometimes, even after taking deep breaths, your emotions are still running wild. Your best bet is to distract yourself from those raging thoughts by focusing on gratitude. What are those things you’re grateful for? What do you have to be thankful for? Yes, your employee seem to be irritating you by asking seemingly stupid questions but he/she is really good at other things and the fact that you’re being asked questions means that they want to get the task done with as much precision as is possible, that’s something to be grateful for. When you engage in thankfulness, your body secretes ‘happy hormones’ —serotonin and dopamine— that help to disengage you from that state of emergency created by the ’emergency hormone’ — adrenaline. These hormones relax you and calm your body. Your best response to any situation is given in a state of calm. Gratitude gives you that emotional atmosphere.


Step 3. Observe Your Emotions:

When you get irritated, the amygdala, which is the seat of emotions is usually the organ that takes up the responsibility for decision-making even though your prefrontal cortex (PFC) is designed as the seat for logical thinking. The PFC functions optimally when you’re calm and rational enough to think through facts rather than your emotions. So, for signals to leave your amygdala to your PFC, you have to allow time to pass so that that urgent need to react is relaxed. If you still feel that urgent need to act rashly then I can assure you that you’re still in that state of emergency — the fight or flight response — and your prefrontal cortex is not in charge. Whatever lessons or feedback you need to give your employee are best done while you’re calm and logical. Many people cannot learn properly when they’re in distress situations so when you yell while giving feedback, a huge chunk of what you said will get lost in all that drama.


The most important thing you can do at this moment is emotional self-regulation. Every time your prefrontal cortex overrides your emotional outbursts, you’re rewiring your brain, so it gets easier to regulate yourself. The concept of “practice makes perfect” is very true in this instance. And every time you tolerate upsetting feelings, accepting them without taking immediate action, you won’t get triggered as often as you would have.


Step 4: Plan Your Response:

Your response should be rooted in compassion and empathy to get the best results. As leaders, we have wrongly believed that it’s our duty to control every part of our employee’s operations, however small. But that’s not the appropriate route to go. You’re even likely to get stressed if you do this. The reason you hired someone else is that you cannot do it all by yourself. Yes, delegation without periodic check-ins is careless but the power of delegation is in empowering your employees to own the work you have made them responsible for.


Only you can give yourself the love and care you deserve. In order to properly manage and lead your employees, you must learn to manage and lead yourself. Otherwise, how can you give what you do not have? Understanding this will help you realize when delegation is necessary and when it’s time to butt into a situation you may have delegated. You’ll know when to totally overlook things and when it’s necessary to point them out. When we call ourselves leaders or managers, we are simply saying that we own up to taking up the responsibility to nurture ourselves first, so that we can act like leaders when our employees mess up. And you do this by not responding emotionally. So don’t forget to give yourself a hug (literally) when you need one. Love yourself with all your heart. Ask yourself today: What can I do right now to return myself to a state of love and well-being?


If you need a total overhaul of your routine, say more sleep, or exercise, make a plan to create it. Write a promise to yourself, post it where you can see it, and keep it. If it’s something you can’t do until later, set an alarm to remind you about when you will do it. There are times when you will flop so, each time you find yourself starting to raise your voice, you can S.T.O.P.!


If you find yourself routinely irritable? Take a Vow of Yellibacy where you make a commitment to always speak in a respectful tone no matter what. Watch out for your tone, volume and pitch while speaking as those are signs to let you know when you’re crossing conversational limits. I encourage you to get whatever support you need to do that. You deserve to feel good.



I need to mention expressly that this article looks at your response to situations and not your employee’s role in them. If you have an incompetent employee, it can be infuriating and there are multiple HR guidelines that can guide you into doing what seems fit. However, this article is all about emotional self-regulation, being in control of your responses rather than leaving things to chance and the behaviours of others. You can lead without yelling.


PS: If this article was helpful, I encourage you to share with your friends and on your social media pages. Please feel free to write me. I thoroughly enjoy reading from you. You can invite your friends to join our mailing list by sharing this link with them https://bit.ly/TSAGEandTBOGnewsletter 


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