The Zen of Getting Yelled At The guy in the big suit is screaming. Kind of takes you back, doesn't it? Just arrange your face and breathe, baby.
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – I got yelled at yesterday.

Actually it was last night. I'd had a couple of glasses of wine and was ready to go to sleep. The phone rang, and it was Favel from his weekend home on the Gulf Coast of Florida. You'd think a guy sitting on Captiva Island after two rounds of golf with appropriate beveraging would be approaching some form of mellow. But he was not. "I'm looking at this memo on my e-mail," he says, "and you transposed several revenue assumptions consistently throughout." I think, "Yeah, okay, I'll fix it," and all of a sudden his voice is gathering steam and I get the sense that the rocket is about to take off. Sure enough, there it goes, whoosh, and I'm in the middle of getting yelled at.

I'm not saying I didn't deserve it. The memo was screwed up. But that doesn't change the sense of shock and injustice. Throughout my life people have on occasion yelled at me, for a variety of reasons, and it's always been unpleasant at the very least and deeply disquieting at worst.

As you can see from chart 1, it's been a while since somebody yelled at me. I still don't like it. I've never liked it, even when the reasons were different.

One of my kids will be in college in a couple of years. I belong to a beach-and-tennis club in summer. My suits would cost more than a thousand dollars each if I didn't get them on sale. I own my own car, outright! Isn't there a point in life when you go past the zone where people can yell at you? Apparently not!

After a while, Favel moved from yelling about this one particular beef into general complaints about process. "Don't we have some form of fail-safe systems in place?" he said in a very focused, determined voice.

I was impressed. Inexperienced yellers have to get loud and stay there. Really big executives with a lot of experience don't need to holler and scream throughout, and when you actually have to lean in to hear the yelling, you know you're in the hands of a master. "You know," Favel was saying in a husky murmur, "this isn't the kind of thing I would expect of you, Bing. That's what really gets me." He sounded hurt.

I like portable phones. During the getting-yelled-at thing I decided I was thirsty. At about the time Favel started digging for whether any of my subordinates should have prevented this situation, I got up really quietly and got myself a big old glass of water. Then I sat in the dark kitchen and drank it while I was getting yelled at.

I don't want to imply here that the entire yelling-at was a one-way street. I got my licks in, as you can see in chart 2.

I thought we were in the end zone about then, but we were only halfway done. It's hard to sustain a full-bore yelling without a break, I guess. So Favel took one, and for a couple of minutes we sort of chatted and tried to get back onto familiar ground by talking about golf, which didn't really work for either of us, because after a few minutes I could tell he was getting himself into a swivet again, and then, sure enough, kaboom and pow, the second stage of the rocket went off. I poured myself another tall glass of water. This time I put some Scotch in it.

Each yelling scenario has an inexorable beginning, middle, and end, and it doesn't pay to try to mess with it (see chart 3).

You've got to let it flow. That's the Zen part.

So I sat there in the darkened kitchen and took a deep breath, the phone cradled between my ear and my shoulder. Ed, my black cocker spaniel, came in to see whether there might be a biscuit involved in this late-night kitchen visit. I gave him one. Dogs never yell at you.

"Okay, well..." said Favel after a while. It was almost over. Now, there are several ways to end getting yelled at, and you want to make sure you choose the right one. I selected the sincere but understated final apology. It's better than many of the alternatives (see chart 4).

When I see Favel again, everything will be fine. A summer storm it was, that's all. Now it's over. Back to business.

In the light of day I see that the whole getting-yelled-at experience is somewhat better now than it was when I was younger. I'm upset, sure. But there's a part of me that remains realistic about these things (see chart 5).

And when I get in tomorrow, I'm going to have a few choice words with Mal, the young fellow who gave me the memo in the first place, the one I slapped my name on and sent to Favel. It was Mal who transposed the revenue assumptions, not me, but I couldn't tell Favel that. I'm the officer on deck, aye-aye, ho-ho-ho, ten-hut! No, I couldn't tell Favel that. But Mal is going to hear about it. Boy, is he ever. And that's part of the whole Zen thing too.

Om flows downhill, you know.

By day, STANLEY BING is a real executive at a real FORTUNE 500 company he'd rather not name.