Men shouting in trading pits practically define the securities industry, even as electronic trading makes their antics less necessary. There’s a reason that cameras love traders: Their yelling conveys competitive urgency, excitement and drama.
All this ruckus is rooted in tradition, so that one trader isn’t likely to be offended by another bellowing at him on the exchange floor — assuming not too much spittle is involved. But just imagine two employees going at it like that in a staid insurance office; both parties might be hauled up to human resources in short order.
When shouting spirals out of control at work, there may be serious consequences. Consider the verbal strife that erupted between top managers at JPMorgan Chase’s chief investment office right before the trade that led to a $3 billion loss at the company. After the senior banker in charge of the office was sidelined by illness, her deputies in New York and London reportedly began engaging in shouting matches.
It’s conceivable that the combatants carried the brouhaha of the trading pit into the conference room, with disastrous results. This is a rough-and-tumble industry, yes, but a big bet like that might have benefited from some cooler deliberation.
In these arguments, two women — one succeeded another as deputy — who urged greater caution were reportedly shouted down by their male counterpart in London, who was among those in favor of the trade.
Gender may not have played a role here. But research has shown that men have more leeway to express anger at work than women. When the loudest voice wins, though, the victory may be hollow.
Shouting in the workplace can be harmful, because “when people are upset they process information at a more shallow level,” says Robert Sutton, a professor and organizational psychologist at Stanford University. In a climate of fear, he says, people simply aren’t as smart.
A workplace can develop a culture of shouting. Any kind of behavior, if done repeatedly and modeled by senior people, can become contagious, Sutton says. Think of the overall effect that could have on decision-making.
But not all shouting is bad. If you are a boot-camp recruit or a commentator on “The McLaughlin Group,” you expect to be yelled at and don’t take it personally. In certain settings, shouting can motivate and entertain people.
Sutton says there’s also a difference between strategic and out-of-control shouting. Steve Jobs of Apple was a master of the strategic temper tantrum, the professor says. In general, he adds, if the shouter is motivated by the greater organizational good rather than some narcissistic cause, the outburst is less likely to be offensive.
Shouting in the workplace is abusive if mentally healthy employees begin ruminating on it to the point that it infects their lives, Sutton says. They may feel demeaned and de-energized and develop symptoms like insomnia. At that point, there are several ways to solve the problem.
First, consider having a “gentle backstage conversation” with the shouter, he says. It could go something like this: “I just wanted to talk to you about something you’re doing that’s making me uncomfortable, and you might not even be aware of it. Sometimes I know that you’re overly excited and you raise your voice, and it makes me and others feel upset at times.”
Cultural differences are such that the shouter may not be aware of the effect that he or she is having, and a conversation may do the trick, says Sutton, who on occasion has been told by students and others that he is too loud.
But if you feel that you can’t talk to the culprit without being punished, another strategy is to speak to someone of higher authority who is likely to be sympathetic. This is more effective if you document the behavior and band together with others who have been affected by it, he says.
This step must be weighed carefully, though, and keep in mind that human resources departments tend to protect the organization over the individual, Sutton says. Realistically, then, you can either leave your position or “keep your head down and not let it touch your soul,” he says.
But at what price to the company? That is why managers need to be aware of shouting as a potential scourge.