To Yell or Not to Yell, That Is The Question (And 5 Things To Think About Before You Answer It)

Last Sunday night I watched with great interest as the New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, with great emotional intensity, yelled at his teammates on the sidelines.  Loudly and forcefully.

To say he was riled up was putting it quite mildly.    His passion was way, way out there.

And what happened after the rant?  A great victory for the Patriots over the Pittsburgh Steelers, and a magnificent performance by Brady.

Seeing these kind of things always brings to mind my own experiences with bosses who have used these kind of  “rants” as part of their motivational repertoire.

They can be effective, as was demonstrated by Brady.  He fired up his team, and himself, to top performance.

But it also can be totally destructive and demoralizing – 20 years ago, I was on the receiving end of a series of yelling sessions that put me into a real funk  for almost 3 years.

There’s clearly a fine line at work here – but after my own experience as a leader, and my own use of what I would call “emotional intensity“, I would suggest that we look past the volume and intensity, and dig a little deeper, to answer the question:

To Yell or Not To Yell?

The first thing we have to remember is this:  like any other messaging delivery system,  what we really need to look at is the content of that message.

A rule of thumb here:  if the message is inappropriate, belittling, confusing, or outright silly at a whisper, increasing the volume doesn’t make it any less so.

Then there is the timing of that message.   I don’t think Brady’s rant would have been as effective if he said it at the pre-game meal the night before , or even at the start of the game.   He picked a time when everyone was already in a heightened state of awareness.

Frequency also needs to be considered.  If you are prone to yell at the slightest provocation, or need to jack up the volume every time you feel you need to provide inspiration, it will get old really fast, and people will tune you out.

Another consideration is the person behind the yell – how “outside the box” is this outburst?  I classify rants in several ways – there are the natural “in the moment” sounding ones, very contrived and fake ones, and then there are the “fight or flight”  fear generated ones.   Humans are very perceptive creatures, and they can pick up on these nuances very quickly.

Lastly,  you have to “put your money where your mouth is” – that is, if you’re going to yell at people to get them to perform at a higher intensity and focus, then you better do the same yourself.  Tom Brady was a fantastic example of this.  He forcefully asked for more, and then HE gave more.  He led by example.

No doubt, yelling is a leadership tool.  But use it wisely, and use these helpers to decide –  for while the upside can be great, the downside can be catastrophic.


  1. says

    Love this post!

    And this has great application in today’s world of email and social media too. I have recently watched some honest open dialogue digress into social media bullying and personal attacks. The flight or fight was obvious as an emotional highjack took over and people vented and ranted inappropriately.

    Maybe younwill write part 2 To Rant Or Not To Rant (in that blog comment)!

    Thanks for writing this.

  2. says

    Nice reminders…

    I have two very different roles. Coach of a High School Hockey Team and a by day manager at work. When I am coaching – I have the tendency to be more forceful (yell) in some of my messages. In the old days – I probably used that technique more frequently. Not so much now. Take a lighter side to really get the message heard. At work, I rarely get that fired up to yell. When I do, the impact is greater!

    There is a time and a place – just use it wisely.

  3. Eric says

    Question: what motivates you that comes from such interactions?
    Answer: very little!

    Let’s pause for a moment and refocus on human motivation…internal motivation, if you wish. Being yelled at is not influential on the behavior of your emplyees because you, as manager/leader, are not in charge of their motivation…they are! Want to make an impact? Take time to learn what their goals and gaps are, then move to help them reach those goals and close those gaps. Yelling may only reveal your own passion, not create much passion from your employees. Now, connect your passion with their passion(s), and you have something valuable. But don’t kid yourself, the act of yelling, in and of itself, didn’t do much more than make you lose your voice.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *