Yelling from the Bleachers

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Here’s a conversation I’m prepared to have.  Short.  Direct.  Honest.

Hi, ______. I’m Heather Haas, Nixon’s mom.  I wanted to introduce myself because I noticed that you’ve been yelling at my son on the basketball court from the bleachers.  I want to let you know that Nixon is a kind, happy and hardworking little kid.  He’s 6 years old and just learning how to play basketball.  We signed him up so he can make friends, improve his skills and be part of a team.  We expect this will be a positive and confidence building experience for him. You may not be aware, but kids who are learning new things don’t respond well to angry people they don’t know yelling at them.  Further, moms don’t respond well to strangers yelling at their precious children.  So, kindly stop.  Thanks, and nice to meet you.  


Why am I sharing this on my professional blog?  Because that guy who yells at kids from the bleachers during 1st grade basketball games works someplace with nice, well intentioned, hardworking people around him.  Those people deserve better just like my son and his teammates deserve better.


Here are 5 take-aways from bad bleacher behavior that can serve us well as at work.

  1. It’s not effective to yell, bully and intimidate others into performing and learning new things. It’s hard to believe that even needs to be said, but it does.  At ADVISA we often work with companies who seek our help in dealing with leaders and managers who behave with their people like the unpleasant dad in the bleachers.
  2. Feedback and coaching are important catalysts for growth and improvement if, and only if, there exists a solid foundation of trust and a genuine shared purpose. People cannot benefit from feedback if they don’t trust the source and believe there is positive intent behind the feedback.  Learning and developing new skills is hard work for kids and adults alike.  Healthy relationships support and accelerate learning.  Ideally, leaders and managers would invest time in building trust with people and creating shared purpose before tackling performance gaps.
  3. We all get frustrated, and even angry, with people at work from time to time. When this happens, it can be helpful to think of that person who is frustrating us as someone’s dad, mom, daughter, son, sister etc.  When we stop and consider the person behind the performance (however disappointing and abysmal that may be) we can summon a bit more empathy.  We are better able to thoughtfully respond instead of reacting.  No one tries to fail at work and everyone deserves respect and empathy.  I’m not suggesting we overlook performance issues or let them linger on without addressing them.  I’m suggesting that when we feel anger and frustration, we are well served to bring ourselves back to center by thinking about people as individuals and considering what challenges and struggles those individuals might be dealing with outside work.  Yelling just doesn’t advance any effort to change behaviors.
  4. When we experience people who behave inappropriately at work, we should confront themdirectly, honestly and with composure and professionalism. We should be clear about our position and point of view, and take the high road in terms of our behavior and tone. We can’t be successful in creating high engagement, healthy work cultures if we let our colleagues, peers and/or direct reports get by with yelling at others from the bleachers.
  5. Emotional intelligence, or lack thereof, governs the way we deal with frustration, stress, conflict, relationships and high stakes decision-making.  The reason we added the EQ-i 2.0 assessment into our leadership development practice is because leaders with higher emotional intelligence perform at higher levels and bring more value to their organizations.  The EQ-i competencies that directly relate to emotional, angry outbursts at work include impulse control, stress tolerance, emotional expression, assertiveness (as in, assert don’t attack).  Our emotions impact our behavior and the better we learn to recognize them and express them effectively, the more successful we will be in life and work.


While I don’t know if the bleacher guy will yell at my son again, I do know that I’m prepared to control my emotions, assert myself respectfully, stand up for my kid and (hopefully) make one tiny step toward improving the youth sports culture.  And I hope I’ve made the case for the importance of standing up to the bleacher guy or gal in your life.