Carole S. Fungaroli knows who to yell at, when to yell at them, and exactly how loud to yell. She calls her method, and her book on dysfunctional workplaces, The Slam and Scream. “Lawyers can really take it when you scream at them, but you should never try it on a CEO,” she says knowingly. “I worked for NASDAQ on K Street, and I would never do a slam and scream there.” Fungaroli believes business execs back off only when they’re embarrassed: Just “act horrified when they have the poor manners to lose their composure in front of you,” she recommends.
During the ’80s, Fungaroli bounced around her native Washington as a temp, an administrative assistant, and a legal secretary. She earned a good living, but being in a subordinate position meant enduring put-downs from competitive bosses and never getting a promotion. She recalls crying in the bathroom, deflecting sleazy come-ons, and going to the doctor for stress-related stomach cramps. “It’s not like I started slamming and screaming at these guys right away,” she says. “At first, when the verbal abuse started, I just sort of folded.” Gradually, though, she developed practical strategies for dealing with disrespect. The Slam and Scream is a primer for peons at sales offices, government bureaus, and especially law firms (“Only work for partners,” the author says adamantly. “You’d be crazy to work for associates because they have no lives. You’d be amazed at the hours they put in”).
Fungaroli herself abandoned clerkdom to complete a doctorate in English literature, and she’s currently a visiting scholar at the University of North Carolina. But she still feels compelled to speak on behalf of people who spend eight—or 12—hours a day making someone else look good. If she sounds self-righteous, well, it’s just because she cares. “Some people do like the job,” she admits, in response to criticism from professional secretaries who are happy with their station. “I don’t insist that the job change….But I would like it to be a genuine corporate apprenticeship where you can move up. Dues-paying doesn’t bother people who think they can get ahead.”—Nathalie op de Beeck