Here are four tips on what to do when you cry at work. Tears at work can and do suck, but here’s how to make sure you don’t come across as “too emotional”.
What To Do When You Cry At Work…
Until about fifteen years ago, I always subscribed to the idea crying at work was a surefire way to give away your power. In my mind, there was just no upside to showing your emotions and crying. I think most people feel this way. I just never wanted to give anyone a reason to look down on me or criticize me for being “too emotional.” My thoughts on crying at work have changed over the years but for good reason and for the better too.
Generally, I do think it’s the best idea to not let your emotions get the best of you at work. Crying uncontrollably at work over something minor is definitely not good and should be avoided. But I don’t think it’s the end of the world to shed a tear or two with people you trust at work over work-related issues or personal issues, especially if it is for just for a few moments.
It is also acceptable to cry for reasons or experiences shared by others such as the passing of a fellow employee, the diagnosis of a colleague’s devastating illness, a tragic accident of a co-worker’s child, or something along these lines. Sometimes there is comfort in sharing tears with one another to acknowledge the pain and sort through the emotions everyone is feeling.
We have to be allowed to be human, even at work. Yet it’s always a good idea if you are about to break down to take a walk outside or find a nearby bathroom to cry, collect yourself, and take a deep breath. You aren’t always going to have this opportunity, but when you do you should take advantage of it.
If you have cried at work or if you are someone who will likely do so at some point in your career, here are some of my tips and thoughts. Here’s what to when you cry at work.
Acknowledge What’s Going On Inside
When you do cry at work, you need to ask yourself what is making you feel this emotion so strongly it created tears. You need to “acknowledge” what’s driving the tears and you need to name it. You need to name the circumstance, the memory, the way you are being treated, the anger, or whatever it may be. Name it so you can address and deal with whatever is bothering you. You may need to talk it out with a friend or loved one after work. Maybe you need to spend time alone to work through your emotions to get to a place of peace, acceptance, or whatever is needed. Your job, when you have emotions that cause you to cry in public, is to do what is needed to take care of you.
In all my years of working and supervising women, it seems the main reason for tears in the workplace is when you have been pushed to an unfamiliar or uncomfortable place where you are left feeling helpless, vulnerable, and powerless. By and large, when you name the circumstance or emotions causing you to cry, it will be tied to these feelings in some way. The good thing is, crying outside of work can actually help you to deal with these emotions so you can think clearly and focus on solutions to feeling vulnerable or helpless. That is the end goal after all: to work through this unfamiliar or uncomfortable place to one that familiar and comfortable.
How many of you have apologized after you have cried? We feel like we need to excuse our behavior or we feel ashamed and have to apologize for it. Apologizing can actually make those around you feel more uncomfortable, which is the opposite of what you want. When you apologize you also draw more attention to yourself, which isn’t what you desire either. And lastly, apologies often make you cry more or worse. I just gave you three reasons not to apologize for your tears. Don’t do it! Just move on and others around you will likely move on with you. The worst thing people can do when I am in tears is hug me, console me, tell me “you poor thing,” and make a big deal about it. It makes it worse! So don’t make a big deal of it yourself either. And for heaven’s sake, do the same for others when you are on the receiving end of tears. I just want to be left alone to gather myself and move on. So respect others by doing the same.
Reframe Your Tears As Passion
Recently I found a new study that gave the best advice I’ve ever heard about what to do when you cry at work. Elizabeth Wolf and her research suggests reframing it as passion for the job or your emotional investment in the work you do. What she found is, when you do this… the shame of crying goes away and people then think of you as being competent as opposed to emotional.
Until reading this study, I didn’t realize that I had done this in my past. You see, I’m one of those who has a tendency to cry when I am really angry and I have had to tell others, “I am crying because I am angry. This is what it looks like when I am pissed.” And then I’d continue on as if I didn’t have a face full of tears. I reframed it as passion which was in this case, anger, and everyone around me took note and didn’t judge the tears but sure did pay attention to my leadership as a result of the anger I felt.
Stand Confidently While They Flow Down Your Cheeks
I once had an employee who said my tears were tears of strength and I’ll never forget how his words touched me so. He was right; I could still direct a mission with tears in my eyes and flowing down my cheeks.
I had to lead some really difficult times at work with tears and tissues. I have stood in front of hundreds of firefighters with tears and yet clearly communicated how I wanted the day to progress and people to work together safely despite the loss the day before. I’ve had to give a eulogy at an employee’s memorial service with tears and tissues. I’ve had to deliver very difficult news to my employees and community with misty eyes. And yet, each time I did so with confidence with no shame in the fact that my passion for life and the work that we do meant a great deal.
Tears, as a sign of strength, can increase your ability to lead people if you are able to confidently stand without fear of your own outpouring of emotion.
I think this bolded statement is the lesson to be learned and the place you need to work on getting to if you are at all a person who has or will cry at work. Don’t apologize. Own your emotions, reframe, stand confidently, and move on. Others will take your lead and move on as well.
Portions from this blog were taken from the chapter “Tears at Work Suck” of my book “Winning at Work: Career Success Secrets for Women in the Workplace” which has sold over 18,000 copies and reached #1 in multiple categories and #4 in the Amazon Kindle Store in the first six weeks of its release.