Tears at Work

No one I know likes to cry at work. Awful! Everyone sees your vulnerability, you feel out-of-control. Maybe you worry about losing the respect ofyour colleagues. And you probably feel just plain stupid.

I've got some practical tips for people in both camps--the criers, and the ones who fall apart when they experience someone else crying.

First, here's my quick take on the phenomenon. As much as we might understand the merits of having good boundaries at work, we can't check our full, human selves at the door. In fact, doing that would make our workplaces less fulfilling and productive. For some of us, this means some tears sneak out from time-to-time. Maybe it was a taboo in the 1950's. It's not anymore.

One of the tricks to being a good leader or co-worker, though, it to maintain a non-anxious presence in times of change. That doesn't mean you never cry, but that you don't let your emotions--anger, sadness, frustration--set the tone for everyone around you. That takes maturity. 

If you're a crier:

  • Pre-empt the awkwardness. Make sure your inner circle at work hears something like, "I sometimes cry when I'm feeling things really deeply. I don't want that to bring things to a screeching halt or for everything to be organized around me. It's just how I express myself sometimes."
  • Find some strategies. Especially if you're in a position of executive leadership, you might consider some coaching around how your emotions come out at work. This doesn't mean you become wooden, but that you strategize around how to tighten up your boundaries.
  • Look deeper. Check in with yourself to make sure that your tears don't point to something else: Are you fundamentally unhappy at work? Are you exhausted? Are you fearful?

 If seeing others cry makes you squirm:

  • Resist the urge to fix. Know that someone else's tears do not require a solution from you. 
  • Resist the urge to interpret. Recognize that their crying probably doesn't mean the same thing as it might if you were to cry. 
  • Give your co-worker time. Let them say what they want to say or feel what they're feeling.
  • Later, give your co-worker feedback if appropriate. If this is happening dramatically or too frequently, let them know how it affects you.

The trick is to bring our regulated, authentic selves to the workplace. All of us are a work in progress on this front, I suspect.