Crying at Work: A Delicate Issue
A surprising number of articles and blog posts strive to make the case that it's OK to cry at work. Granted, certain types of situations seem more appropriate for a crying jag than others. But no matter what the situation, crying—whether it's a droplet of tears or downright blubbering—is generally seen as a sign of weakness, or even a professional taboo.
Whether it's a weakness of not, it's certainly a showstopper. It's no easy matter to continue to focus on the work at hand when tears are gushing forth during a meeting. So it seems appropriate to ask whether crying at work is ever justifiable.
Surely, the answer is yes, such as in response to a tragedy or upon receiving seriously bad news. But the provoking situation needn’t be something extreme. Almost anything that pushes too many of your buttons can be the trigger: pent-up frustration, a moment of extreme anger, or an overdose of conflict. And actually, it doesn't have to be something negative; most people have had the experience of choking up in response to positive news or a happy occurrence.
If you're the one who tears up and it's a situation that's embarrassing for you, excuse yourself if you can. If you can hide away for a few minutes, you can continue the gushing in private if that's what you need. And without the puzzled stares of onlookers, you can regain control. When you return, whether in minutes or days, minimize the urge to apologize. A quick "sorry about that" may suffice. Then move on. If the situation calls for a fuller explanation, keep it brief. If it was in the presence of a group, it may be better to meet individually with those who were present to explain your reaction than to use a group forum for the purpose.
If you're on the receiving end of an employee who bursts out in tears, let empathy guide you. Ask if the person would like a few minutes alone. Be willing to listen if listening is what the person seems to need. Don't assume that you have a full understanding of the circumstances; it's unlikely that you do. Avoid, or at least delay, proclaiming a solution to whatever triggered the tears; someone in an emotional state is not inclined to respond well to logic.
If there's a work-related situation that needs attention or if crying jags are a recurring situation, you may need to take steps to resolve the matter. But that's for later. Right now, being there for the person may be the most important thing you can do. Accept the person as a human being who is having a human reaction, much as you may have had at some point in the past or may yet have in the future.