Crying At Work: When to Hold Back and When to Let Go
Crying at work: is it ever okay? This hot topic is causing a stir among younger employees and those who counsel them regarding their behavior and advancement in the workplace, and the guidelines are usually fairly clear: Don't do it. Just don't. Ever.
Unfortunately, the issue isn't that simple, and entry level employees usually can't solve the disaster of looming tears by simply deciding not to have them. With that in mind, a few considerations can help when you're facing the issue of waterworks at work.
Age is Relevant
When we say "younger", we mean it. By the time most employees have reached their late 30s, they've made peace with this very human and biological response to emotion and stress. Studies suggest that mid-career employees have less to worry about when the tears well up; first, their careers are usually established and not likely to be derailed by one awkward moment in a meeting. And second, mid-career life events like new parenthood, divorce, medical procedures, or financial calamity tend to be well understood and commonly respected stressors in the professional environment. So if you plan to cry at work, the best tip is simple: wait until you're 35.
When Waiting Twelve Years Isn't an Option
But of course, this advice won't help much when a project goes wrong and you're facing the threat of public humiliation. Or when you're late for a client meeting and you realize you're in the wrong building. Or when you're just simply exhausted, sleep deprived, threatened, brittle, angry, or you've had nothing but cake for breakfast. (Tip: adequate sleep and a healthy breakfast can stave off this problem). If you feel the tears coming and you can't hold them back as an act of pure will, assess the environment around you. Then take the following steps.
Leave if you Can
If possible, leave the room. Disappear to the bathroom and pause there for a few minutes. Splash water on your face, breathe deeply, and concentrate on something that will break the hot bubble of the present moment and take your mind out of this situation. An example: recall a scene from a funny movie in which this kind of thing happens to a character. Everything will be fine in the long run (maybe the very long run). But for now, you'll need to summon your sense of humor.
If You Can't Leave
If you can't leave, you have two choices: you can fight the rising tide, or embrace it. Fight the tide if you think you can win. Simply pretend it isn't happening. Don't touch your face, don't alter the pitch of your voice, and carry on as if absolutely nothing unusual is taking place around your eye region.
If you can't win, just cry. As it happens, giving in to tears and allowing them to flow freely and unashamedly can have a strange impact on those around you. Tears change and reset conversations in ways that can be impossible to predict. Allowing them to happen can take incredible courage, but if you have this courage, now is the time to exercise it. Embrace who you are and how you feel. Be absolutely yourself, and you'll command the respect that's reserved for those who are brutally and dangerously honest.
For more on how to conduct yourself in a professional workplace and make the moves that can help you advance your career, explore the resources at MyPerfectResume.