Crying in the Workplace: A big NO NO

Problem: You have an employee, colleague or friend who is very talented but when they are given feedback, even of the simplest kind, they start crying. This person is a TOP performer and has great potential.  You are thinking that they either lack confidence, or their expectation of themselves is too high, but then maybe it’s fear of failure.  As a leader, you want to help.  You know that if they do not get their emotions under control and learn to communicate more effectively, they will sabotage their succession to the top.  You interview their past manager/supervisor and determine that this has been an ongoing problem. The good news is it’s not you! Maybe you should get this pin?
What Gandi would do to Cry babies
Here are some ideas:
1.    Listen to how you mentally react to the crying employee:
a.    Crying does not automatically mean weakness.
b.    Accept that their crying makes you uncomfortable.
c.    Consider that their crying could be a ploy to manipulate you.
d.    Keep an open mind and look past your conventional wisdom and embedded prejudices.
e.    Polish your communications and stay calm. Don’t feel guilty.
f.    Don’t allow their crying to push you into tabling the topic at hand.

2.    Let the employee cry, offer a tissue, and try to empathize. Ask questions to determine what’s bothering them. Show your concern.
a.    Let them vent and when they are done, ask, “Is there anything else?”
Quickly focus on solutions.
b.    Ask, “Have I said something to personally upset you? If so, what?”
c.    Ask, “As a leader, know that I want to help you succeed. What is your concern?”
d.    Ask “If this is of a personal nature and you are not comfortable discussing the issue with me, would you please allow me to find someone to help you?”
e.    “Please let me know when you are ready to continue our discussion.”

3.    If you have to, reschedule the meeting and make sure you get back together within 24 hours to resolve the original reason for the meeting.
a.    Don’t launch into the feedback initially.
b.    Do discuss the perception of crying in the workplace. (Lack of professionalism, poor self-leadership, low self-confidence, negative self-esteem.) Make a list with them.
c.    Set a goal to help this person change their mental thinking and emotional habits

4.    Determine the outcomes this person wants in the workplace, their job and their career.
a.    To address this issue at a “non emotional time” consider asking: “I have something of a sensitive nature I would like to discuss with you.  Can we discuss this now?”  You are asking permission to discuss crying on the job.
b.    Be their mentor or help them find one.
c.    Determine if there is a real behavioral or emotional problem. If so, contact the EAP (Employee Assistance Program) person, Human Resources department or someone else who can help.
d.    Emotional outbursts of any kind are not appropriate in the workplace. Consider including such a statement in their job responsibilities and expected outcomes. This should be done for all employees.

Marsha Petrie Sue, MBA, CSP – Professional Speaker and Writer
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  1. kim says:

    And what are your thoughts if you were the “crier”? I have had a least 2 situations over the last year and a half, where through extreme frustration/stress and an outburst by my boss has brought me to tears. It’s embarrassing and humiliating. I am considered a top performer in my company/work group, but these situations make me feel as if I am loosing control as well as my self confidence. I am normally a strong woman and rarely cry, but these two situations still plague me with thoughts that I have damaged my reputation to some extent.

  2. Marsha says:

    I used to do the same thing and had to LEARN how now to cry and be overly emotional.

    Breathe! That will put oxygen in your brain.
    Think Left Brain! Say something to yourself like “No matter what you say or do to me, I’m still a worthwhile person” That shifts you away from the mental terrorism and into the left brain that holds all your words.
    Look UP! Many times this will push the tear ducts closed so you can’t tear up.
    Self Worth! Work on it. Here is a link to the download for my CEO of YOU book. It will really help you with with this.

    Enjoy and let me know what you think! Marsha

  3. Mark says:

    I have a young lady working for me and she is working on a large and important project but every time someone questions some of her decisions right/wrong about the project she get very emotional, which typically results in her crying.

    I have discussed with her that it is okay to cry but she should step away, try to avoid it by focusing on the issue or the discussion versus her feelings. I have told her that she is an exceptional individual and a great contributor to our organization but these comments don’t seem to work. She has people who report to her and they see that when she gets in situations she cries and I am concerned it is effecting her ability to reason and make good decisions an dpossibly these individuals may use it against her in the future. At the moment, she typically will take the time after she cries to think it through and get to some very good options but I need her to do this during the meetings and not have to walk out because of her emotions.

    I have to be honest, I am a male and not so in touch with my emotions, so I am finding this situation somewhat difficult to manage, especially since I have done a lot of what you have advised above and it is not working.

    Do I just say it is okay to cry and advise the rest of the department that this is acceptable? I have thought about having a female leader in the organization try and mentor her through this situation but I am concerned that these women may not tolerate it from her because they see it as a sign of weakness and it is a bad impression of females in leadership roles…

    Any help would be appreciated.


    1. Marsha says:

      I would talk to her privately and ask her how she wants to be perceived. Make a list with her. Then ask her how she thinks she is perceived when she cries. If she wants to be perceived as a business professional, she must train herself not to cry. Typically, for women, crying is the result of poor self confidence. She is reacting from the emotive side of her brain (the right side) and needs to train herself to think from the left side of her brain (rational, focused). Memorize a mantra such as, I love and accept myself just the way I am. Or, no matter what you say or do to me I’m still a worthwhile person. Or I’m glad I’m here, I’m glad you’re here, I care about you, I know what I know. These words, when memorized, come from the left side of the brain. Bottom line: she needs to change her “thinking” habits.
      Have her read (and you may want to as well) The CEO of YOU: leading yourself to success. Here is a free link for the eBook.

      Does that help?

  4. Mark says:

    I will try it and let you know.


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