Crying In the Workplace: Why it doesn’t work

It is always interesting to see the kind of requests I receive for information through my blog –

I would be very interested to see if you have other suggestions on crying in the workplace. Personally, I think it is unacceptable and immature!



I have a young lady on staff 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 and possibly 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.


My Suggestion:

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.

What would you recommend?


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  1. Chad Nordland says:

    I totally agree with what you said she should build more confidence. As a leader you must have strong leadership skills. If you don’t people wont take you seriously.

  2. Todd Warren says:

    My recommendation:

    After 30 years in business as well as being a current business coach and having employed hundreds of female employees in my career, (yes, I am male) in a team or group environment, crying would not be tolerated. We as business professionals, cannot act like our 5 year old children in the work place and there should be no place for it in my opinion.

    I personally would handle things this way, sorry if this may seem harsh to some, but running or managing a company can be a harsh thing as well. I would pull her aside, behind close doors and inform her that her childish and immature attitude and behavior would not be tolerated any longer and that if she cannot contain herself in these meetings and act like an adult, she will have to be removed from the project.

    If she persisted in creating rain puddles in the office, I would have to consider replacing her with a more professional and astute individual that could handle pressure and or criticism in a more meaningful, professional and productive way.

    It is also not fair to the crying individual to have to continuously feel demeaned in front of her peers in this manner. It would be painfully obvious that she cannot handle the pressures of the project or her position within the team, that should say it all.

    If you decide to allow this reaction to continue I would believe that the other employees would look down on your management abilities for not being able to handle this matter and you yourself may loose credibility as well.

    Fair but firm has always been my motto!!

  3. ruth says:

    I am not a psychoanalyst, but it sounds to me that, as a child, crying got her what she wanted. It sounds like she needs A LOT of affirmation, more than an employer should be asked to give an employee. Sorry, I know I am not much help here.

    I can speak on behalf of her co-workers, however, as I worked with a big cryer for a few years. She drove me crazy as the slightest indication of disappointment or confusion in her duties sent her sobbing. No one was ever disappointed in her, as she did outstanding work, but her perception (vs. reality) of rejection was enough to send her sobbing, which made me and others very, very uncomfortable. I am not your therapist, you know? To clarify, I am speaking of the usual business communications; not of a dire emergency or tragedy, like the WTC bombing, or a death in the workforce (such as a co-worker suddenly passing away) or family member.

  4. Penny Barrington says:

    To begin, crying is not a crime. It is a physiological release mechanism. From my personal experience, if a person cries so easily then there is far more to dealing with this than simply worrying about what other people think and saying mantras. She may have crap self-esteem and cries as she releases the pain of feeling a crap person. She could be seriously depressed as people who are often manifest by crying at even fun things! She coulshave a learned behavious from childhood that has her cry to not face her choices. She could be the victim of bullying and this is her only way out rather than to have learned skills of resilience. She could also be suffering from protracted grief whereby she has not dealt with an issue. She may be simply emotionally immature; like young children who use the same reactions. Whatever possible reasons there are, I’d say she needs professional counselling to get ot the bottom of it all. Does the workplace have EAP – Employee Assisted Programs so that people visit a registered consellor paid for by the employer? The mantra suggested is a direct saying that is used in Emotional Freedom Technique and only works if the actions of applying tapping in strict sequence to meridian points are carried out. I am have been to most of the places I put forward here, but crying at work was not a common occurrence. Whatever, she sounds like she needs support but then she could be a Gen Y with no amount of perception that mistakes are how we learn so get on with it.

  5. Jenny Smith says:

    I would recommend your suggestion. I have been a person who cries in the workplace. I have felt worse about myself from doing it. It is from not being confident in yourself and from focussing on negative events, letting your mind take over instead of what is the real truth. She needs to retrain her thinking habits to be more positive. A smile uses less muscles. She could think of a cheery song like “My Favorite Things”.

  6. Elaine says:

    Being a Woman in a leadership role as of now, it may be beneficial for the leader to ask her what’s going on and if it’s too much on her plate. She may just be overwhelmed and not feel that she has the support that she needs to get the project completed.

    Women are emotional creatures by nature, I know personally at times I have gotten emotional over items when I’m overwhelmed. The best advice is let her know that you are there to support her then work on the other issues of perception and what not. Don’t want to make her feel any worse than what she already does.

  7. Elizabeth Hannigan says:

    When at work I ask that everyone including myself present and conduct themselves professionally. If I ever got to a stage that I was crying a lot at work, I would reconsider the job/role and whether I really want to be in a position that resulted in that level of emotion.

    When crying is a rare event, i usually ask the person to take a break and return when they have composed themselves. Or if I am upset, I request a break and do like wise.

  8. Viky says:

    Are these mantras working in the same way if are said in another language, after translation?

    1. Marsha says:

      Yes they sure do. Sorry for not approving your comment. We have been having some “techno issues” and I apologize! Thanks for your comment and keep them coming!!!!

  9. Viky says:

    That person with very uncomfortable reactions at emotions needs help. Probably she did what she could do to avoid being in such a disgusting situation. It is clear that she failed in her actions.

    So what do you suggest for a person like this which is aware of her situation?

    If this person needs a specialized professional help where should she go?

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  10. Trish M says:

    There was one point in my career when I suddenly found myself crying when stressed. It took me a while to figure out what was going on but this might help the individual in question.

    I found that I was suppressing a reaction of anger and frustration. The emotion had to go somewhere and unfortunately manifested itself as crying. When I learned to accept the original emotion I found I could deal with the anger and frustration. It was much easier to manage my behavior that way than to deal with the crying!

    On later reflection, I realized that this occurred during a time when I felt overwhelmed by the job scope. I had been doing this job and career for years so even though I was feeling challenged, it never occurred to me that this one was that much more complex and challenging than any of my other projects and that I needed more involvement and support from my VP. After I made a lateral move to a new Director position, they replaced me with 1 VP and 3 Directors. I know how to ask for help so this fact told me that I wasn’t communicating the challenges well enough for others to see what was needed. I later realized that part of the difference was that I didn’t really feel safe in that environment. So, in my case, it was best that I moved on anyway.

    The bottom line is that the individual needs to feel supported while doing a self assessment to understand what’s causing the behavior. It is highly likely that she is more stunned and distributed by this manifestation than anyone around her. It is only through serious self-reflection in a safe environment that she’ll get to the bottom of it. As her manager, get involved in the project well enough to understand what the barriers are to her success and support her in overcoming them. If that doesn’t work, then move to the next steps of removing her from that project.

    This approach will make you a hero in the eyes of the other employees on your staff. They will know that you won’t throw them out at the first sign of stress on their part and that you won’t let the rest of the department suffer indefinitely either when a certain assignment is not working out. It’s a good balance.

    Good Luck!

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