Let’s face it, crying at work is embarrassing for everyone involved. But as Ines Kretschmer advises a reader who broke down in front of her boss, it’s how we handle the situation that’s the marker of our strength.
Understanding why it happened in the first place, and getting to know our triggers, can help to take back control.
Dear Daily Slog,
“I am completely mortified as I recently cried my eyes out in front of my male boss. To make matters worse he was clearly uncomfortable and didn’t handle the situation all that well.
To be honest I can’t blame him for his reaction as there wasn’t really a solid reason for my tears and emotions, I was just having a bad day, coupled with some pre-menstrual hormones and the tears just burst out. I feel completely foolish but more importantly I can’t help thinking that I have slipped down in his estimation of me.
Do you think it’s ever ok to show emotion in the workplace? Can I claw my way back from this or will I always be seen as the emotional woman who cries at the drop of a hat?”
Thank you very much for getting in contact.
Although you give only a brief description of the event and your concerns, there are four angles that I feel need to be addressed to give you a valid reply.
1. Your Feelings
From what you have written it is clear that you are blaming yourself for your tears. You feel ashamed and embarrassed, because – as you point out – there was no valid reason for your tears, apart from having a bad day and some hormonal imbalances.
In this specific situation you cried. That does not mean that you always cry, and it certainly does not mean you are weak or always emotional. It just means that in this specific situation you cried.
Everybody reacts differently in every situation. Some people are hot-tempered or irritable, others go quiet or can’t concentrate and make mistakes. Nobody is perfect, and we are all human. In this specific situation you cried. That does not mean that you always cry, and it certainly does not mean you are weak or always emotional. It just means that in this specific situation you cried.
One of the reasons why you may feel so uncomfortable about that, is that in this specific situation you had no control. You did not choose to cry, you had to cry. And as humans we are scared and uncomfortable when we feel we are not in charge of a situation.
Here are some questions to help you to gain back control:
- Ask yourself honestly if there really was no other reason for your tears. Is there any underlying issue? Are you under a lot of stress? Did you not get enough sleep? Are there other worries that you did not connect to the incident but that may have contributed to it?
- If it was just “having a bad day” – what had made the day bad? Could you have taken a break and gotten some fresh air earlier in the day to avoid that build up of pressure?
- If hormones really were the reason, does that happen often? If not in the work place then elsewhere? Does it affect you in other areas? Is it worth thinking about seeing a doctor?
These questions are just for you. Don’t get me wrong: I do not think you need a doctor because there was one situation where you cried. I just mean to point out that you need to consider all of the circumstances and understand what happened. This will help you to take back control and feel good about yourself and more aware of your emotions. It does not mean the situation cannot re-occur, but if it does, it might worry you a lot less to know why it came about, and perhaps how you can help to control it.
It might be that your tears were actually justified, or it might be you just had to cry: either way, try to accept it and be confident about it. Those tears belonged to you in this situation and if you handle the situation with self-confidence, that self-confidence will shine a lot brighter than the tears you cried.
What determines your strength – in my opinion – is how you handle the situation.
2. What Others Think Of You
This is quite strongly connected to point 1. The more you understand why you cried and the more you accept that you cried, the less it will affect you what other people think – including your boss.
Of course, we are always trying to safe guard our emotions, and even more so in the workplace. We are in a competitive environment, we do not want to be at a disadvantage and we do not want to show our weaknesses.
But I would like to ask if tears are always a weakness and if so, why? Being able to show an emotion is not or should not be seen as a weakness as such. You are not bursting out in tears for no reason every day. What determines your strength – in my opinion – is how you handle the situation.
Decide for yourself if you want to explain it to him, if you want to let it go or if you want to even make a little joke around it to take the possible tension out.
Again – this will depend on your self-awareness. If you get to the bottom of why you cried, this will determine your strategy. Your relationship with your boss will also have an influence on that.
Decide if you want to explain it to him, if you want to let it go, or if you want to even make a little joke around it to take the possible tension out.
You say, “he didn’t handle it very well”. The question would be why; and the reason is not necessarily that you cried, but maybe that he has an issue himself or is quite simply not used to a situation like that. That is fine too, but it is not necessarily your responsibility or fault. He is a manager after all, and hence he too must manage situations sometimes that are outside of his comfort zone.
Imagine it was not you, but a colleague who was in the situation you describe. Would you think the person’s reputation is damaged, just because he or she for once showed some emotion, for whatever reason?
3. Is It Ever Ok To Show Emotion In The Workplace?
If you ask 100 people you will probably get 100 different opinions. The question is, what do you think? As a coach, I can only assist clients to answer the questions they have for themselves, and must leave my own values and evaluations out of it.
My advice would be: put yourself in an outside perspective. Imagine it was not you, but a colleague who was in the situation you describe. What would you think? Would you think it is ok, to show emotions every now and then? Depending on the situation? That perhaps sometimes showing some emotion could even be helpful? Did it do any damage? If so, why and to whom?
We should accept that emotions have a place in the work place, and we are better off integrating them appropriately than ignoring them altogether.
Let’s assume this imaginary scenario was a once off. Would you think the persons reputation damaged just because he or she showed some emotion, for whatever reason? Or would you think, we all have a “bad day” sometimes and not make too much of it?
Work is work of course, and in general we should act professional and emotions should not prevail, but as stated above – we are all human. Showing some tears, I think, is not worse than appearing to be aggressive or showing a lack of concentration or making a mistake. In the same way as learning from a mistake should be allowed, or as we recognize that resolving a conflict after a heated argument can be productive, we should accept that emotions have a place in the work place, and we are better off integrating them appropriately than ignoring them altogether.
4. The “Male vs. Female Issue”
I only want to touch on this briefly, and not from a coaching perspective, as my own opinion and values are going to influence this part of my reply.
Two sentences of your letter make the issue quite clear: “I recently cried my eyes out in front of my male boss” and “will I always be seen as the emotional woman…”.
Yes, there is still preoccupation as to what attributes we connect to men vs. women. But being a woman myself, I strongly believe that the onus is not just on men to change that view, but that we as women have to start seeing ourselves a little differently.
There are emotional women and emotional men. There are male bosses who perhaps understand an emotional release better than some women – and the other way around. Perhaps more women are emotional, and men are rather aggressive. Is that so? Or not? Who determines this? Is it changing? Is aggression more accepted in the work place than emotion? If so, why? Because the professional world is still a male dominated place?
Change happens over time. Yes – some work places are still clearly male dominated, others less so. It depends on many factors – and to go through it all here would certainly go beyond the scope of this article.
But as women I think we need to first do two things:
- Not try to be the better man – and not only accept but embrace what and who we are!
- Address our weaknesses and recognize our strength regardless of male/female stereotyping, but solely because of what we think is the right thing to do.
I hope this helps a little!
About Ines Kretschmer:
Ines Kretschmer is a Personal, Leadership and Executive Coach, based in Dublin.
Tel: 087 4149489
If you have a career issue you would like help with email the details to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will source a suitable professional to help. All correspondence will be kept confidential.