Last week, I wrote a couple of posts on feedback that prompted a friend to send me a note. She asked that I add to my rant about feedback that crying is not okay at work, particularly when you are being given some feedback. She then asked me for my opinion and advice on how to deal with criers in the workplace. As I thought out it, I’m not as decisive on this issue. Maybe you will have a clearer answer on this, but I am torn.
My first gut reaction is this, “There’s no crying in work. Period.” This is the easiest position to take, but I’m not sure it’s the right one. We want people to care about their work. We want people to be emotionally invested in their organizations. When you care about something a lot, it’s natural for your emotions to come bubbling to the surface when meaningful things happen (good and bad). So, maybe crying part of a highly engaged workplace.
Work is also a profoundly important piece of most of our lives. We spend more time with our co-workers than we do with anyone else in our lives, even our families. So, when the situation at work is charged with tension, pressure or drama, it can take a huge toll on us. A number of years ago, in the first month or so after taking on a new job leading a new team, the first question my wife would ask me each day when I got home was, “Did you make anyone cry today?” I had inherited a team with a lot of dysfunction and drama. Most every member of the team was so wrapped up in the drama that when I got them one on one and began to ask some probing questions, they would almost inevitably begin to cry (I don’t think it was my inquisition technique, but you never know).
The thing with crying, in my opinion, is that there is an appropriate time and place for it. But, there are times when you can’t control it. If your emotions are left unchecked and you aren’t self-managing, you can lose control in the wrong spot. The problem with crying in the wrong situation isn’t the crying itself, but the perception of the crying by the other people in the room. People view crying as a sign of weakness. It’s not right or justified, it’s just a reality. So, crying at work can be a career killer, unfortunately.
From a manager or leader perspective, my reaction to an employee in front of me who’s crying involves three responses. The first response is cynical and only lasts a moment. I ask myself, “Are they trying to manipulate me?” Assuming the answer is no, then I move to the next response. A crying employee is someone who feels like they are on the edge of crisis in one way or another. So, I work with them on the immediate crisis to help them regain some composure and determine how they can take some action to gain a feeling of control of the situation. Finally, a crying employee is one who needs some coaching. You’ve been given an opportunity to work with them on self-awareness and self-management, so seize that opportunity.
Crying isn’t bad, but crying in the wrong situation can be pretty devastating to a career.
What do you think? Is there room for crying at work?