How (and How Not) To Cry at Work

How (and How Not) To Cry at Work

The popular wisdom about crying at work is that it’s a one-way ticket to career doom, but we’re human, and it happens. In fact, we’d hazard to say that most people will shed a tear at the office at some point during their career. Not everyone agrees that’s such a bad thing, either.

“Some people say, ‘Never let them see you cry,'” writes Tina Fey in Bossypants. “I say, if you’re so mad you could just cry, then cry. It terrifies everyone.”

Of course, you can’t just start up the waterworks at the slightest provocation, if you want to be taken seriously. As with most things career-related, there’s a right way and a wrong way to cry at work.

Here’s how to do it so that your career doesn’t suffer:

1. Rarely.

Crying in itself isn’t bad for your career; crying every day could be.

Note that in the quote above, Ms. Fey doesn’t say, “Weep buckets at every meeting.” Why? Because even if your tears are genuine, and your co-workers really care about your feelings, if you cry all the time, it’ll mean less. (Also, it might make those aforementioned co-workers wish you’d transfer to another department. It’s pretty stressful to be around someone who’s sad all the time.)

2. Selectively and discreetly.

Why do we cry?

“For infants, tears serve as an important communication tool, allowing them to show their need for support,” writes Lorna Collier at the American Psychological Association. “That tool may also serve us well in adulthood, several recent studies have found.”

But even if you have a pretty good team at work, odds are that you’re going to be closer to some co-workers than others. These closer colleagues are obviously a better choice of support; if possible, in other words, you want to cry in front of them and not in front of the whole board meeting.

If you do find yourself on the verge of tears when you’re not in a safe space, you can try a few tricks to stop crying before you start, including focusing on your breathing and letting yourself get angry instead. (Obviously, the second technique should also be deployed sparingly, and without cusswords or acting out.)

3. Never as a weapon.

Crying gets some people what they want, but generally in their personal lives, not at work – and it’d be interesting to get their loved ones’ perspective on that particular technique. They probably take a dimmer view of it than the weeper.

Many of us cry most when we feel helpless, so if you’re tempted to let the tears flow in that situation, remember: you have better tools at your disposal. Marshal your resources, and make your argument based on cold, hard data instead of emotion. You’ll get farther and feel better about it.

4. Without embarrassment.

Tina Fey cries, people. Tina Fey! She has a bunch of Emmys. And, if comedy isn’t your thing, don’t forget that outgoing Speaker of the House, John Boehner, is also famously non-tear-averse.

The point is that there’s no reason to be embarrassed if you’re a crier. Tears mean you’re passionate about what you do, and that you’re invested. That’s nothing to be ashamed of – just the opposite, in fact.

Think about the most important jobs in the world – surgeon, air traffic controller, President of the United States. Wouldn’t you be chilled to the bone if you found out the people doing those jobs had never shed a tear over their work? Tears equal caring, and caring equals doing your very best work.

So be proud of your tears. Just make sure you’re not leaking from the tear ducts on a daily basis, or the question to ask isn’t, “How can I stop crying at work?” but rather, “How fast can I get a new job?”

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  • November 18, 2022