John called the other day to share a story about a young woman who burst into tears in his office while being confronted after making a mistake. He couldn’t believe it! He didn’t know what to do or say. There is no crying in business!
Where does the crying come from? It comes from fear, embarrassment, frustration, anger and the inability to fully express the extent of these feelings.
I can distinctly recall a few times I cried or wanted to cry at work. The first few times I was laid off hit me pretty hard. The combination of surprise, disappointment and embarrassment caught me first followed closely with fear as I wondered how I would make ends meet and how I would tell my family.
One time when my brother-in-law was on the verge of death I admit I closed the office door and lost it. Privately, hiding until the redness went away. I didn’t want to share my sadness with the team.
I remember that scene from A League of Their Own” when Tom Hanks runs out of the dugout to shout at the crying player, “There’s no crying in baseball”. What are we supposed to do, ignore those feelings?
After John’s call, I found some interesting articles about crying at work. Although most people have cried at work at one time or another, crying at work is generally discouraged.
In a great Huffington Post article, What 15 Female Leaders Really Think About Crying at Work, Mika Brzezinski, co-host of “Morning Joe” on MSNBC, said, “Being in control of your emotions gives you much more power at work… much more control over any situation… and much more dignity.” Sylvia Ann Hewlett, found and CEO, Center for Talent Innovation and author of “Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success” said, “Crying, I found in my research, is just one of a menu of communication blunders that, in a mere instant, can suck the executive presence right out of you.”
So being in control of your emotions gives you power and crying undermines the strong impression you are trying to build among superiors and colleagues. Strong incentive to control those emotions.
But if we have all cried at one time or another and crying at work undermines us, then how can we control our emotions in tense situations?
I pinch the skin between my thumb and pointer finger hard, really hard. I did this when negotiating a separation agreement some years ago. It distracted me from crying and helped me remember to shut up because crying undermines the negotiation and the first person to talk loses.
Here are some tips from Essilor, a leading provider of eyeglass lenses, folks who know a little bit about eyes:
- Look up. This lets the tears pool at the bottom of your eyelid so they don’t run down your face. This gives you time to gather yourself.
- Control your breathing. Count to ten, take slow deep breathes and focus on relaxing.
- Pinch your nose. This controls the tear ducts that run from the corner of your eye down the side of your nose.
- Blink rapidly to clear about any initial tears before they run down your face.
- Change your thought patterns. Stop focusing on the thing that made you cry in the first place. Think of something funny.