How To Handle Waterworks At Work

Grab a box of tissues—there's a good chance you'll experience tears at the office if you haven't already. Nearly half (45 percent) of American workers have cried at work, according to a 2018 survey. For many who are truly invested in their jobs, tears are part of the territory. The good news is that shedding tears in the workplace is perfectly normal and can even be beneficial. Emotional displays may alert managers and colleagues of an underlying issue that should be addressed.

Even if your workplace culture is one that accepts tears as fine and natural, it can still be difficult to know what to do when they come unexpectedly. Sarah Todd, an editor and writer for Quartz, explores the best way to respond in the face of tears, whether you're the one who's crying or the one offering a tissue. We share Todd's thoughts in this issue of Promotional Consultant Today.

What to say when someone starts crying: Many people freeze up or panic when confronted with tears. They might feel uncomfortable or they might think crying in the workplace is unprofessional. Todd learned in the book, The Good Fight: Use Productive Conflict to Get Your Team and Organization Back on Track, written by organizational psychologist, Liane Davey, that it's best not to focus on the tears themselves. Instead, let the other person tell you what they need you to focus on. Try asking an open-ended question.

What to do when a direct report cries at work: While you might be tempted to suggest your employee take a break, Todd says it's better for both parties to stay put in order to minimize potential awkwardness. Davey's book suggests that managers should signal that it's okay to be emotional. This can help dissipate the emotion. Simply say, "I'm glad you shared that with me," or "I didn't realize that." This makes the other person feel heard and gives them an opportunity to explain the issue as they see it.

What to do if a co-worker cries while talking to you: If the crying individual is a colleague and not a direct report, follow the advice as above. You can also offer a change of scenery by taking a quick walk or stepping out for coffee. In her book, Davey indicates that moving around unlocks the conversation and gives the body something to do other than being emotional.

What to do if you cry at work: Many people feel embarrassed about shedding tears in the office, but Davey says crying isn't anything to be ashamed of. If you cry in front of your team members, try acknowledging the tears and explaining what you're feeling in the moment. As a leader, it's helpful to acknowledge that you're frustrated or just simply tired. If you'd rather quell the tears, try pushing your tongue to the roof of your mouth or just tell yourself to go ahead and cry.

Considering that people spend about a third of their lives at work, chances are they're going to encounter a range of emotions in the workplace. The next time tears appear, use the advice above to know how to respond appropriately.

Source: Sarah Todd is an editor and writer for Quartz, where she writes about news and ideas in a new global economy.

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