I’m often asked by managers, “How should I respond when someone starts crying at work?” From the manager’s perspective it’s really awkward when tears start flowing. My answer is this: “Has anyone here ever cried at work?” Some people will admit to being the crier. I admit that I’ve cried at work before. And while it’s uncomfortable for the boss to be on the receiving end of an employee’s tears it’s utterly mortifying for the person who is doing the crying in front of their boss. For me I was humilitating that I was unable to contain my emotions. My point is this: as difficult as it is to be on the receiving end of someone else’s tears it’s usually more embarrassing for the person who is doing the crying. So think about that the next time you’re confronted by someone else’s tears at work. Have some sympathy and acknowledge that the person is upset. I’m can see that you’re upset and I know it must be difficult for you to be in this position. It’s ok if you want to reschedule this conversation. It’s also ok if you want to continue talking.” Give the person time to collect themselves. It’s always a good idea to have tissue on hand to offer.
By all means be sympathetic and put yourself in the other person’s shoes. For some people crying at work is hard to imagine. But how would you feel if it were you crying in front of your boss? As tough as it is being on the receiving end of the tears keep in mind how difficult it is for the person in tears.
Here’s a short video on handling tears at work by Anne Kreamer, author of It's Always Personal: Emotion in the New Workplace, best practices for handling emotions at the office.