Crying at Work

Learn to Let Tears Talk

Crying at Work

You're at work when you feel the tears coming. You take yourself and your career seriously and want others to as well, so you hold back the tears and inwardly scold yourself for your "weakness." Crying at work is not allowed, so it must be wrong.

What if sealing up your tears wasn't the end of the story? What if you could treat them like any other physical symptom?

Barbara Babkirk has been counseling women on their careers for 24 years through colleges, her private practice in Maine, national presentations and annual retreats in the south of France. She advises not to suppress the tears but to learn how to read them.

Why We Cry

Babkirk explains that crying is a "release of emotion," and the reasons for that release are as varied as the emotions behind them, including happiness, sadness, anger, joy, relief and confusion.

Even feeling connected can cause tears. Babkirk says that clients often cry when they hear someone say "something that's deeply true for them."

If crying is an emotional release, exploration is a continuation of that release. "These are feelings that may need to…come out," Babkirk says.

You can choose to stifle your tears to live up to the widely held belief that tears never fit in the workplace. You could finish out the crying and then return to the work unchanged. Or you could choose to view your tears as an opportunity to explore something powerful inside of you that may need to be understood and addressed.

Eight Ways to Look Beneath the Tears

Because we've been told emotion should not be expressed in the workplace, crying at work is often confusing and upsetting. Even if we know how to work through our emotions at home, we may not be adept at examining our feelings on the job. If your crying bothers you, Babkirk suggests exploring the episode using the following techniques and questions:

1. Let the Storm Pass: Finish out the crying in a way that's appropriate to the particular nature of your workplace. Wait until later in the day, after you've regained your center naturally, to analyze your crying.

2. Rerun the Situation: Look at your crying as if you were analyzing a crime scene. Take time to look into what really happened before you add emotion to the picture. Who was there? Who said what? What happened?

3. Identify the Related Emotions: Did you feel sadness? Anger? Frustration? Confusion?

4. Name the Trigger: What set off the crying? See if you can connect the crying with something in the moment. For example, did someone sideline your work? Take credit for something unduly? Remind you of a past failure? Make you think about what you'd rather be doing? If there was no trigger, ask yourself if the crying has been ongoing for weeks. If so, consider seeing a counselor to determine if you are suffering from depression.

5. Ask Yourself What Gave the Situation Teeth: Although some people cry more easily than others, it is always a sign of powerful emotions. What was so difficult about the situation that it caused tears?

6. Ask Yourself If Your Reaction Matched the Situation: If you receive a pink slip and cry, that's understandable. If you present an idea that's met with reasonable and unabusive disagreement, crying is not warranted and may signal hidden origins.

7. Dig Further: If you still feel like you don't have a handle on what caused the crying or what you were feeling, journaling or talking through the situation with a good friend may help you discover it.

8. Set a Course of Action: Once you understand the situation, start on a plan to make your life better. Taking steps toward improving the situation is empowering and will ultimately lead you to a more peaceful, powerful place. Even if the problem turns out to be major, you could develop a five-year plan, incorporating counseling, training, job changes and life changes.