Can’t stop crying at work? Therapist Sally Brown has advice on how to deal with weeping both as an employee and manager
Sometimes our personal and work lives collide, leaving us weeping in the toilet cubicles before 11am and wearing a brave game face by noon. Other times, work is the problem – are you being bullied? Is your voice being drowned out? Or perhaps you feel undervalued? The most difficult part of these problems is being able to address them with your manager without being given a sympathetic look and patronising pat. Crying at work remains a tricky and often awkward situation, and despite it being a normal human reaction, there are practical ways to deal with it. Therapist Sally Brown shares her tips.
If you are a manager
Don’t suffocate them: If you’re having a conversation and an employee or colleague starts to cry, ask them if they feel able to carry on with the conversation or would like to take a break. It’s more helpful to say, ’I can see you’re upset. Do you feel able to talk about what’s bothering you?’ rather than try to jump in with ‘Don’t cry, things aren’t that bad!’
Time to listen: What happens next depends on the situation. If an employee is going through a bereavement, divorce, miscarriage, or other serious life event, there will be times when you have to let them go home. At other times, it may be enough to offer them the chance to sit down with a cup of tea and talk about how they are feeling.
Ask yourself: It goes without saying that if you are a manager and your conversations with employees regularly end with them in tears, you may be bullying and could benefit from some coaching to take a look at your leadership style.
If you are an employee
A few genuine tears of frustration, disappointment or exasperation at work can be help strengthen relationships and show you care. But regular bouts of crying makes you look like you have lost control. That doesn’t mean you have to pretend everything is OK when it’s not, but it may mean acknowledging your emotions then waiting for a more appropriate time to vent, cry, shout or scream, if that’s what you need to do.
Put on a brave face: There is an argument for ’faking it till you make it’ – act OK at work, and before long you may start to feel OK. When your personal life is in chaos, putting it to one-side during working hours and focussing on what you have to do can provide a much-needed distraction, and give your brain a break from ruminating.
Pause: If a colleague is winding you up, use STOP – stop, take a take breath, observe what’s going on for you, then proceed positively.
How to assert anger at work
It can be deeply frustratingly when you feel you can’t get your point of view across at work because you choke up with tears. Distraction can help – wear an elastic band around your wrist and snap it when you feel the tears pricking.
Take time to think: It’s often worse when you’re put on the spot. It’s OK to say, ‘I need some time to think about this so I will come back to you.’ Then take a few moments to compose yourself and work out what you want to say.
Practise first: If asserting yourself makes you tearful, then you may have unhelpful, outdated beliefs about ‘no making a fuss’ or that making any sort of demand is being ‘bad’. It sounds cringy, but if you need to have a tricky conversation, practising it with a supportive friend or partner at home first can help you work out what you want to say.
Use mindfulness: It’s getting caught up in our thoughts that triggers an emotional reaction. So momentarily move your focus of attention to your physical sensations – how is your posture- can you let go of tension, and make your posture more upright, open and relaxed? What is happening with your face – are you frowning or grimacing? Research shows we feel more in control of our emotions when we keep our facial expression neutral.
How to leave personal problems at the door
Breathe: Check your stress and anxiety levels and if they rate higher than 6 out of 10, do something to bring them down to at least a 2 or 3, by using breathing exercises (try breathing in for a count of 7 and breathing out for a count of 11). When you’re calm, your rational, thinking brain is more likely to be in charge, rather than the emotional.
Let it out: Making sure you have someone to talk it through with at home is important but keeping a journal can also be a very effective way to process emotions so they don’t ‘bubble up’ when you don’t want them to.
Keep active: And don’t underestimate the power of exercise to manage emotion – it is the closest we’ve got to a magic bullet. There’s a reason in AA they say, ‘Move a muscle, change a mood’. Get out for a lunchtime, walk, run, gym or yoga session.