I remember the incident as clear as day. I was feeling overworked due to multiple deadlines. A colleague was giving me a hard time by not pulling her weight… but she was on extremely good terms with my boss so she didn’t seem to care at all. Worst, she was feigning ignorance at the tough time she was giving all of us, coming in chirpy when the rest of us were already on our third coffee by then. To top it all off, I was having some personal, non-work issue that has been making me feel low about myself.
In short, I wasn’t the best version of myself.
So that day, during a discussion with my boss and said annoying colleague, I found myself in a tight spot of having to explain some work issue. It didn’t go well, everyone was frustrated, I felt extremely low and disappointed for not being able to reason with my boss… and then it happened. My voice started quavering and I cried. It started with my eyes becoming watery and red, and I remember thinking to myself, “Oh no, I better not cry. This will be career suicide.” But I couldn’t help it because everything that could go wrong that day went wrong. I was at my all-time low and despite trying my hardest to stop the waterworks, well – it happened. The sniffling. Tears started falling and all I could do was hang my head low, hoping that nobody noticed.
But they did because the room was extremely quiet by then.
So I did the next best thing: I excused myself and walked out.
It was embarrassing no doubt, and somewhat unprofessional as well. Sure I am only human and probably not the first to cry in that office, but I would still rather avoid breaking down in front of my boss if at all possible. Regardless of what a tough time I was having, crying was not an option.
But I did cry. And you know what? I recovered and bounced back from that incident.
I survived it why? Because crying doesn’t make you weak or incompetent; it really just means you are human. And in fact, it was good for me in that situation as crying was my way of releasing my stress hormones and it helped me relieve all that pent-up frustration that was building inside.
Which is what you need to know about crying at work: It’s OK.
Just to be clear, we are not talking about sobbing openly whenever something goes wrong. Crying is like that much-needed release you need, especially when you’ve been feeling extremely stressed or worried about work or even your personal issue. In fact, you have biology to blame if you cry at work as that is how your body deals with all this pent-up frustration – to release it in the form of tears.
Science even has an explanation as to why a cry is OK: According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, when you cry emotional tears, you are releasing prolactin and leu-enkephalin, two hormones that play a role in regulating your mood. After a good cry, your body returns to a neutral state and actually helps you feel more relaxed.
That said, crying can make others uncomfortable. Especially if it is something they did or said that made you cry, even if it isn’t related at all to how you are feeling but is just a trigger. For example, when I cried in front of my boss and colleague, I knew that they weren’t directly attacking me. But because I was already so stressed and tired, crying was how my brain dealt with the stressful situation.
I still had to address the issue so here’s what I suggest you do if you cried in front of your boss:
#1 Walk away and take deep breaths
You need to collect yourself, take a few deep breaths to centre yourself and feel less distressed. Get some fresh air, make a cup of tea. Go for a walk around the office. In my case, I removed myself from the situation that was making me upset, went outside to collect myself and then walked back to the room to continue the discussion when I was more calm.
#2 Address the issue to the person you cried in front of
The day after my crying incident, I went to my boss’s office to have a chat. First of all, I apologised for crying in public and explained that it wasn’t intentional to get out of the situation. Then I explained that I had been feeling stressed recently and unfortunately, stress got the better of me. Finally, I assured my boss that while I cannot promise it won’t happen again, I will do my best to take charge of my emotions better and if I have any concerns, I should discuss it with her before the whole issue escalates.
#3 Don’t keep coming back to the incident
You’ve cried. OK, let it go. Don’t feel bad or guilty about it. Don’t keep thinking that all your boss thinks about is of that day when you cried (trust us, it’s probably a forgotten issue). I continued with my discussion after having collected myself after crying and I said sorry to my boss the next day. I didn’t spend the rest of my time working thinking of the day I cried. Instead, I learnt that I needed to address a stressful situation quickly before it blows up either by talking to my boss to get some guidance and support, and finding an outlet to release my frustration like watching sitcoms on Netflix.
#4 Again, move on.
This needs to be repeated because it is the hardest thing to do after a cry fest. But for your career to survive your crying incident, you need to move on and continue doing good work. I moved on to completing the stressful campaign while keeping my emotions in check. We all did great work on it and guess what, nobody talked about me crying or even remembered that incident anymore.
Photo by Kat J on Unsplash