Big Girls Don’t Cry…At Work

I’m the type of person who cries during corny TV commercials.

And music videos…

And at weddings…

And watching Disney movies…

It’s kind of embarrassing when I collapse into a blubbering mess of emotions, but sometimes it’s hard to stop myself.

But no matter how emotional I may feel, there’s one place I will never, ever cry.

At work.

I’m my own boss now, but when I was firmly planted in the corporate world in my 20s I found myself in uncomfortable situations that made me feel like a 5-year-old with a skinned knee.

A little kid can cry openly without repercussions, but crying in the workplace will ensure that your manager, clients, and coworkers will never look at you the same way again.

Whenever I tell a group of people my “no tears at work” rule, I inevitably get pushback from someone who tells me that women don’t need to toughen up and act like men at work.

They say that it’s OK for modern women to be vulnerable and show their feelings at the office.

To those of you who feel that way, I have one thing to say…

I’m all for being vulnerable and speaking your mind, but crying at work can be detrimental to your career and your professional image.

The Bigger Issue

There’s a bigger issue at hand besides shedding a few tears in front of your boss. It’s about women being taken seriously in the workplace.

Here’s where I get a bit controversial. Or maybe this won’t sound so surprising if you’ve been reading my blog for a while.

I agree that it sucks that women don’t earn the same amount as men doing the same job, that pregnant women are often overlooked when promotions and raises are handed out, and that women struggle every day to appear as competent and capable as their male peers.

BUT…

I believe that much of our unhappiness in our lives comes from our own actions. It’s about taking responsibility rather than shifting the blame.

Here are a few ways I’ve seen women undermine themselves in the office:

  • A coworker promised she would come back after her maternity leave, so we made plans for the rest of the year including giving her some important projects. We even copied her on all communications and kept her in the loop. The day before she was to return, she sent a short email to her manager saying she was quitting with no notice. We all felt betrayed and were left scrambling to redistribute her work.
  • A recent college grad continued to dress like a slut in the office, even after being told repeatedly that her outfits were not work appropriate. Later, she complained loudly when she didn’t get a raise or bonus at the end of the year.
  • I’ve never met a female coworker who asked for more money during the hiring process. I always did, and so did every one of my male coworkers.
  • I’ve seen countless women who never volunteer for a new project and just skate by doing the bare minimum requirements for their positions.
  • A coworker sobbed on the (company owned) phone to her boyfriend that her boss hated her and everyone was out to get her. Little did she know that me, the rest of the people in the hallway, and her manager could hear her. She was fired that week.

I realize this doesn’t apply to everyone, but if women continue to act like spoiled, entitled brats in the workplace, why should they be treated like equals?

Crying at work is unprofessional just as much as wearing a trashy outfit or swearing at your boss.

It’s time to take ownership of your position and be a professional. And that means no tears.

What To Do Instead

I’m a big crybaby in real life, but I’ve learned some tricks to keep the tears at bay in a professional setting.

Remove Yourself From the Situation

Get up and politely excuse yourself. Yes, even during a meeting or when someone is in your office. Abruptly leaving is more dignified than crying. Go for a walk outside or stay in a bathroom stall until you can composed yourself. Breathe deeply and let the moment pass. You’re likely to cry during a heated confrontation, but by getting away from the trigger, you can let the emotions dissipate and avoid a meltdown.

Drink Water

Strange as it may seem, we can act kind of crazy when we’re dehydrated. And by the time you feel thirsty, you’ve already waited too long. Drinking water steadily throughout the workday can help you feel calm and level-headed. A cold glass of water can also help cool the flush you may feel in your face and neck when you’re about to cry.

Redirect Your Attention

If there’s no place to run and you can feel the tears pushing at the corners of your eyes, you must divert your attention to something else. Try gripping the web of skin between your thumb and index finger on one hand. This pressure point is also known to relieve headaches. Or pinch yourself hard with your fingernails (under the table or behind a notepad if you can). Focus on the pain and away from the urge to cry.

For a less painful alternative, find something mindless to do. I once counted brush strokes in a painting behind the head of the person who was yelling at me. I looked like calm and collected, but I was crying on the inside.

Write and Doodle

This technique saved me many, many times. Grab a notebook or your planner and write a running list of things you’re grateful for or doodle repeating squiggles. Do NOT write about who you’re mad at or anything bad about your work. You don’t want more negative consequences if anyone sees your writing. Focus on listing the things that make you happy so your anger or embarrassment has a chance to fade away.

If you cry at work, you’re not doomed, but it will take time for your coworkers to forget the incident and learn to trust you again.

Practice self-calming techniques and continue to put out fantastic work to overshadow your temporary weakness. Next time you’ll be prepared.

You can do it. You’re a big girl.

In the comments below, share a time when you wanted to (or did!) cry at work and how you coped.

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Comments

  1. says

    You are so right Sage! The only time I’ve ever cried at work was when I found out that my friend passed away… and I think that is totally warranted. Heck my boss was sitting next to me and I’m pretty sure he didn’t even notice. I get upset or angry at work a lot but I try to compose myself quickly and redirect my attention. Heck I’m even censoring my words now because I always have a little fear that someone I work with will find me in the blogosphere and see everything. Trust me, I’ve been tempted to vent all of my frustrations here in Internet-land but would never actually do it. I’ll definitely have to keep your advice in mind when tough situations come up!

    When I was younger I NEVER cried at movies but now I’m a blubbering mess at the drop of a hat. The first time I cried at a movie my mind was blown, ha! Now the floodgates are open ;)

    • says

      OK, everyone gets a pass if they’ve just gotten horrible news like the death of a friend. :( And I never cried at movies when I was a kid either and now it’s a regular occurrence! Weird.

  2. says

    Ooh Sage! I’m sure you struck a nerve with this one.

    You are so spot on.

    It’s not a matter of toughening up. It’s a matter of owning your career, your decisions, and your life.

    A few weeks ago, I gave a talk to a group of 50+ young professionals. I asked what their response would be if their boss told them that they needed to prove that they deserved a promotion they just got.

    The guys all said they would take it as a challenge.

    When we are met with something we don’t like, it’s an opportunity to RISE to the challenge, not collapse into it.

    In the words of Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own, “There’s no crying in baseball!”

  3. says

    Great article Sage! You hit the nail right on the head with this –
    “I believe that much of our unhappiness in our lives comes from our own actions. It’s about taking responsibility rather than shifting the blame.”
    Women (and men too!) need to step up and take responsibility for their lives.

    I cried at work once, and it wasn’t work related. A coworker had taken me into a boardroom and made some pretty nasty personal comments (I do believe she felt she was helping, but I didn’t see it that way at the time). What I did to cope was, I grabbed a friend and went for a drive. It helped to get some air and completely get away from the place.

    And, as a side note, something else you and I have in common – crying watching Disney movies. ;) I always find myself tearing up at the beginning credits, when the Disney music comes on with the castle! And I don’t believe I have watched a Disney movie yet without shedding a tear or two.

    • says

      Hi Matie-France! Thank you so much for commenting. I love your new website. :) Disney is such an integral part of my life, that watching Disney movies is like talking with a trusted friend. I feel totally at ease and OK with crying. Disney has the best writers too, so they know how to make us care about the characters.

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