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.
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.
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.
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.