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So, I cried at work today

So, I cried at work today

EACE Blog contribution by Kelly Scott, Career Advisor at Northeastern University

We’ve all gone through it. Your chest tightens, your voice cracks and no matter how much you fight to maintain control, your eyes fill up with tears. With the onslaught of the Lean In movement, there’s been a lot of talk lately surrounding emotions and the workplace– specifically when it comes to crying. Now, I’m not an advocate for openly weeping at a staff meeting, but as a young professional, the whole crying- in-the-workplace thing is still a bit of a gray area for me.

I say this, because I recently cried in front of my boss after she gave me some news of an oversight I had made in regards to some vacation time. After I apologized (for both the oversight and for crying), she left me alone in my office and I sat there mortified, wondering what just happened. As counselors, we’re no strangers to crying, but in this case I wasn’t the client or the counselor, and as a newer professional, I wasn’t exactly sure how to proceed- especially since I had never cried at any of my previous jobs, let alone in front of a supervisor. I was nervous my credibility and professionalism would come into question. In the end, everything worked out and it’s been pretty much forgotten, but the experience stuck with me. As a result I’ve compiled some tips if you ever find yourself fighting to turn off the waterworks.

  1. Take a breather. When you’re emotional, whether it’s sad, angry, or even excited, your blood is pumping through your system at 100 miles a minute. You can’t think rationally in that state. Take a couple minutes to compose yourself. This may mean going to the bathroom, taking a walk, or making a coffee run. Do whatever you need to do to calm yourself down, this will help you move forward and separate yourself from the situation.
  2. Just listen, don’t interpret. I know why I got upset when receiving some not-so-fun news: I was making assumptions about how my lack of vacation time was going to impact my life. My assumptions were what was upsetting me, not necessarily what she was saying. And my assumptions, at that, were over the top and a result of my emotional reactions. I stopped listening while my supervisor was mid-sentence instead of listening and absorbing the issue. I definitely could have kept it together if I had looked at it more objectively, but hey, that’s the NF in me.
  3. Acknowledge the tears (or inappropriate behavior if that’s the case) and move on. After giving the situation some space, I revisited the issue, figured out where I made the mistake and apologized to my boss for my reaction. I confessed that I didn’t want to appear unprofessional, to which she responded, “Oh please, don’t worry about it.” As counselors, none of us are exactly fazed by crying, but I wanted to acknowledge that my reaction if not unprofessional was somewhat inappropriate and definitely emotional and not the result of anything she had done. I also explained that I figured out where I had made some missteps and what I planned on doing in the future to avoid similar oversights.

Emotions are inevitable in the workplace; we are only human, after all. Learning how to manage them appropriately helps establish credibility and maturity as you move forward in your professional life. I’m not promising I’ll never cry at work again (that would actually be an outright lie), but I’ll definitely have a better grip on how to respond the next time I receive some bad news.

Kelly Scott

Kelly Scott

Kelly Scott is a Career Advisor at Northeastern University Career Development and “blog master” for the Northeastern University Career Development blog, The Works. A self-proclaimed social media enthusiast and Gen Y, she likes experimenting with new technology to help clients define their personal online brand and enjoys reading and writing about workplace culture. Kelly graduated from Northeastern University with a BA in communication studies and a MS in college student development and counseling. Contact her via Twitter @kellydscott4 or LinkedIn.

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