No Crying in Baseball (But what about the office?) – Part I

Crying-OfficeAs leaders, there is no situation more commonplace than dealing with the range of emotions exhibited by your team. All leaders train and educate themselves to produce, through their actions, those emotions that are “desired” (excitement, happiness, pride, joy, gratitude, interest, hope, inspiration). However, all leaders are confronted on a consistent basis with the negative results of their efforts, such as frustration, worry, dislike, disappointment, apathy, and anger. How each individual you lead (including yourself) chooses to manage and display each of these emotions can often be the single most frustrating interaction you have in a position of responsibility.

The display of workplace emotion can easily be viewed as stereotypical if one were inclined to view it from that perspective. Women tend to cry about four times as much as men in the workplace, in part due to some unavoidable biology (according to Forbes). On the other hand, about 80% of workplace shootings are perpetrated by men (thus, I will take the tears, please.) As leaders, we have some expectation that we are going to harness our emotions in such a way as to avoid disrupting the mission and our communication.  The strategies for doing that will be something to consider in Part II of this topic. For today, let’s discuss how to handle the emotions of others, from your team, to your peers, to the boss.

Crying-Office 2The most popular prevailing wisdom when dealing with tears or heavy emotion is to acknowledge it. This could be a bit tricky in a meeting of 10 people that goes horribly sideways but let’s assume for the moment you are in a more one-to-one scenario. Without additional context (that always comes after the fact), crying is perceived as weakness. It will also produce a moment that unfortunately may be the sole takeaway for years to come. So, consider then that the stakes are high when this happens. Consider also that tears are a symptom, and an indicator of stress. Another stereotype (of men in particular) is that they can be reduced to powerlessness when in the presence of a deluge of waterworks. If that describes your general reaction to this situation, that is something for you to work on,. You may be missing the opportunity to be the leader the situation requires rather than simply rolling over to get out of this uncomfortable environment.

Crying-Office 3Perhaps the most critical fact-finding effort when you find yourself in the chair across from an emotional teammate is to try to find out whether you are the cause or the cure. Remember, tears are a signal something is wrong. You may be the cause of it, or you may not be. However, this is the opportunity to acknowledge something is amiss, get out a tissue, and initiate a critical conversation.  Be prepared for several possible responses. You may get a reaction of relief that someone is finally asking the question they want to answer. However, this person may not be ready or willing to get into right now. Respect that and clearly communicate you are willing when the time is right.

There is a line between the solid teammate having a bad day (or week) and what Bernstein refers to as “emotional vampires“. As you navigate your response and analysis of an emotional situation, comparing it to past outbursts is something to be considered. Under those circumstances, a different strategy may be necessary.

Anne Kreamer, author of “It’s Always Personal“, is considered somewhat of an expert on crying at work. Her analysis of what is actually taking place from both a physical and a mental perspective contains some important clues on how to respond: