It’s okay to cry at work

(Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from a chapter from Jane Miller’s book, “Sleep Your Way to the Top (and Other Myths About Business Success)”, which is being published by FG Press in May 2014.)

Myth:  It’s okay to cry at work. 

Truth: I know. You just can’t help it.  You want to be the real you at the office.  Feel free to be real, just not THAT real.

Crying at work. It happens.  Depending on your emotional make-up, it may happen a lot. 

And you know he is thinking it, he knows that you know he is thinking it, but he is still thinking it all the same:

Of course we know it’s so NOT that.  We just don’t want to be criticized, ever.  We want to be perfect. We don’t want to be told we did something wrong.  Even if it is said in the nicest possible way, it’s still being said.  To you.  About you. And that sucks.

So, I know there are times when you want to cry.  Believe me, when I was in the first half of my career I cried more times than I would like to admit. I consider myself a passionate person.  That’s really a nice way of saying I can be emotional.

I have been known to tear up when something good happens, like seeing cute puppies on a commercial.  Luckily, I have never seen a cute puppy commercial while at work.

I tear up when something bad happens, like getting negative feedback. Negative feedback is a gift.  An icky gift, but a gift none-the-less.  And when my boss at Frito-Lay said I was high-maintenance when I wanted to talk to him about how my stellar career had derailed, I took that as negative feedback.  And I did not make matters better by having big wet tears running down my face

He was already uncomfortable giving me the high-maintenance message.  The crying just boosted his uncomfortableness to a heightened level.  The net result was that instead of feeling sorry for pitiful Jane, he was just plain pissed-off that he had to deal with me.  For the record, I was pissed off at myself that I couldn’t control my emotions.

Crying is not a tool.  It doesn’t work as a tactic.  Except maybe with that cute cop who’s about to give you a speeding ticket. But not with your boss. 

So what should you do instead?

Own it.  If you make a mistake?  Admit you were wrong.  If you are self-aware enough to admit this, then you won’t be taken by surprise when the boss tells you what you did wrong.

Dodge it.  Feeling like an emotional basket case on the day of a meeting? Reschedule.  Avoid being in a situation that will bring out the tears.  If you can’t reschedule? Go for a run, take a walk, hop on that hot yoga mat around the corner.  Exercise clears the head.  Even a walk around the block can help dramatically.  Leave the emotion-charged environment and head outside.  Fresh air helps.

Fix it.  If you get feedback that makes you want to weep? Be proactive and find a solution that shows the boss you “get it” and want to make it right.  The more fact-based you can be, the easier it is to separate yourself from the emotions.  If you have no clue about a solution, ask for help, so you don’t make the same mistake again.

If you are about to cry your head off, remember that you’re human. Wipe the mascara off, blow your nose, hold your head high and try to pretend it never happened.  Remember you can always get with your best friend that night and imagine your boss with a noose around his neck or naked on the boardroom conference table while everyone takes turns laughing at him.