We have all been in situations with a crying teammate. And I will admit there have been times where my eyes have been more watery than I would have liked. There has been a lot written about what to do if you are about to cry or have cried in a place you wish you wouldn’t; but very little about how to handle a crying teammate. I have seen many instances, some handled well, most handled poorly. Here are my two cents on what to do when a teammate cries:
Assess the cause – Tears happen for a variety of reasons; anger, frustration, being insulted, physical pain, receiving bad news, etc. Why it is happening will inform your decision about what to do.
Consider the type of crying – There is a lot of space on the spectrum between misty-eyed and all out sobbing. Clearly you don’t handle them the same way.
Provide a tissue – The most annoying thing about tears (aside from the embarrassment) is the ensuing runny nose and not having a tissue. That is a very simple “fix” that doesn’t take much effort.
Misty/watery eyes – Never call someone out on crying in a professional setting. Regardless of my opinion that crying is just an emotion like laughing, it isn’t good for someone’s professional image to be labeled a crier. Hand them a tissue, look them in the eye and make a comment about allergies, pollen, or contacts. If you have a relationship on a deeper personal level, check in with them later in private.
Flowing tears/broken speech – At this point you can’t pass it off as allergies so you have two choices, acknowledge the tears or plow ahead. If the person is able to continue engaging in a productive discussion, I recommend treating the tears as an outward display of passion around the topic and continuing. If they have reached the point where they cannot continue, suggest they take a break. Please do not ask them if they are okay. It will only further derail your meeting. Let them step out and move forward. Again – check on them in private if appropriate.
Sobbing – I have only seen open sobbing in a workplace on two occasions; once when someone received a call about the death of a family member and once when someone was asked how they felt about having to put down a pet that morning (not an appropriate question in the office). In the case of someone crying so hard they can hardly breathe the only choice you have is to move them to a private space (note – the bathroom is not private) and ask if they need anything.
Follow up conversation – If one of your team members is regularly crying when provided with feedback you may need to have a conversation to figure out what is going on. It could be that a simple explanation that feedback is about making him/her better not about judging him/her as wrong or bad may adjust the way it is perceived and stop the tears.
Manage your judgmental response – There are so many labels assigned to people who cry in the office; manipulative, weak, and emotional are a few I have heard. However, sometimes tears are simply a way to manage escalating emotion. I would rather have to hand someone a tissue then deal with a torrent of screaming, cussing and name calling (which for some reason seems to be more acceptable in the workplace than crying – someone please explain that to me).
A few months ago I attended a seminar that included a panel discussion. One of the panelists was speaking very passionately about the work she was doing in developing countries when her voice started to crack. I waited, expecting to see one of the organizers appear with a box of tissues. Nothing happened. I stepped out of the room and asked at the main desk for tissues. When I came back in I expected the situation to have already been resolved. It was not. In a room of 250+ people, I walked up to the table of panelists, gave a slight smile to the woman trying to speak through her tears, set the box down and walked away. The room erupted into applause. Everyone was uncomfortable and yet no one did anything. All it took was an acknowledgement of the situation and the willingness to address it to solve the discomfort. Never do nothing when something simple will fix the problem.
As always, I wish you the MOST from your potential!
If you want to have the hands-on experience to build a highly productive team the Stop The Drama! Game Plan Weekend for Coaches facilitated by Doc Robyn is for you. Learn more and register here.
If you would like Doc Robyn to work with you or your team, call her: 732-421-5170
Dr. Robyn Odegaard (aka “Doc Robyn”) is a nationally known motivational speaker, executive wordsmith and conflict resolution expert. As CEO of Champion Performance Development, she works with executives, professionals, athletes, coaches, parents, and faculty to help them achieve excellence in all aspects of life through the development of leadership, teamwork, effective communication, productive conflict and professional disagreement skills – strategies typically reserved for high-level corporate executive training. She is the founder of the Stop The Drama! Campaign and author of the book Stop The Drama! The Ultimate Guide to Female Teams.