Crying or otherwise showing your disappointment, frustration, anger or stress at work can seem incredibly embarrassing. “You feel like a loser for losing control, but there’s nothing to be ashamed about the occasional display of feeling,” says Anne Kreamer, serial entrepreneur and author of It’s Always Personal: Navigating Emotion in the New Workplace. “Emotions are not criminal elements.” Still, knowing how to comport yourself will help in the moment and minimize your regret. Prepare for any future floods with this 5-step guide.
#1. Remember that crying is biological.
When you get a cut, the blood naturally flows. The same goes for tears. Crying is a normal phenomenon, and women are physiologically more susceptible than men. “We have six times the prolactin, which is the hormone that triggers tears,” Kreamer explains.
#2. Remove yourself from the situation.
As soon as you feel your eyes tearing up, excuse yourself from the room. “Say ‘we’ve hit a nerve,’ and ask if you can take a break and reconvene in the morning,” Kreamer recommends. You shouldn’t continue the conversation until you’ve had a chance to collect yourself and process what triggered your emotions. (If you’re the manager who just gave a person negative feedback or upsetting news, you can make the same suggestion.)
#3. At home, go over what happened.
Tears are like the check engine light on your car dashboard. They are a signal that something is going on that deserves your attention. Try to figure out what it is. Did you start to cry because you felt undervalued? Were you overwhelmed with anger? Was it just that you were expecting to hear something totally different? To begin to understand your reaction, put it in words on paper or on a screen. “Writing is a way of starting the metacognition process,” Kreamer says. “And it’s more constructive than just venting to your partner or friend.”
#4. Return to the conversation at work.
As tempting as it is to pretend like you hadn’t cried, that’s actually the worst thing you can do. “You need to summon the courage and go back to your boss or whoever caused you to shed tears,” Kreamer says. “Don’t apologize—just repeat that a nerve had been hit and that you’d like to discuss what had happened.” In our 24/7 on-demand workplace culture, it’s important to have the conversation within 24 hours or the urgency behind the situation will be muted.
#5. Forgive yourself and move on.
Your boss or whoever witnessed your emotional display isn’t dwelling on the incident, and neither should you. Given a little time, in fact, he or she will probably forget all about it. “Years ago, I had my whole team in my office, celebrating the completion of a deal, when the chairman of the company called and chewed me out for not raising the share price,” Kreamer says. “When writing It’s Always Personal, I asked people who had been in my office if they remembered my crying—and no one did. It taught me a great lesson: each of us worries and ruminates about ourselves vastly more than anyone else.”