Tears at Work is probably one of the most awkward situation one can experience at work. In the past, it is a sign of weakness, immaturity and chaos from a professional. A leader who has his / her team cries also send signal of gap in leadership. It is a failure to account of state of mind of the team member as well grow their emotional maturity. Simply, it is a situation one must avoid at all cost, shedding them or experience them with your team / colleagues.
It need not be the case all the time. While tears at work is never an ideal situation, but there are situations where it sends a powerful signal of one quality as leader and professional both in shedding them as well as handling them. It can also be a signal where the bond between a leader and the team reaching a level that nearly able for them to have very high trust level.
So let’s discuss what are these situations and how best we handle them.
When you are frustrated and burst with rage or shock into anger in a conflict to the point you want to cry, your tears will either be distraction or signal your volatile state of mind. It is not of advantage to you and thus it is advisable for you to take a bio break. Go to different place, use breathing exercise to calm you down or meditate a bit. Drink something that help with the process. Reset your mind and tell yourself there must be another way, you just have not seen it.
When you are a leader and you are the one who are frustrated to near tears (or alternatively near emotional blow up), immediate bio break may not always be possible. In this situation, you will need to defuse not only yourself but also the overal situation. My suggestion is to take 30 second pause, smile and then reset into lighter conversation. Then you can suggest bio break, go into smaller more intimate conversation and then agree the way forward so the situation will be back to healthy and productive one.
When tears about to flow because you are sad / proud, it is acceptable for you to share to emphasize the depth and the sincerity of the emotion you felt. You will still need to regulate your emotion to be just enough and not overwhelm yourself and others with your emotional expression. Make sure that you articulate the reason why you feel the depth of the emotion to bring your audience to your emotional journey so they will not be confused. If you are a leader, it is also a way to show your vulnerability as leader to draw the team closer together and reduce barriers.
As leaders sometimes we are faced with teary situation, it is always awkward. However please remember handling this kind of situation is what you are paid for to do and it also defines your quality as leaders. Good leaders handle the situation with decent grace while great leaders leverage the situation to be watershed moment that drive transformation for the persons involved, benefit the company, draw the relation closer and him/herself benefit from learning moments. This will depend on how you handle the team member, in which they have to always be the focus, them and their wellbeing. Let the tears flow, let them speak and listen. I always have ready in my room, tissues and cookies – mechanism to help with the situation to be less awkward. Most important to handle the situation, it is always about your team and never ever about anything else. It should be your only focus.
Everytime there is a teary situation, remember to ensure recovery from emotional outburst both whether it is you or / and when your team / colleagues who experience it. It is important to give space to stabilise the emotion be it a simple breathing exercise ( on top of breathing exercise before and during emotional situation ), give yourself a drink / snack to help you calm down or simple smile and lightening the situation with humor (or hug if you are comfortable with it). Do not (ever) make a joke for any emotional outburst or share without permission, emotionally charged situation especially those only with in one-on-one situation, always highly confidential and private situation.
In conclusion, teary situation is not always something that reflect badly on us as professionals and leaders and not always have to be hidden / prevented but whatever the situation, it is important to ensure it is not spur of the moment or instaneous, you will need to put some sort of control when you can so that it is going to be situation that can turn into beneficial to you and people around you (to reduce tension or relieve stress is still beneficial), and when it is not exactly controlled as sometime emotional charged situation is, help everyone involved to be able to stabilise and work toward construction solution (if there is solution to be had). Most importantly remember to always be sincere.