Why Are You Crying?

Crying in the workplace - sobbing, shaking, hyperventilating. Why do tears make people so uncomfortable?

Due to the nature of my role, I witness people (men, women, managers) crying quite frequently. It doesn't bother me in the slightest. I offer a tissue, listen sympathetically, and provide resources and/or solutions. I do my best to make the person feel comfortable.

However, so many people don't know how to cope when someone starts crying. It may be in a private 1:1 meeting behind closed doors, it may be in a small group environment, or possibly even in a large meeting when the crying starts.

Be aware that if someone is crying, they are probably having a very bad day or week or month. No one wants to suffer the potential humiliation of breaking down in public and appearing weak (even though that is not the case, but perception matters). I will tell you that crying in an emotionally charged situation is no worse than raising your voice, insulting someone else, throwing things, or shutting down, all of which I have also witnessed. Human beings react differently in stressful situations. Be kind and understanding.

If you find yourself in a situation where someone is crying, pause and ask if they need a tissue. If they are noticeably upset and cannot pull it together, offer to reconvene the meeting at a later time. Do not go on with the meeting and simply disregard their tears. If you continue to speak to them, they are so upset in that moment that they likely are not hearing what you are saying. Do not gruffly tell them to "stop crying." That is not going to be helpful and probably will just upset them more. Do not ask them, "Why are you crying?" In that moment, this question is also not going to be productive.

Treat the person with respect and dignity, press pause, and regroup in a day or two.