Publish Date: August 26, 2020
People cry at work. Maybe it’s because of tough feedback or a particularly stressful day, or maybe it has nothing at all to do with work. Regardless of the reason, as a manager, you shouldn’t ignore or diminish the tears, even if they make you feel uncomfortable.
Don’t try to interpret your employee’s emotions, tell them what to do, or judge them. Instead, show gentle curiosity and compassion. Try saying something like: “Let’s pause for a moment here. I can see you’re crying. Would you like to take a break or keep going? It’s up to you.” This neutral language gives the person a chance to take a second and claim some privacy. You can also say: “I’m going to stop our conversation for a second to check in with you. You can talk to me about what’s going on if you’re comfortable.” This demonstrates curiosity, without dramatizing or overplaying concern. Or, try: “You’re crying, so let’s pause. What would be most helpful for you right now? I’ll follow your lead.” This acknowledges what’s happening in a nonjudgmental way, while empowering the person to take control. Whatever you choose to say, the key is to be clear, understanding, and ultimately allow the person to tell you what they need.
From HBR.org, this tip is adapted from “What to Say When Someone Cries at Work,” by Deborah Grayson Riegel.