If you weren’t around for the famous line from “A League of Their Own,” here’s Tom Hanks (circa 1992) delivering the incredibly famous line “there’s no crying in baseball.” Clearly we can see there’s no crying in baseball, but it poses the question: is there crying in business?
A client of mine brought up a humiliating moment in a coaching session. She said, “I was recently in an important meeting and I got very frustrated. To my surprise, I started to cry. I am absolutely humiliated and am worried that this will cause lasting damage to my career and how I’m seen by others. I can’t seem to let this go—I keep beating myself up about it. What should I do?”
Yes, sometimes, there’s crying in business.
In my role, I get the opportunity to interact with hundreds of professionals at varying levels within their organizations, from CEO’s to administrative assistants. Given my work with numerous clients in leadership, this topic comes up sometimes. So if this is you, please be assured that you are not alone—sometimes it just happens. Hopefully it will comfort you to know that even the top and most impressive professionals can, on occasion, find themselves caught off guard and emotional in an important meeting.
Understand why this happens.
It’s important to note that just because someone is crying, it does not mean they’re sad or displaying weakness—often, it can be a sign of anger or severe frustration. We may be familiar with the way some people experience these same feelings in the workplace—their external appearance looks different; their face can turn red, their voice gets raised, choice words get sputtered and on rare occasions a fist might get slammed on the table (Exhibit A: see Tom Hanks in movie clip above). Because hot-headed leaders have often traditionally been in power, our unconscious bias can sometimes feel more accepting of these responses to anger and frustration as opposed to crying as a response to anger.
Appreciate what your emotions are telling you.
These days, more and more companies want employees who are passionate about the work they do, engaged in getting results, and willing to take risks. When we work this way we are investing a big piece of ourselves and our identity into what we do each day. If you want people to really put their heart and soul into their work, this comes with emotion. And when we are committed at all costs, crying is often a signal that someone is no longer operating at their fullest and it’s time to take a closer look at what’s happening that is causing such an intense reaction.
Assess your overall stress level.
An emotional outburst often has more to do with how someone is managing a large load of stress rather than their response to the single issue at hand. If you have been at home, trying to keep your kids fed, entertained, and educated—all while trying to concentrate on every work-related task—don’t be surprised if during a big meeting, overwhelming emotions finally catch up to you after “staying strong” for a number of days.
As much as self-forgiveness and understanding are key to moving forward in this situation, it is important to note whether you are seeing a trend. Have you had numerous emotional spells at work lately? Is it happening at home too? Is it happening in certain types of meetings? Is there someone you feel intimidated by at work? If this situation doesn’t feel like a one-time circumstance, start to track and look for trends as to when you feel this intense trigger of emotion bubble up.
Do damage control.
Sometimes, it helps people move forward if they have a quick conversation to clear the air after having an emotional response in a meeting. That said, it’s important to note that being emotionally engaged in your work, which sometimes results in anger or frustration, is not a sin. If you choose to, apologize for how you made others feel in the meeting and feel free to share what actions you plan to take to help bring your best self to work. Be careful not to undermine your own strengths in the process, though; your commitment to a project or your passion for getting results are positive traits. And don’t apologize for being authentic at work.