What I look like when I cry at work

Help! I cried at work!

“Amanda, I’m disappointed in you.”

His words cut like a knife. I sat across from my boss, a Managing Director at a global consulting firm. I was a new senior manager trying to prove myself. A few months into the job, I had made a mistake. My decision about how to handle a delicate situation with a client had turned out to be the wrong decision – one that would cost us a significant portion of our revenue for that month.

I looked at him, eyebrows slightly raised. Calmly, I said, “I understand.”

On the outside, this doesn’t seem very significant. But I walked out of that room giving myself a big round of silent high-fives. Why?

I was just SO dang proud of myself for NOT CRYING.

Starting as far back in childhood as I can remember, I was a highly sensitive child. My mother tells me that just one slightly bothered look in my direction would send me into big-time waterworks. I cry when my kids get shots. I cry every time I hear the national anthem sung. I don’t even bother wearing mascara to weddings anymore. And as anyone in my family can attest, sometimes a commercial for pet food will set me off.

Making a mistake at work? Fuggedaboutit. I have cried at lost sales, after tough client meetings, and (dreadfully) in front of clients in my early working years.

It’s not a good look (as evidenced by the cover photo for this post). Crying over small criticisms doesn’t exactly inspire trust and confidence in you as a leader. And although I felt completely competent to handle the actual work situation, I felt like I was losing every tug-of-war with my tear ducts.

To be clear, I love my sensitivity and I view it as a gift in most areas of life. I prefer to feel things deeply. It means I’m all-in on life.

I’ve just found it’s not particularly useful in the workplace.

So about seven years ago, I decided to address it. I read every book I could find (there aren’t many!), every tip, every trick. It used to happen to me A LOT. It still happens to me sometimes, just a lot less frequently. Thankfully, I learned how to handle it. So that day, when my boss told me he was disappointed in me, my eyes stayed bone dry.

My three best tips to help you stop crying at work

Here are the top three things that have worked for me:

  1. The Impenetrable Bubble. Oddly, this works almost every time. I don’t remember where I read it so apologies to the original creator. The idea here is to imagine you are surrounded by a large bubble that is impenetrable by emotion. So whatever is going on around you, whatever anyone says, their words fly through the air toward you and then bounce off the bubble. The words simply can’t get to you, and can’t affect you. Sounds weird. But trust me – it WORKS.
  2. It’s really NOT personal. It really IS business. This sounds like a tired cliche, but it’s worth considering. I had to do the hard soul-searching to uncover why these conversations made me upset. Through this internal work, I discovered I  had an underlying fear that I was a fraud, that I didn’t deserve the role I had been put into, and that I was bound to screw it up and be found out. When I dissolved this belief and replaced this lie with the truth – I worked for and deserve every single opportunity and job I have received (P.S. this is a big part of the work I do as a coach!).
  3. The Skin Pinch. This is the “if-all-else-fails” solution. Simply squeeze the area of soft skin at the base between your thumb and index finger. Dig your nails in if you need to. It is discreet – no one will notice you are doing this as you sit across the table in a meeting. The pain of the pinch will momentarily interrupt the connectors in your brain triggering the tears.

Occasionally, I still do cry at work. But hey, it’s worth shedding a happy tear watching kids get the opportunity to walk.

I would love to hear more tips! What has worked for you? Share in the comments below.



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