WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
Many managers are uncomfortable with emotional behaviour, regardless of whether it’s positive or negative. “People think to be professional, you need to ignore your emotions and those of the people around you,” says Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks, an associate professor of management and organisation at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, whose research shows this to be the norm in most American workplaces. But few people can live up to this standard. “We don’t leave our humanity at the office door,” he says. Anne Kreamer, author of It’s Always Personal: Emotion in the New Workplace, agrees: “You can’t decide what to wear to work, let alone close a deal or make an important presentation, without emotions being involved,” she says. Crying is a biological reaction to stress, “an emotional reset valve”. So instead of ignoring your employees’ tears, respond to them.
ACT LIKE YOURSELF The actions you take – offer a tissue, ask what’s wrong, give a hug – will depend on your relationship, how long you’ve worked together and the office culture. The key is to engage and let the tears f low, instead of ignoring or judging the person. FIGURE OUT WHAT’S REALLY GOING ON Sometimes even when the reasons for the tears seem clear, they might not be. An employee might start sobbing in a review conversation, but he’s really upset about his mother being sick. Once he has let the emotions out, “it’s your job to tease out what’s going on and how you can help,” Kreamer says. Managers should be able to gently ask questions that get at the underlying issue. Try saying, “What’s going on?” or “Is there anything else you want to tell me?” “You don’t need to be a thera- pist,” Sanchez-Burks says. “You just need to be available.” At the same time, respect your employees’ boundaries. He might not want to confide in the boss. Don’t take it personally. Instead, try to monitor the situation from a distance, or ask another employee who’s close with him to check in and make sure he’s all right. KEEP IT SIMPLE If you’ve identified that the problem is a personal one, stick to simple and comforting responses – “I’m sorry” or “This is a horrible situation.” Don’t tell him that everything’s going to be okay or imply that he should buck up. And resist the temptation to tell a story of your own. “The last thing in the world an anxious employee wants to hear about is how you handled your own or someone else’s i l l ness,” Kreamer says.