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Seven Steps to Avoid Crying in the Workplace

Ok, most of us have done it. Whether it’s over a stressful meeting, a terrible boss, or a bad breakup, many women have cried in the office at least once.

But like it or not, crying is stigmatized in the workplace. Tears can come across as weakness and be attributed to females not being able to “hack it” on the job. Your colleagues may view crying as immature, melodramatic, or even manipulative. As Dr. Linda M. Poverny and Susan Picascia note, “women and men in positions of leadership are socialized to believe that crying equals vulnerability, and that vulnerability connotes incompetence, or the inability to handle difficult situations.”

If you find yourself fighting back tears in the office, take these steps, recommended by, to help:

1. Focus on your breathing
Make yourself take ten slow, deep breaths. The extra oxygen will give you a bit of a high, soothing you. The activity also changes your focus.

2. Take a step back
If you have the opportunity to put some distance between yourself and a stressor, do it. Wait for your emotions to cool down. Where possible, avoid scheduling potentially emotional meetings until after the dust has cleared.

3. Distract yourself with pain or other sensations
Some people suggest biting the inside of your cheek, or digging a fingernail into the palm of your hand. Another trick is to hold an ice cube to your wrist or run it under really cold water. Do whatever you safely can to shift the focus of your attention—hopefully enough to avoid shedding tears. The key is to create a sensation intense enough to distract from the emotional distress.

4. Use props
Prepare an agenda for your meeting—a physical piece of paper that you can set on the desk in front of you or hold in your hands. If that doesn’t fit the situation, carry a legal pad or your PDA to take notes. Look down with the pretense of jotting notes; read from them if you find yourself choked up.

5. Let yourself get angry
Is your tendency toward tears in a professional setting coming from a discomfort with your own anger? Girls are not often socialized to express anger or engage in conflict. Our childhood habits are hard to unlearn, but we can teach ourselves new skills as adults. Allow yourself to get angry. More comfort with conflict may mean fewer tears.

6. Try behavioral modification
The general idea of behavioral therapy is to pay more attention to problem thoughts and behaviors, so that you can habituate better ways to deal with them. If you notice a behavior pattern—say, you always tear up before meetings with your boss—practice implementing coping mechanisms. If classical music calms you down, get in the habit of popping in your headphones fifteen minutes before the start of predictably tough meetings.

You control your emotional responses. You are empowered by that control. The more you can reinforce this message to yourself, the more successfully you may manage your responses to stressful situations.

7. Do it for somebody else
Reframing a personal confrontation as a confrontation on behalf of someone else can make it easier for women to overcome stressful situations. In this vein, getting past ourselves and our own insecurities can get us past a lot of tears.

If you do find yourself choked up—realistically, it’s bound to happen at some point—don’t panic. It’s not the end of your career. Check out these Four Ways To Deal With Tears In the Office.

Photo courtesy of Robert S. Donovan.