Just like in baseball, there’s no crying in a law firm. Sorry, but I am staunchly on #teamnocry when it comes to showcasing emotions at work. I feel bad saying this because we should be able to show displeasure and sometimes we can’t control our physical reaction to anger or frustration. I am totally guilty of this–I actually cry pretty easily. But this is the stance I take because I fear when you allow your emotions to overcome you in a way that allows others to mark you as vulnerable, it’s an incredibly difficult hole to get out of–not that it’s not possible, but it can take a while to regain some of your executive presence. And it could be especially tough in offices that are still hyper-masculine and/or uber-conservative that don’t allow for these types of expressions. So proceed with caution and really do the most that you can so that no one sees you cry when things get rough at work. This, of course, excludes situations like funerals or national disasters, etc., obvi. I’m talking about work situations that may lead to tears.
There’s usually two reasons where this can happen: 1) you’re overwhelmed by someone’s treatment of you; a yelling boss, a harassing coworker, a mean client, etc. 2) you’re hearing horrible stories from clients that break your heart.
In the first situation, it’s important to maintain your cool and stay level-headed. Doing so will show that you won’t react to negative behavior and their intent to intimidate you won’t work. I find that in the heat of the moment, it’s easier for me to just listen to someone that’s going off, rather than defend myself immediately. That way cooler heads (mine) prevail when I can go back after I’ve gathered my thoughts and won’t be caught off guard by my reaction.
If you’re hearing traumatic stories from clients, it’s vital you don’t react emotionally because you have to be a stable source of support for them. This can be especially hard for those of us in public interest, who often hear traumatic and violent stories. I am so grateful I have never come close to crying with a client in person. Usually what gets me is reading letters from small children begging a judge to not deport their mother. And if I’m being super honest, earlier this month, getting calls from terrified clients was a bit much for me. But I feel like it would have been unfair to my clients to cry along with them, even over the phone, because I feel like I owe them a show of resolve, and especially earlier this month, when they called me, I know they were looking for a bit of hope and how could I rob them of that by placing upon them my worries and fears?
So what can you do when you feel the tears starting? If I ever feel teary, I immediately start to do math. 2×2 is 4; 2×3 is 6, etc. Reciting math problems in your head distracts you from the emotion and preoccupying your brain with complex math (ok, I know basic multiplication isn’t complex) can help stop the tears.
If you can’t stop the flow, then remove yourself from the situation as soon as you can. Ask to take a break and go compose yourself in the restroom. Yeah, leaving in the middle of a meeting could be awkward, but so is bursting into tears. Lesser of two bad options and I’d rather make the seemingly abrupt choice.
Finally, know your triggers. If you get emotional during performance evaluations or during adversarial proceedings, practice ways to manage your emotions. Do this by anticipating actions that make you cry. A yelling boss or rude client. Envision yourself reacting without tears. Practice your response in the mirror; practice excusing yourself from the situation. Anything that makes you feel more in control. That will alleviate some of the stress and anxiety.
It’s worth mentioning that crying does happen—we are human, but you shouldn’t make a habit of it. Your goal should be to learn how to manage your reactions at work as much as possible so that you showcase your levelheadedness and your calmness under pressure.