Okay, hands up if you have ever cried at work? Now unfortunately I can’t see if you have actually raised your hand but I can imagine that at some point in your career you might have shed a tear or two. If I could see you I would turn that raised hand into a high five and maybe give you a hug. I’ve cried at work, I’ve actually cried a few times at work if I’m honest. Once I cried at work because my contact lens was stuck in my eye and once I cried because I fell down the stairs and sprained my ankle – that was more out of embarrassment than pain. Both occasions don’t really count and not what I am going to write about today. I’m talking about the times when you cry out of frustration, injustice and being treated unfairly by colleagues, clients or managers. The times when the tears are hard to stop but you are very much aware you are in a corporate environment and you are not acting as professionally as you might have hoped. This scenario has happened to me a couple of times, once when I was being made redundant by the worst manager I have ever had and another time which I am going to tell you about now.

I had been working at the organisation for a few years and considered myself to be well regarded by my colleagues. There had been a few reshuffles in the department and new members of staff had joined. One of my tasks was to make sure the new staff were welcomed into the department and helped to settle in quickly. One of the new members of staff actually came from a different department and had worked at the organisation longer than I had so I assumed (and here was my mistake) that he was familiar with all of the processes and procedures and I wouldn’t have to look after him as much as the other new members of staff.

A few months after he had joined the department, I was in the middle of doing something when he called me over to ask me to clear some space in a cabinet for him to put his paperwork. The cabinets were for anyone to use and prior to my arrival it had been agreed that it was a first come first serve set up, because of this I had very little to do with the storage space. I told him to find a space himself and that would be for him to use as he wished, I then carried on with my urgent task and didn’t think anymore about it. Whoops. The following day I was clearing my manager’s inbox when up popped an email from my colleague complaining about me. Reading the email I was shocked, the more I read the angrier I became and I could feel myself going red. The tears were due any second. I discretely made my way to the disabled toilet so that I could cry without anyone hearing. I was gutted, something that seemed so insignificant to me was almost a firing offence to someone else. He had complained that I was rude, incompetent and unable to meet the administrative demands of the department. Having monitored my work over his time in the department his conclusion was that I was pretty useless. The complaint was incredibly personal, and of course all of this was in the email to my manager. If he had any idea what my job entailed he would also know that I would read the email.

In the disabled toilet, which by the way is a really gross place to spend half an hour, I managed to get the tears under control and my blotchy neck back to a  more human colour. I went back to my desk and re-read the email. My manager was in a board meeting and would not see the email for a few hours so I had some time to decide what to do. It was pretty obvious that I was upset, some poor boy from the mailroom delivering the post almost ran away in fear that I might cry on his shoulder! I though the best thing to do was actually leave the office for a while. I grabbed my bag (which luckily had some make up in it – thank God for make up!) and went outside for a coffee. I then phoned my mentor and friend – a more senior women in the department to ask if she could meet me outside and give me some advise. I told her the whole sorry story and asked what I should do. Firstly she told me a few funny stories about her own experiences of crying in the office and then like all good mentors, she asked what I thought I should do. I already knew.

As soon as my manager returned from the meeting I went into her office and explained the situation. I told her that it had really upset me and I wanted to explain my side of the story before she had a chance to respond to the email. I was almost on the verge of tears and the blotchy neck had returned but I remained calm and told my side of the story. Afterwards I returned to the disabled toilet to once again compose myself. As it turned out, I was caught up in the middle of some office politics that I had no idea about and ultimately I received an apology from that colleague’s boss (although never from the colleague). My colleague’s boss had instigated the whole thing so that his team could get their own admin person. Delightful!

So what did I learn from this whole sorry episode? Here are a few tips when it comes to crying in the office:

  1. No one wants to cry at work and once it has happened you are bound to regret it. So try as hard as you can not to cry in front of anyone. If you feel the tears welling up go somewhere private. It is even better if you can leave the office for a little while to regain your composure.
  2. Think about the cause of your tears. Are you frustrated, have you been treated unfairly, have you made a mistake? What ever the reason think about ways to resolve the issue. Facing your problems and coming up with your own solution will empower you and ultimately help mend any dents in your reputation.
  3. Crying is an involuntary reaction and not something that you plan to do that day in the office. In my case my manager took the email more seriously because she knew how much it had upset me which is not an emotion I usually show at work.
  4. Never ever ever cry to get your own way. Firstly it is really manipulative, and secondly crying in public does give colleagues (men in particular) the excuse to think that you being overly emotional and a ‘typical women’. Urgh! For assistants it is even more important to be in control.
  5. Crying at work is never a black or white issue it depends on a number of factors and the environment in which you work. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you do cry at work just think about how you are going to rectify the situation that made you cry in the first case.

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