No one likes to cry in the office. What's almost as bad is when an employee comes into your office, and, rather than slogging through a tough conversation, ends up bawling.
As the non-crier, you really can't stop them. What you can do, according to this post by management expert Kim Scott, is make the entire uncomfortable situation a little more bearable for everyone. And she's got four very practical ideas about just how to do it.
Scott is the co-founder of Radical Candor, which makes tools to help managers give better feedback. She's also a former Apple and Google executive, and she admits that she herself is a crier. But she's been on the receiving end as well -- she had a colleague who would plunk herself down in her office every Friday and start tearing up. Which, she realized, was an exhausting and unsatisfying way to end the week.
With help from a colleague, Scott finally figured it out. Her words to live by:
Just because someone is crying doesn't mean you've done anything wrong. It just means they're upset. Your job is not to prevent tears--it's to react kindly if crying occurs.
Whether you're the crier or the cryee, here are four tips on how to get out of a fairly mortifying situation more or less unscathed.
1. Banish the tissues
You may think you're being sympathetic by having a box of tissues conveniently placed on your desk, but it doesn't work that way. You're better off if the tissues aren't even there.
If someone starts crying in your office and you hand them a tissue, you get to watch them wipe their eyes and nose and try to continue the tear-inducing conversation. Nobody wants that. Instead, banish the tissues. That way, if someone comes into your office and starts crying, you can excuse yourself to go get them some tissues! Brilliant! That little break may be just what they need to collect themselves.
2. Offer water
No, you're not an Uber driver, but it's still a good idea to keep a bunch of unopened bottles of water nearby. The rationale here is similar to that of banishing the tissues - you want to be able to break up the conversation in a totally natural way. So if someone looks like they're getting upset, you can offer them a bottle of water. They'll pause just long enough to open the top; sometimes, that's enough time for them to take a deep breath and compose themselves.
3. Walk it out
If you know you're going to be having a tough conversation with someone, consider going on a walk with them. It's less confrontational than sitting across a desk, for starters. But it also keeps you from having to stare at each other, and if the other person starts to sort of lose it, the fact that you're not actually looking at him or her will make it easier for them to get it back together. Having a hard conversation is tricky enough; best not to compound the difficulty by introducing the idea that all of the other person's hurt feelings are also on display.
4. Deal with it
So, there is no clever trick here. Scott says, rightly, that sometimes, you just have to admit that there's not a lot you can do to turn things around. You can't make someone stop crying, of course, but that doesn't mean you have to sit there and watch and fumble.
Instead, the goal is just to extricate yourself gracefully, which is easier than you might think. Scott suggests you say something like this: "I'm so sorry you're upset. I'm going to step out for a moment and get you some water. I'll be right back. Then, if you want, we can keep talking or change the topic and come back to this later."
Wow. She makes it sound so easy. I'll go get a bottle of water.