Q: I'm a fairly emotional person, and need help keeping my feelings under control at work. In particular, I sometimes cry at work, which does not go over well. What can I do?
A: Addressing underlying dynamics may help you keep your tears in check. For example, when you're crying, what are you feeling? Is it sadness? Anger? Frustration? Getting to the root of that will allow you to acquire viewpoints and skills that help you cope more successfully.
Let's say that you tend to cry when you're angry — a fairly common reaction. Take a recent occurrence and break it down step by step. Who were you interacting with? What was the topic? Why did you get upset?
In particular, think about whether there is a values conflict. If you value fairness and are treated in a way that feels inequitable, that will likely trigger anger. Or if integrity is key and you're asked to do something that violates your ethics, again, anger could result. If you feel powerless on top of it, that could easily lead to tears of rage and frustration. In cases like these, anticipating the challenge is essential so that you can map out the steps you could take to protect your values.
Or maybe you're feeling sadness or disappointment. If you're in a work environment that doesn't support you or that isn't fulfilling, this could be showing up in your emotional reactions. So take a look at your job satisfaction and assess the extent to which your job aligns with your vision for your life and your goals for the future.
And then, look at your life as a whole. Is this really about work, or is it an expression of a broader dynamic that needs deeper examination?
Having examined the underlying dynamics, it's time to focus on some skills. Breath work is one of the best ways to take control of your body and your emotions. It can be as simple as half a dozen deep, conscious breaths before you go into a meeting. The physical effect of the oxygen in your system will help you maintain your composure.
Another tactic is to avoid being blindsided. Anticipate emotional triggers when you can, but decline to engage if someone takes you by surprise. It's perfectly legitimate to say, "I'll get back to you; I need some time to think about that." Then be firm if you get pushback.
A sense of general powerlessness can undermine you, as well. If this is happening, try some visualization work, or even consider working with a coach or therapist to build your inner strength.
Finally, if you're just in a bad situation, where the stress, interpersonal dynamics, or corporate culture are just unmanageable for you, learn from your reaction. It's not a sign of weakness to recognize when you're in the wrong place. But it is better to take charge of that and look for other options than to get worn down or burned out.
Because in the end, your tears may be something that you can learn to manage and move past, or they may be an indicator of change that needs to occur.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.