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Submitted by stsummers on


 This is probably a simple answer, but I wanted to know from others their opinion.

I have an employee who needs some behavioral adjusting but this person is on emotional overload.  She is a hard worker, but sometimes she does things which makes me scratch my head.  Anytime her behavior is discussed, following the feedback model, she will burst into tears....over the simplest of things.  "Well how can I do that when there is all this OTHER stuff expected to get done?"  And the tears flow...honestly, I find myself avoiding this person and the needed feedback sessions simply because I don't want to (or feel like) deal with the tears!  And that isn't good.  I don't want to let bad behavior continue, but I know what I'll step in if I sit her down.  

How do other colleagues handle people who constantly cry?  Is "suck it up" the answer?  


Steve/Atlanta, GA.

mpomraning's picture
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Steve, there are a number of good discussions on the forums about tearful directs, in particular O3 Trouble  and Giving negative feedback - direct starts crying.

If this behavior is recent and unexpected, your direct may be going through a personal crisis, concerning which there is an excellent MT podcast.  Or she may simply need coaching on time management.  Good luck!

bug_girl's picture

A common symptom of clinical depression is easy tears.*  The crying is also embarrassing--it's a loss of control--and that probably stresses the person out more so they cry even harder. 

This isn't something you can deal with on your own. You may want to simply say "I'm concerned about you. Do you need help finding resources to cope with XYZ"? Make sure you have info at hand on your employee assistance program.  That part she has to do herself.

Time management and goals are the things you CAN work on with her. She may just not know what the priorities are for her many tasks--and you can help set those.
Definitely check out the resources mentioned above.  If you have clear tasks for her to complete within clear time frames, then you have something to work with in terms of her workplace behavior.  Rather than saying "suck it up", try giving her specific deliverables. 


And if things don't improve...well, you have documentation for further action.


*In North America--different cultures vary in their presentation of depression.  Also, a lot of people cry when they are angry and frustrated.  Depression is the most common, though.

rgbiv99's picture

I feel like I have to chime in on behalf of compulsive criers everywhere. First, crying is 100% uncontrollable. If you are emotionally at the point of tears, there is no breathing technique or mantra that is going to pull you back from the brink.

I cry at work all the time. I wish I could stop it but I can't. Based on your description, I think your DR is like me and this is her natural emotional response (If the crying is sudden or there when it wasn't there before then maybe it's depression. Obviously that diagnosis is above my pay grade, but it sounds like this is just her natural tendency.)

By no means should you not give your DR feedback just because she cries. Try to think of it as the "blah blah blah" portion of feedback when a DR comes up with all manner of excuses why they did whatever they did. Tears do not negate the message! I have been blubbering in my boss's office and I just try to say, "Please ignore this and say what you have to say." 

You can pause while she calms down, but really, please don't avoid her because of this. I have cried so many times in my boss's office that she finally bought tissue for her desk and it's just understood, "Yes, I'm crying in your office again." I wouldn't advocate making her emotions into a "joke," per se, but you said she is a hard worker and therefore I have to assume that she knows how ridiculous the situation is and may welcome the opportunity to have it out in the open.


stsummers's picture
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Thanks for your feedback.  Kate - I must admit, I never looked at it quite that way until your post, thanks. 

I will keep it all in well as a box of Kleenex, just for our 1 on 1's. 

piratedave's picture

 Just to back Kate up ... I had a new DR once who, in one of our first interviews, informed me directly: "My response to stress is to start crying.  I can't help it.  It doesn't mean I'm not listening or that I can't handle what people are saying to me.  It's just my body's natural reaction to stress.  Please ignore it."

She was right.  She wouldn't sob, but her eyes would brim up upon receiving negative feedback. She found the crying itself to be very frustrated, particularly because we are in a male dominated, high stress line of work.  She knew many people viewed the crying as a sign of weakness and this frustrated her even more.

Dealing with the issue up front made it a lot easier for me to understand and deal with.

AManagerTool's picture

Feedback is what every manager looks for from this site and these casts but really, how are her One on One's going?  Your relationship may need some work.  Oh and it's your duty as her manager to give her feedback no matter what her response....suck it up.

tomjedrz's picture
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From the description of the conversations, in the OP's case it doesn't sound like the crying is a physical reaction to stress, but rather a shield from having to listen and act on the feedback. So in this case, the question is how to get past the shield, to get her to accept the feedback and act on it.

Is it possible that you haven't properly initiated feedback? The idea is that the process becomes so frequent and absent emotion that the things to be addressed get the focus rather than the process.  Perhaps you need to spend some time giving only affirming feedback.