Five Lessons for Keeping Your Emotions in Check at Work

Do you cry at movies? Do touching commercials make you tear up? Do you get weepy when you say goodbye, stub your toe or sing sad songs? While Olympic athletes and Oscar winners can get away with crying on the job, most of us are better off keeping our tears out of the workplace.

It's true that being in touch with your emotions can be good for your overall well-being, but crying in front of the boss or in the office can have negative effects on your career. While some emotional outbursts, such as anger, are accepted in some environments, tears are often seen as a sign of weakness. Belinda Brin is a senior organizational development specialist at AAIM Management Association, an organization that provides training, networking, education and other services to St. Louis-area businesses. She says crying in the workplace can have negative consequences for professionals, particularly women, and that being able to control your emotions is a sign of maturity. "Crying can absolutely make or break a career," she says. "And it becomes a bigger issue the higher up you go in an organization."

Brin says it is important for professionals to learn how to cope with stressful or disappointing situations, and that being able to do so is all part of becoming a seasoned professional. If you are an individual who is prone to tears and are struggling to maintain your composure at work, here are some ways you can better handle your emotions.

1. Prepare for difficult situations.

If you know you are going into a meeting that will be emotional for you or are going to be faced with a contentious situation, prepare in advance. Practice making your arguments or rehearse your responses with a trusted friend. The more prepared you are, the less likely it is that you will be blindsided by something that will turn on your tear ducts.

2. Don't barge into confrontational situations.

If you have been passed over for a raise again or kicked out of your office in favor of an intern, wait a while before charging into your manager's office to complain. Give yourself some time to settle your emotions and think rationally about what you want to say. This will enable you to make a professional case for yourself, rather than an emotional one.

3. Develop your own coping mechanisms.

Brin says in one of her past jobs, her colleagues would walk the perimeter of their plant - almost a quarter mile - to cool off when the workplace became hard to handle. Taking a walk or getting outside to clear your head is a great way to deal with stressful circumstances. If you can't do this, find another way to give yourself a break if you think you are going to break. Excuse yourself and head to the restroom, walk to another floor and grab a drink, take some deep breaths or just hide out in your cube and take a few minutes to relax.

4. Pay attention and listen to your emotions.

If you are having a rotten day, are feeling down in the dumps, or just feel like you need a good cry, listen to those feelings and act accordingly. That means not scheduling a big heart-to-heart with your boss and perhaps asking to put off your annual review for a day. Everyone has a day when they feel "off" now and then. Do yourself a favor and take time to chill when those days hit.

5. Figure out what stops your tears.

If you are someone who tears up easily, figure out what you can do to stop the tears once they threaten to appear. Maybe this means thinking of a funny situation, pinching yourself or just getting a cold drink of water. Most people have some kind of personal "stop" button. The trick is identifying yours before it is too late.

If you have already broken down in front of a coworker or your manager, don't worry. Being emotional once is not the end of the world. However, Brin says you should acknowledge the situation after you have pulled yourself together. "It is a good idea to go back to the person later and talk about what happened," she says. This will help you regain your credibility and give you the opportunity to more calmly deal with the issues you are facing.

Next: Eight Ways to Improve Your Quality of Life at Work >>

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