You’ve planned and prepared and now you’re having your difficult conversation. You’re calm, collected, ready. Then bam! Tears. Defcon 9 there are tears! Abort! Abort!

Many managers really don’t know how to respond when someone cries. I hate to say it again but, people. People do this. It’s a human thing. It’s ok. Let me also be clear I’m referring to employees spontaneously crying here. If you’ve made people cry because you’re a bit of a jerk I’d suggest you seek some coaching on how to be a better manager.

You don’t need to immediately stop the meeting

This might sound mean but it’s really not. People cry for a lot of reasons. Sometimes people just need a minute.

They cry because it’s a relief to be able to share what they are feeling. Newsflash. People have feelings. Sometimes these feelings will surface at work. We need to learn to accept this.

They cry because the situation feels a bit over whelming and they feel emotional when over whelmed.

Some people cry as a defense mechanism. They’ve found tough conversations stop when they cry and they either consciously or unconsciously use that to make a situation they don’t want to be in end.

Some people cry because they know you’re uncomfortable with it, you’ll try and get out of the room as quickly as possible, and give them whatever they want on the way out.

Why it’s often not a good idea to stop the meeting

There’s tears. You freak out. You end the meeting. Eye contact is avoided for a while. Everyone feels uncomfortable. The situation worsens. The staff member often feels embarrassed or thinks that you’re ignoring them. The thing you wanted to talk to them about in the first place is not resolved.

Avoiding crying does not allow you to avoid discomfort longer term. We’re going to need to deal.

What to do instead

Let the person cry. Offer a tissue and some water. Tissues are a tool of trade in HR.

Give the person a minute to collect themselves. Tell them it’s ok. You appreciate it can be difficult to have these conversations. Give them some space by being quiet and not talking for a bit. If they’re taking a little longer, offer a short break to grab a cup of tea or coffee.

When they’re calmer, ask if them if they’re ready to chat.

The majority of people will continue with the conversation. Most even want to continue with the conversation despite their tears. Often some really good, open, respectful conversations come after tears have been shed.

How do you support an employee who feels emotional during a meeting? Have you, or a manager you’ve worked with, panicked when the tears started?

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