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  • Writer's pictureRobert Norton

Here come the waterworks

Updated: Jun 24, 2022

I’m coaching a Senior Executive in the technology industry who is a ray of sunshine, a funny, collaborative, and intelligent leader with a couple of decades of business savvy under their belt. They are also incredibly sensitive and genuine.

That emotional vulnerability makes them susceptible to one of the most alarming stress responses in today’s workplace: crying.

My daughter has the same stress response. Like my client, she’s a high-achiever who wants to get it right and be liked in the process. When things come hard, like mastering a new ballet technique, the tears of frustration come. She’s at the age now when crying in public feels especially babyish, which only makes her angrier at herself creating a spiral of self-criticism.

And, full disclosure, she’s gets it from me. My waterworks have always had a quick release valve, especially when I feel misunderstood or powerless.

So, first things first, there is beautiful strength in bringing the full range of your emotions to work. That said, if your inability to regulate your emotions is causing you to spiral, I’d argue that learning how to regulate your stress response will make you more effective in the long run.

So, why do we cry?

Melody Wilding, an expert who works with sensitive high-achievers, highlights that crying is generally a sign of passion, not weakness. We cry when we care, especially when there is conflict, pressure from feeling judged, deep investment, or we are exhausted from working too hard.

How do we get better at keeping our cool?

  1. Crying is a physiological response to stress. When our body’s stress response is activated, controlling our breathing and redirecting our attention to our physical surroundings can help ground us.

  2. Research shows that drinking a glass of cold water can help lower your body temperature and get rid of the lump in your throat that comes before the tears. Bonus points for getting up to fetch it. Taking a few minutes to gather your thoughts while removing yourself from the situation can help you manage your reaction.

  3. Accept it. Sometimes there is no stopping the flow and you do not need to apologize for being vulnerable. Learn to acknowledge the emotional response and share the context for it. “You can see that I’m having a strong reaction. It’s because I care."

And for all you stoics who never shed a tear, try not to get awkward when a colleague's feelings bubble to the surface. Slow down and get curious about what is behind the big emotions. Showing genuine interest and a willingness to listen without judgement can help a colleague articulate their complicated feelings.

As I tell my client, my daughter, and myself, being emotionally sensitive is a great gift. It allows us to pick up signals, make wise moves, and connect with others from a place of insight. Learning to wield the power and refine the expression of that gift it is a lifelong journey.

P.S. You can read more tips from Melody Wilding here.

All MindFrame Minute stories are used with permission from clients and offspring.


MindFrame, LLC delivers leadership and career coaching, team facilitation and keynote presentations to help you create change for good.

Custom services can be conducted at your organization or virtually.

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