The details are hidden in the context of this photo (Source: NASA) from the mission control room of the Apollo 13 expedition. Because, really, there’s nothing particularly striking about this photo. A line-up of men in largely identical outfits cheering, applauding, and lighting cigars. The kind of image that you could flip right past.
But these men are celebrating for good reason: The Apollo 13 astronauts have just splashed down, safely back on Earth.
With that knowledge, the imagination sparks. How many anxious, lung-crushing hours have these men suffered as they worked to get the astronauts of Apollo 13 home? (Not to mention the anxiety of the astronauts themselves!) How much helplessness did they feel, separated by so many impassable miles? How much worry over whether, after all the crew had been through, they would actually make it home safely? All those nightmares wiped out by jubilation.
Because the details make all the difference between “What?” and “Wow!”
My emotions occasionally leak out my eyes. As such, I was grateful for this compassionate defense of those who have, at one time or another, cried at work. Thank you, Amy Gallo and HBR Blog Network.
So how do you help a colleague who starts crying at work? Action points from Gallo’s article:
- Act like you would in a social situation — be comforting and solicitous
- Keep your responses simple and focused on the employee
- Make a specific plan for handling the situation going forward
- Judge people who bring emotions to work — it’s not unprofessional to cry, it’s human
- Try to get your employee to stop crying — offer a tissue and let the tears flow
- Push a person to tell you what’s happening if he doesn’t want to talk about it
“Don’t judge people who bring emotions to work” is especially important to me. A former colleague and I once discussed the problem of being tear-prone. We find it frustrating, not because of the rare tears (though they can be embarrassing), but because of the reactions that tears might evoke—particularly from managers. Who wants to be perceived as weak, or unable to handle pressure, because of something that’s normal?
Plus, I know that I’ve been the most helpful to colleagues when I’ve tuned in to their feelings—and the least helpful when I’ve not paid attention. As Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks, an associate professor of management and organization at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, says in the article, “We don’t leave our humanity at the office door.”
So to all of you humans out there, I offer my tissue box. Take as many as you need. And I hope you’ll share one with me, should the occasion arise.