Ask the grumpies: Crying at work

SP asks:

Crying at work. Have you ever done it? Have you seen others do it? How bad is it? …

I cried at work this week in a pretty embarrassing way, although the people I already like a lot were totally great about it and most people did their best to let me ignore it. Plot twist: I work with almost all men, but the person who brought out the tears was the only other woman in the room of ~20. Although it was really really just a completely screwed up situation, and it was more the situation than the person itself. But she absolutely did not help! … I’m basically mortified by it. I think my emotions were correct, just didn’t intend on displaying it!

I wonder how one practices reacting with less emotion. I suppose I could avoid going into known war zones when I’m on edge, but I’ve had no luck willing myself to respond calmly.

That’s a hard one. Personally, I am against crying at work in front of people and suggest that you apologize to whoever you cried in front of (assuming that we’re not talking about someone getting hurt or dying etc., which are socially acceptable reasons to cry at work) in a way that is both professional and slightly embarrassed in demeanor.   It looks like ask a manager has similar advice on apologizing in a slightly embarrassed way across a number of different posts (so this is a common question).

Ana notes

My thought on this is that, yes, try your best to avoid it, but if it happens, its clearly out of your control. Sure I can be “against it” in theory (because it makes me super-uncomfortable!) but who cries at work in front of their colleagues on purpose? Its sometimes a physiologic response that you couldn’t hold back, like a burp.

Apologize self-deprecatingly and move on. I wouldn’t think badly of someone for doing it once, particularly if the situation was truly terrible. If its happening a LOT, and you can’t leave the job/situation, then figure out how to change your reaction (therapy!) because crying on a regular basis at work does come across unprofessional.

Chacha adds

I have never out-and-out cried at work, but a little teary-eyed – yes. Sometimes due to personal stuff like a sick cat; sometimes due to rage and frustration caused by the work.

But sometimes it is that reflex thing, and oddly most likely to happen when I have a very *pleasant* exchange with somebody. It’s like little tears of happiness trying to escape. I am not a crier by nature and this particular manifestation always astonishes me.

Nowadays I make a point of reminding people that I am perimenopausal and not 100% stable. :-)

As to how to not cry at work.  That’s probably going to be different for different people.  For me, personally, because of my physiology, I got much better control of my emotional responses after I quit hormonal birth control and stopped eating refined carbs and sugar.  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy helped a bit before then in graduate school (I automatically start deep breathing when stressed), but the eating more whole foods seemed really miraculous, probably because I wasn’t expecting that side effect.   I also teach a really hard required math class and have pretty much eliminated student crying by forcing chocolate on students who start getting sniffles.  Do not underestimate the power of chocolate.  (Indeed, Willpower suggests eating something to replenish your willpower.)

#2 says:  Haven’t we all cried at work?  Step one:  close office door.  If no office door, hide out in bathroom stall.  Most of us have done this.  It’s embarrassing, but it happens, like farting in front of your boss’s boss or something.  It’s biology.

Grumpy nation:  Any advice for SP?

Linkius Loveius

This week, one of us was sick and the other was busy.  Aren’t our lives fascinating???

This person is maliciously crazy in the head.

Lil Bub gives excellent advice.

Once again, Andrew Ti comes correct (esp. in naming Asshole of the Month)

I kind of want a new Visa (don’t love my current card)

This is fascinating.

Matt Damon: Jerk.

A handy chart for comparing babies.

Help renowned author Cat Valente design an award.

Working at a big corporation.

A day in the life of a dad working at Google.

If anybody wants to crowdsource a fund to send this to me in shades of dark purple and maybe some teal… drool…

Reminder:  Shoot us an email at grumpyrumblings at gmail if you want to do a guest post the first two weeks of October.

pretty doggie:

Career Change Neepery

When I go to the library to pick up my books that are on hold, I often browse around and come home with a bunch of books that look interesting at the time.  This time I got How to Find Fulfilling Work by Roman Krznaric.  Of course, who can resist an alluring title like that?  Especially when working on a career change!

It’s got an interesting exercise that I hadn’t heard of before.  It’s the “reverse job ad”.  Instead of looking at what a job advertisement wants, you advertise what you have.  So you write a half-page about yourself, but it doesn’t include any previous jobs or qualifications.  You write about your passions, interests, skills, and any dealbreakers.  For example, you might write that you speak Norwegian, love cats, make excellent pie.  Your personality is bubbly but impatient and you hate sports.  You want a job with flexible hours and not in a cubicle.  You are habitually messy, and passionate about reproductive rights.  Or whatever it is.  Don’t specify the job you’re looking for.

Now here’s the interesting part.  You send this “personal job ad” to ten different people who have very diverse jobs and backgrounds and lives.  For example, a police officer, vet tech, organic gardener, banker, cartoonist, bus driver, accountant, teacher, doctor, and a welder.  Ask them to be very specific about what kind of job they think you should have, based on the description.  The book uses the example, don’t say ‘you should work with children.’  Instead say, ‘you should do charity work with street kids in Rio’.

You are likely to get a wide variety of answers, some of which you’ve never thought of before.

#2 is skeptical that following these exact steps would work well anywhere outside of, say, Southern California.  But maybe a more muted and more professional version that’s presented informally (say verbally at a cocktail party, or as a facebook/blog post).

Has anyone done something like this, or would you?  How would you describe yourself?

Anthems for working

You Better Work.

Unless you want to live in a Van by the River.

What reminds you to work?  Do you have any working anthems?

Ask the grumpies: When bullies bully through tone-policing

Oldmdgirl asks:

[A]ny advice on how to handle the following scenario: Say, someone tries to bully you into doing something and you hold your ground patiently but firmly — often they will claim you were “rude” in order to try to get you in trouble with your superiors. I’m not sure how to handle this type of feedback since a) complying with their request may not have been reasonable/safe/possible in any way, b) you provided a completely reasonable alternative that they rejected without listening, c) they actually tried to bully you and were rude to you. Do you stand your ground? Do you defend yourself? What is the best way to handle this sort of scenario? I had something like this happen recently, and I was wondering if there was any merit to proactively seeking out feedback about how the situation could have been handled differently in order to have avoided the frustration on everybody’s part. Thoughts?

Crucial conversations tends to suggest you pretend they’re not bullying you and to reframe what they’re saying to make sure you understand etc. etc. etc.  You would then proactively seek feedback as you suggest, following their instructions on keeping the other party safe and focusing on the situation, not anything personal.  But Crucial Conversations also doesn’t really get that women are treated differently than men. Some of their afterwards from the updated edition get into this idea a little bit but don’t offer any solutions, just say that although their recommendations usually work with even difficult people, they don’t always work with all bullies.

With bullies, I have found that what often works the best (as a woman in a male-dominated field) is to channel your inner mom/kindergarten teacher/nun (your choice) and sigh a bit, and then talk in your disappointed voice. “I wish we could do that, but you know that isn’t safe/wasn’t reasonable/could hurt someone.” “Oh, [name], I did give you a suggestion, but …” “I don’t like being treated this way/Did you just say [x] to me? Why did you say [x]?  That wasn’t very nice/constructive/etc.” Some of my female heroes have this really cool way of being firm and disappointed at the same time. I’m mostly just disappointed– I’m working on getting more moxy so I can add just the right amount of underlying “they shoulda known better”.

People seem to be able to defer to a woman when reminded of a woman who once had power over them and you address them as if they’re naughty toddlers or elementary schoolers, especially when that’s what they’re acting like.  Students stopped trying to bully me pretty much entirely once I had a toddler of my own and started treating them like preschoolers instead of adults.  The same treatment works with overbearing white guys as well.

Grumpy Nation, do you have any suggestions from the trenches?

Ask the grumpies: How to deal with anticipating/receiving difficult feedback

MidA asks:

[D]o you have any favorite past posts on receiving difficult feedback? I think some may be coming my way (though not sure what precisely–I’ll spare the backstory but suffice it to say that this is a surprise) and if I don’t have a gameplan, I’m afraid I may be noticeably holding back tears.

I don’t think we do have any favorite posts on that topic.

What I usually do that works for me (but may not work for you) is to go through every possible scenario including the worst possible ones, and then think about what I’ve learned and how not do do the bad thing again, how to put a plan in place, what larger problems does this highlight, are there structural changes to be made etc.

Usually the feedback isn’t as bad as my worst imaginings. And having a growth mindset helps to think of screw-ups as chances to change/grow/fix stuff.  Sure, maybe I did something stupid, but it was a temporary stupidity that has resulted in a learning experience for me or highlighted something that needs to be changed structurally.

As a warning though, admin often doesn’t like structural changes (even something as simple as getting a coffee maker that doesn’t set the office on fire when someone leaves a burner on) and sometimes will attack rather than explore their feasibility. That’s a sign of bad admin.

Oldmdgirl added this for when you don’t think the feedback you’re getting is actually worthwhile:

[E]ven if the negative feedback is a bunch of baloney, I recommend saying, “Thank you for taking the time to tell me your concerns. Do you have any suggestions on how I might avoid this happening in the future/ things that I can work on so that this doesn’t happen again?” Try to focus on what you can DO differently in the future. Take the focus off of who you are as a person. Depersonalize it. Then you can go stick pins in the voodoo doll you created for that purpose.

What do you do/suggest, grumpy nation?

Networking FTW! Or how to get a job in 11 easy steps

How to get a cool job while living in Paradise:

Step 1:  Send out dozens of carefully crafted applications to highly selected jobs that interest you, culled from want ads from a number of sources (

Step 2:  Get a few phone interviews and an in-person interview for a job you’d really like that goes to second round.  After a long wait, fail to get those jobs.

Step 3:  Decide maybe it’s time to apply for jobs that aren’t quite as much up your alley.  Carefully craft individualized applications for job openings you find via want-ads and company pages but secretly hope you don’t get that consulting job (which is highly paid but uninteresting and will probably eat your soul in less than 2 years).

Step 4:  Mention to the extroverted wife of someone you went to high school with that you’re looking for a position.

Step 5:  Said wife notes that their kid goes to preschool with another kid whose mom is a PhD in your field working in a job that sounds exactly like the kind of job you want.  She puts you in touch.

Step 6:  It turns out that although kid’s mom has a job that is like one you would want, the mom doesn’t actually have a PhD in your field, but her husband does.  He sends an email to say hi and says they’re looking for someone right now where he works.  He sends you a want ad for a position just like the one you want (that you are overqualified for) at the center where he works.  Only catch: cutoff for applications is today (on the day that you are emailing).

Step 7:  Thankfully, the salary range is posted right in the ad.  Decide it is ok and apply for said job at 4:16pm on day applications close.

Step 8:  Just a few days later, receive enthusiastic phone call from founder of center, asking you to come in a few days from now.  Nail interview with the amazing guy who runs the center.  It is conversational and does not include dumb interview questions like “what is your biggest weakness?”.  He talks about how, if you got this job, you could increase your income above the stated range by doing various things.  The base salary is hard money (not dependent on grants).  Hours are flexible.  Like things more and more.

Step 9:  Have a great time on the informal second-round interviews, talking with the other PhDs working at the center.  Answer lots of questions about why it’s ok that you’re overqualified.  Note that they’ve started mentioning things you want to do that are outside the scope of the originally advertised job description, like mentoring graduate students and writing grants to increase your salary (which, although low for a PhD in your field, is still higher than what you were making as a tenured associate prof in Blasted Wasteland).

Step 10:  Have your references give you glowing recommendations when the center guy calls them.  Also have them tell you that the guy who runs the center has a reputation in the field for being a great mentor.  He is hiring his trainees and former students to grow the center.  Some members have worked with him for 15 years.

Step 11:  Do a happy dance when you get the job offer on the phone!  Look sort of like a chicken/’80s dancer.  Pump fist in air, go “Eeeee”.  Have 30-minute conversation with institute founder in which he is already more respectful about your skills and expertise than your previous 2 bosses.

~~~~now have job!~~~~

Step 12: Inquire with HR person about benefits.  They are pretty good.  Formally accept offer at top end of published range.  Your new office (with door!) is shared with 1 other person and a fantastic view out the big window.  Your new email is set up right away.

Step 12a:  HR person sends you offer letter via email.  An hour later you get another email: Please disregard that offer letter and use this one instead.  The center director has begged Provost for increase in your base salary; this new letter has the increased salary.  Pay is now above the posted range in the job ad, and is a number you feel much happier about (#2:  A number that is more than my engineering PhD DH was making when he was on the tenure track…).  Accept that one and print it out real quick.  Start telling friends & family you got job (#2 said YAY!).  Converse with staff about what kind of laptop you want.  Get lunch invitation for your first day at work.  Feel like a ROCKSTAR.  Send grateful messages to people who served as references.  Discover that all your friends in the field happen to know your new boss, and say he is phenomenal, influential, and a great mentor.  Keep feeling more rockstar-y all the time.

Step 13:  Hash out benefit contributions and household finances with partner (future post!).  Fall asleep on floor while trying to read book before bed.  Start new job 5 days after offer.

Congratulate me in the comments below!  After over a year with no job I was starting to feel nervous about the growing gap in my CV.  Hang in there, job searchers.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 306 other followers