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The Champion Forum Podcast

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TCFP201: When They Cry

Thank you for listening to The Champion Forum Podcast with Jeff Hancher. What do you do when an employee cries while you are giving them feedback? If you haven’t already dealt with a crying employee, you will at some point. Today, we’re discussing what to do and not to do when someone cries during a meeting.


There are several types of crying:

  • Fake crying to try to minimize accountability.

  • Crying that is not related to work at all. (Sickness, home life, divorce, etc.)

  • Crying because they let you down.

  • Crying because they are disappointed in themselves.


Your job is not to try and figure out why they are crying and sift through the emotion. Your job is to continue to have the conversation. The longer you wait, the more challenging the conversation. Early intervention is always the key to more effective feedback and performance improvement.


What to do when they cry:


1. Never excuse the employee from the meeting

There’s never a better time to have a difficult conversation, and waiting for the next meeting will be dreadful and awkward for you and the employee. Although tears may make you uncomfortable, waiting only increases the tension.


2. Stay objective in your approach

Don’t apologize or be overly sympathetic. You can tailor your approach based on your knowledge about the person, but always remember, it’s not your job to discover why they are crying. You can’t control how people respond; you can only control how you approach giving feedback and helping others improve. Sticking to the facts can help remove some of the emotion from the conversation.


3. Show empathy

Although it is essential to stay on task, it is also important to be empathetic. Don’t be afraid to show kindness by offering a tissue, something to drink, or just a moment to compose themselves. It’s better to take a few awkward moments of sitting there and letting them cry than to reschedule the meeting.


4. Move forward from where you left off

It is not a good idea to start from the beginning as this could trigger their emotions once again. Pick up where you left off and move forward!


5. Reset expectations

Don’t allow the emotion of the exchange to let you make the mistake of not summarizing the discussion at the end and resetting the expectation. Ensure that they understand the expectation. Talk to them about the behaviors they will modify to begin to improve. Make sure they are clear regarding the future course of action should your expectations not be met.


6. Write it down

If the employee was highly emotional, likely, they aren’t going to remember much. Remember, the purpose of Performance Management is to help drive improvement and growth in the individual. If this discussion was disciplinary, a written document placed in their file is critical. I would also suggest a written performance improvement plan.


Keep in mind that some people are more emotional than others. Crying could be triggered by frustration, stress, sadness, or emotional pain. On the other hand, some people are known to use crying to gain attention or manipulate a situation. Be aware of the situation, use empathy, but stay focused on your mission: helping your employee reach their full potential.



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