Social Question

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

How do you handle adults breaking down in tears in business situations?

Asked by Adirondackwannabe (33574 points ) March 1st, 2012

I’ve been in lending and finance jobs, and have had so many men and women breakdown in tears while we’re trying to discuss business. Usually it’s some type of family matter, death, divorce, sick kids, etc. I’m at a loss when it happens. How do you handle it?

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24 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

When I used to sob in front of my psychiatrist, he handed me a box of kleenex and simply sat there. He remained attentive and impassive, until I stopped.

Of course, I was paying him to pay attention.

Detached empathy, I guess. I don’t envy you.

chyna's avatar

Funny, that sort of happened with me today. I was at the tax guy that did my mom’s taxes and was having him do her final taxes for last year. He started talking about my mom and how much he liked her and I got a little teary eyed. He appologized and said he needed to go make some copies so he could get away from me.
@gailcalled has a good idea though.

SpatzieLover's avatar

I figure they must have some heavy thoughts/feelings they’re dealing with and give them a moment to refocus and process.

In some cases, the person may need a moment or two alone to recollect themselves. In most cases, I’ll try say something comforting to let them know I’m empathetic to their situation.

zensky's avatar

Like in any situation – offer a hug.

SpatzieLover's avatar

Sometimes all it takes is one word to make someone fall to pieces. Whatever you do, don’t take it personally.

downtide's avatar

Where I work is quite stressful and I’ve seen people reduced to tears by customers on the phone. I never know how to handle it though. I’ll give a hug if it’s asked for.

I once broke down in tears myself at one of the lowest points of my depression. My supervisor was very supportive and encouraged me to go to the doctor, which I did.

janbb's avatar

I would simply say, “Take your time” and look empathetic. If they are crying a lot, maybe pass a box of tissues.

jca's avatar

I usually say something supportive and encouraging, like “yes, she was a great woman” or “yes, but now you’re getting back on track money-wise, so it’s going to get better.”

wundayatta's avatar

I’m not sure how I come across. I’d like to think I am sensitive and empathetic and calming. But I might be taken as aloof and uncaring, too.

In any case, I’ve never had this happen that I can recall. But my work has always been somewhat dispassionate and I manage to maintain a professional front that, I think, discourages significant emotional outbursts.

As @SpatzieLover mentioned, it is possible to break someone down with one word. It is also possible to guide someone to less emotionally charged ground with other words. You can always tell when someone is getting to the point where they have to express their feelings, and you can let them go there, or help them go there, or divert them, as you choose. Very few people will dump on you if they sense you don’t want them to.

rooeytoo's avatar

When I had the kennel, I was astounded by the number of adults who would burst into tears when leaving their dogs with me. I would always reassure them that we were all dog lovers and their pups would be safe and comfy and well cared for. Then when they left we would giggle at their silliness. Now I am the same way when I drop my dogs off at the kennel. I don’t burst into tears but I hate leaving them!!!

MollyMcGuire's avatar

Different ways. If it’s caused by a sad situation I just listen and let them get themselves composed. If it is an adversary, I usually say something like, it’s time to be truthful don’t you think? When people cry because of a sorrowful situation, I have a hard time not crying with them. This is something I would like to change but I fear it is just part of my makeup.

Jeruba's avatar

Definitely do not offer me a hug (or expect one from me, if you’re the one who gets teary). I do not want to be patted or cuddled or stroked unless we already have a relationship in which touching and hugging play a natural part, probably meaning that you are a family member or close friend.

Even more emphatically, do not try to jolly me or make a joke. Keep it respectful, calm, and a little bit detached, and give me a moment or two to settle down.

If you get weepy while telling me your business or personal troubles in the office, or while I’m firing you, or whatever, I’ll remain calm, hand you a box of tissues if one is nearby, and wait for you to get hold of yourself. I probably won’t look away as if you ought to be ashamed, but I won’t stare at you either. I’ll just give you some time. Very likely I’ll offer you a glass of water and then go get it for you. If you’ve said anything that seems to call for a reply, I’ll answer you in a gentle voice but otherwise say nothing else. If it goes on too long, I’ll probably ask if you’d like some time to yourself.

I don’t believe I’ve ever lost it at work, not even when my father was dying and I had to make a “no extraordinary measures” decision on the phone at the office. I’ve come close once or twice in some manager’s office, when I was really angry and felt I’d been treated unjustly. In that case I’d like to be treated as I just described.

My 24-year-old son did an internship working with the homeless population in San Francisco. He had to deal with a lot of much older adults who lost their composure during interviews. It was very hard for him, but I think he braved it pretty much as I described.

Coloma's avatar

I agree with offering some words of comfort or encouragement. Those that fear others emotions fear their own, hence the discomfort. Hey, we’re all humans and having to soldier on with daily biz. when we are coping with major stressors is hard to handle at times.
I’m a very demonstrative type, I would reach out and give them a hug or put a hand on their shoulder. I just did this today with a friend.

Jeez, squeeze out a little compassion, we’re all in this together.

Jeruba's avatar

@Coloma, are you equating compassion with hugging? and thinking that no hugs = no compassion?

Coloma's avatar

@Jeruba No, just reaching out in our mutual humanity, a word, a touch. I know this comes easier for some than others. :-)

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@Coloma @Jeruba I like your answers, but a bunch of these were male farmers. You think they want a hug?

rooeytoo's avatar

I’m with Jeruba, I don’t like strangers touching me. Australians (gross generalization coming) are great huggers and I am not, I do it when I have to, but I don’t like it! I like to hug people I know and feel like hugging, but strangers, forget it!

Coloma's avatar

Hugging a stranger is hugging yourself. ;-)

Jeruba's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe, I hope you didn’t read me as a hugging advocate. I said the opposite. Voluntary hugs are lovely between friends and loved ones, but if I am distressed, the last thing I want is the additional stress of dealing with unwanted intimacy from a stranger or impartial acquaintance and having to take care of the feelings of the well-meaning person who offered it. I have often seen the weeper forced to accept such gestures out of politeness when they were clearly uncomfortable. It’s no kindness to intrude upon someone’s personal space when they’re so vulnerable.

I think the calm, gentle, patient response I described is more compassionate than a false expression of affection. Affection is not what’s needed. Support and comfort without compromise to the person’s dignity seems most appropriate to me.

Coloma's avatar

I dunno, I think it sad that so many are closed off and in fear of affectionate embrace. If I offer a caring embrace I don’t expect anyone to take care of my feelings. Too bad so many are alienated from human embrace because of their own emotional limitations.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@Jeruba No, I got you clearly.I always thought how can things suck so bad to bring the person to this. Why?

Jeruba's avatar

@Coloma, there’s no fear involved. I don’t fear anyone else’s emotion (or my own). I can hear any story. I have listened with equanimity to people telling horrors, and I can sit and give comfort to someone who’s sobbing her heart out without being embarrassed or telling her she ought to stop crying. I respect people’s feelings and think they ought to be allowed to have them.

And if they seem to want a hug, I’m happy to give it.

The point you’re missing is that some people dislike being forced into physical closeness just because they’re sad. I choose my intimate contacts and don’t want to be crowded. If you forced a hug on me and I shrugged it off or said “Please don’t,” I would feel that I was being rude. So I would probably try to accept it with a good grace because I didn’t want to hurt your feelings. But it would cost me an effort just at a time when it’s hard to spare.

Coloma's avatar

@Jeruba I get it, it’s okay, each to his own level of comfort. I’m just a reach out type. :-)

SpatzieLover's avatar

If these are male farmer-types @Adirondackwannabe, they’d probably cheer up if you put oreos & milk on the table ;)

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