by Steve Adubato, PhD

Last month’s column on how to handle crying in the workplace elicited lots of feedback. Following is a just a sampling.

Arlyce from Montclair wrote with some tips on how to handle yourself if your emotions get the best of you when receiving criticism at work; “First, try and compose yourself as quickly as possible, even if it means taking 5 minutes in the restroom. Then, explain that you want to hear what is being said, but it is hard to do so. When you have thoroughly heard the criticism, clearly explain what you will do to improve your performance and solicit help in doing so. Tears or no tears, try to come away with something positive.”

Arlyce has the right attitude, except I don’t advocate excusing yourself to go to the restroom in the middle of receiving work-related feedback. Doing so will communicate that you can’t handle a substantive conversation. The part about focusing on improving your performance and asking for help is right on target.

One anonymous reader stated; “In your column you wrote that Jane had been on Jim's team for ‘several years’. If so, he had no clue she would or could cry? He obviously didn’t know his staff that well. If he had, he might have said, ‘Jane, I'm wondering if something is going on in your life we can help you with? I notice your performance has been slipping.’ Jim could then wrap the criticism in some support, even sympathy, and see what he gets back from the employee.”

Very perceptive, anonymous reader. I should have considered your point of view in the original column. You are correct in saying that couching work-related criticism with emotional support is a powerful form of communication. Great advice.

Frank B. from Middlesex County wrote about an underperforming employee who was having difficulty managing the four team members that reported to him. Said Frank B.; “I knew if I met with him one on one that he would cry in a NY Minute! So instead, I sat at a table in his office with all involved and I used peer pressure (no screaming or yelling) to get my point across. I know his subordinates appreciated my honest and open dialogue. He took it well and promised in 2013 he would try to improve.”

I find your approach fascinating. The standard book on communicating feedback to employees is to always do it one on one. But your example makes it clear that the “book” doesn’t always work in real life. That’s why leadership and communication is definitely not a science, but an art form that all of us continue to work on every day.

James C. from Union County said that often those employees who cry when confronted with candid feedback have a pattern of poor performance, and it is the job of the manager to take action. Said James C.; “Often people are given a free ride. Everyday business is chock-full of underperformers who keep their jobs based on sympathy. That's the real work world and one of the things that makes it stink. I am not talking about an occasional error, because no one is perfect. I am talking about that person who consistently underperforms at his own job on a regular basis with no repercussions.”

In another recent column, I talked about best-selling author Jim Collins’ book, “Good to Great” and the importance of deciding which employees belong “on the bus” (on the workplace team) and which ones need to be escorted off. James has it 100% right. Everyone reading this column knows of at least one person in his or her organization that doesn’t deserve a seat on the bus. The question is, will you be the kind of leader to do anything about it?