A reader writes:
I cried in front of my boss during our one-on-one weekly meeting yesterday. I got some feedback on what I need to do to improve and was told I’m not where she wants me yet after two weeks of fairly neutral feedback but a growing sense that I was stressing her out.
I haven’t had this type of feedback very often in my past, since I’m usually good at my job, but it has happened. I’ve never cried before though. I’ve just gotten quiet, nodded, taken notes and thought about it on my own later. I asked follow-up questions at another time if need be.
But yesterday, I just started crying and couldn’t stop. I think it was almost relief just to know what they want of me, combined with a bit of surprise and fear. I know I should have excused myself or bit my lip. I feel like she was kind, but it is still an awkward position to put someone in and I don’t want it to reflect badly on me in the future (if at all possible).
Considering I don’t have a time machine, should I apologize to my boss or would she probably be just as happy to pretend the tears never happened?
I’d send her a quick email saying, “Despite my reaction yesterday, I want you to know that I really appreciate your giving me that feedback, and it’s incredibly helpful to me to know where I should be focusing on improving. I’m a bit mortified that I got emotional about it, and hope that you’ll excuse it (and ideally wipe it from your mind forever!).”
The danger with crying during feedback conversations, of course, is that it can make your manager think that you have trouble hearing and accepting critical feedback. It can make her more hesitant to give you feedback in the future, and it can make her worry that you’re too thin-skinned to talk about where you could be doing better (which is a pretty normal part of work life and one that you have to be able to do, painful or not).
So by assuring her that you do in fact really appreciate the feedback, you’re addressing much of that. And by giving her a concise “ack, that was embarrassing and I’m sorry about that,” you’re signaling that it’s not a typical reaction for you, or a reaction that you don’t realize might have made her uncomfortable.
Don’t dwell on it, though. Quick email, and be done with it.
(And I say this as someone who has seriously considered getting tear duct surgery, if such a thing exists, because my eyes well up far too easily — life insurance commercials, weddings of fake people in movies, and all sorts of other things will set me off. It is quite ridiculous.)