someone accused me of crying at work — but I didn’t

A reader writes:

I am a graphic designer at a big consulting firm. I have only been here 6 months, so I’m slowly building my reputation. I was working on a big video production project with a managing consultant, and 4 days before their pitch to the client, his boss (a partner at the firm), basically changed everything so I would have to re-do the whole project. Therefore, I needed to sacrifice my weekend (our meeting was Thursday and the pitch was Monday) to work on this before their deadline. I was okay with working over the weekend — I am non-exempt and got overtime. I clocked in 62 hours that week working on this project, and I really do believe I went above and beyond expectations to make sure they got their video in time for the client presentation (I did deliver the video on time and the client loved it).

Here is the perplexing part. Today, my supervisor asked me if I cried at the meeting last week. Because I put in so much overtime, my supervisor connected with the senior partner on the project, asking why they decided to go in a completely different direction so late in the process. I was told that the senior partner replied that if I wanted to work at the firm, I needed to stop bursting into tears when they gave me feedback. I guess the managing consultant I was working with told the senior partner that I cried when I received feedback to change the video completely — which is absolutely 100% NOT true. I am angry that the managing partner lied about my reaction, dragging my reputation through the dirt. I have other coworkers who saw me directly after the meeting who can vouch that I did not leave the room with tears streaming down my face.

I am angry and I want to directly confront the managing consultant about his lie about me losing my professionalism in front of him – but doing just that would probably prove that I am unprofessional. What do I do? Do I just let it go and let my reputation get bashed?

I wrote back and asked: “Do you know why he said that? Was your reaction upset, just no tears?” She replied:

I really don’t. I took a couple of deep breaths, so I was quiet for a little bit (maybe 1-2 minutes?), but after I collected myself, I did start making suggestions and offering what I could do to realistically accommodate their suggestions at the last minute. I suppose this could be interpreted as “fighting tears” minus the moisture of the eyes, but definitely not “bawling,” as it was described to me.

My gut reaction is that the manager didn’t want to take responsibility for going in the wrong direction with the video project so late in the game in the first place, and blamed my reaction as a reason contributing to his decisions, but I’m really not sure why he would just blatantly lie about something like this. Prior to this incident, I actually thought we had a good rapport and he was very easy to work with – so I’m at a loss why he would say something like this about me.

Okay, that context helps. Obviously, you’d know if you were crying, and you weren’t. But the reaction that you describe — getting quiet for a couple of minutes, taking deep breaths, and then collecting yourself — reads strongly as “intensely upset.” Now, it’s not bawling; it’s not even crying. But you know how people sometimes describe someone as “yelling” at them when the person isn’t really yelling but is using an angry/serious tone? I suspect it’s the same thing here. You were visibly upset, and that’s what he was conveying, just with sloppy language.

Really sloppy language, yes. But I doubt he intended to lie; he just described it in bad shorthand.

I would go back to your manager and say something like this: “I was taken aback when you told me that Bob said I ‘burst into tears’ in that meeting. I wasn’t even close to tears, and I’m not sure why he interpreted it that way. I did feel upset for a minute or two, but there were certainly no tears, or anything approaching tears. I realize that I shouldn’t have even let myself look upset, and I’m going to work on that in the future because I know it’s important to project calm, even in the face of frustration — but I really don’t want it out there that I cry at feedback, because I don’t.”

A key piece of this is that you’re making it clear that you do know that calmness in these situations is important and you’re going to work on projecting it. The reason that’s important is that if you don’t say it, your manager may wonder if you don’t get that and so she needs to watch out for it with you in the future. By letting her know that you’re on the same page as her about that — that you’re on top of any issues here — you defuse the need for her to be on top of it.

Beyond that, I’d just let it go. I wouldn’t confront the managing consultant about what he said. I don’t see any good that can come of that, and I really don’t think he set out to lie about you. I’d just make a point of doing excellent work and showing that you’re calm and unflappable when he and others are around … which is going to serve you better than a confrontation with him.

And while we’re on the topic of tears at work, some previous posts on crying at work:

should I apologize to my boss for crying in front of her?
I cried in an interview and later accepted the job
crying at work and smart bosses

{ 156 comments… read them below }

  1. Bryan*

    Is it possible since you are still semi-new that they do not know who you are and confused you with somebody else?

    1. Ruffingit*

      That was my first thought, but then it seems this person knows very well who she is because he made mention of her crying at his feedback to change the video so I don’t know how he couldn’t know her. But this is so weird anyway.

  2. fposte*

    For future reference, I find a noncommittal “Hmmm” to be a great time-borrower; it makes a pause seem contemplative rather than emotional.

    1. Jamie*

      I’ve used hmmmm….something else that works is repeating back the request in a totally cooperative tone.

      We need the website completely redesigned by close of business today.

      You need the website completely redesigned by close of business today (said perfectly pleasantly while clearly thinking) okay that will involve blah blah blah – so here’s what I can do for you by close of business and here’s an estimate of when it can be complete.

      Buys time and stops you from blurting out what you’re really thinking.

      1. Kerry*

        My husband repeats questions back to me and it drives me BONKERS. It shouldn’t, I know, it’s a valid way to pass the time whilst you’re thinking up a response. I try to do it to him, too, but I usually don’t remember.

  3. Joey*

    The manager didn’t want to take responsibility?

    That sounds like you’re trying to deflect any of the ownership of the issues with the initial attempt.

    1. A Teacher*

      Really? That’s not how I read it. I read it like he didn’t like that she showed some emotion and just exaggerated the extent of what the emotion was. That’s all.

    2. fposte*

      I can see what Joey’s suggesting–that the OP was creating the original direction that turned out not to be satisfactory in a way she should have foreseen–but I don’t think that’s the likeliest underpinning to the narrative we have, and I’d still wonder why, if the direction was so foreseeably unbearable, the person managing the OP allowed it to happen.

      1. Laufey*

        The OP had also only been on the job for six months. I hope the manager didn’t allow a new employee (who is also possibly new to the workforce?) to be the sole creative source of a project of this magnitude.

          1. nyxalinth*

            I’m seeing it become a pattern, as previously he was bashing someone for not knowing that they should have just walked out of that epically weird interview at the beginning.

            Oh well, trolls gonna troll.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Joey isn’t a troll; he’s a regular, thoughtful commenter. If we call people trolls when we disagree with them, the value of the discussion area on the site will diminish considerably.

              1. nyxalinth*

                Good point. I just got my back up over the way his comments sounded in the epic thread about that ridiculous interview.

        1. Anonymous*

          While I don’t know if she is consciously setting out to blame him “completely,” I do see what you’re saying in that her reaction to the original change request of her project AND her reaction to finding out about the consultant exaggerating are both intensely defensive, and that’s something that any manager would have the right be concerned about.

          1. Anonymous*

            For instance if she was really quiet and taking deep breaths for 1-2 MINUTES that’s…a really long time and if I were the consultant, I’d be taken aback as well.

            (Unless that timing is an exaggeration in and of itself…when people are quiet for 10-30 secs it can feel longer. But goes to show how easy hyperbolic speech can be!)

  4. A Dispatcher*

    Definitely sounds like hyperbole/bad wording to me. I am one of those people who have a bad habit of misusing the word yelling. People who know me know this, and I do try to clarify my meaning when I slip and use it around others.

    I could be wrong, but to me it boils down to him meaning OP needs thicker skin. That may or may not be true (the client could just be ridiculous and out of touch), but it is worth looking into. Despite the unfortunate way the message was delivered, this could be very helpful criticism for OP. I really like Alison’s suggestions for how to handle the situation, and do think OP needs to examine how she can work on keeping a totally professional face on in front of the client, or assess if this is the right environment for her if she can’t. I do not mean that as any type of criticism toward her, by the way. Different people thrive in different environments and in different work-styles.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit*

      A nitpicky (but important, I think) note: This didn’t happen in front of the client; it happened in front of the consultant (an internal employee).

      1. A Dispatcher*

        Thanks! I missed that and it does change my opinion a bit (both here and in my posts I made below).

    2. Jamie*

      That was my first thought that it was hyperbole for thicker skin.

      “Those guys need to stop crying about it and just do it” really means they need to suck it up, not that anyone actually needed a tissue.

      1. KJR*

        Yes…perhaps it was kind of like the proverbial game of “telephone” too, getting lost in translation.

      2. Kelly L.*

        This is what I thought too. It started out as metaphorical “crying” and then got re-interpreted as literal crying further down the line.

    3. Daisy*

      Yes I agree; I don’t think the OP did anything terribly unusual, but it’s always worth evaluating whether you came across exactly how you think you did. Most people, I think, underestimate how angry/upset they come across in a situation like that. It sounds like the consultant slightly overestimated it, there’s not really a huge gap there- no one’s lying or anything. I think it could be useful feedback. Though given the circumstances, I can understand why the OP would be cross about it.

    4. tcookson*

      My husband is from southern California and I am from the south. When he first moved here, he constantly thought people were deliberately lying when all they were doing was telling the story in colorful language with a lot of dramatic re-enactment of each person ‘s role. In my family culture, the bigger sin is being a dull storyteller, but he equates that withdeliberate misrepresentation. Maybe the managing consultant was just being more colorful than strictly factual, as Alison surmised?

  5. AnonEMoose*

    I don’t know if this would work for the OP, but I have sometimes bought myself a little time to think in meetings by restating (briefly) what’s being said “to make sure I understand.” So something like, “I want to be sure I’m understanding correctly – what you’re saying is that we provided X and you were looking more for Y and Z?” And while they answer, I’ve got my best listening face on, and may even be taking notes. But a chunk of my actual attention is on high-speed thought.

    It seems to make people feel that I’m engaged in the discussion, but like I said, it buys me a minute or two to get my thoughts in order. Sometimes more, if whoever else is talking is particularly verbose.

    1. Anonymous*

      I do that! To cover myself while I process the unwelcome whatever, I say “let me be sure I have this….” and repeat everything just said. While my brain finishes processing my mouth has to multitask for a bit. Somehow my mouth hasn’t let me down (yet).

    2. Contessa*

      I do that on a regular basis just to avoid miscommunications–it’s very helpful. I’ve learned that one of my bosses absolutely hates it, though, and he cuts me off every time. I guess YMMV.

  6. Victoria Nonprofit*

    I’m going to go ahead and guess that the OP is a woman, and the others involved are men. This feels very gendered to me. Can you imagine the consultant describing a male colleague as “bursting into tears” or “bawling”? Not very likely, and it’s undermining to you (and women in general).

    I also understand and agree with Alison’s advice about projecting calm, but I also think it’s BS (gendered and raced BS, btw) that “appearing upset” is a problem at work. At the last minute, the OP’s weekend got upended. People get upset when that happens. I’d love to live in a world where it’s acceptable to be upset when upsetting things happen.

    1. A Dispatcher*

      Valid (and very interesting) points. Taking away any gender issues though, I also think it’s valid that there are times when appearing or acting upset at work is unacceptable or at the very least undesirable. When you work with the public, or in this case with a client who is a customer of sorts, your behavior and professionalism is held to a higher standard.

      1. Yup*

        Of course, professionalism is always the standard. The problem is if an employee, on a rare occasion of showing a hint of strong emotion, is immediately pegged through gender bias as being “overly emotional” — in other words too emotional to be a reliable respected contributor, the “hysterical female” trope — while a different employee would just be seen as “annoyed” or “a bit angry” (i.e., still strong and in control).

        1. A Dispatcher*

          Absolutely. There have been some really great discussions on this blog about the same topic. Also about the difference between expressing emotion between traditional male and female gender roles (yelling/angry behavior vs crying and “acting upset”) and their appropriateness or lack thereof tin the workplace.

          I’m lucky in that I have a very high stress job where people actually get it if you cry, have to leave the room or even have to go home after a particularly bad call/dispatch and that applies to the males here too.

          We do have to keep it together while still on the floor though – that is essential for the safety of the public and our responders (police, fire and ems). So I guess I am looking at the situation with a bit of bias. It’s probably easier for me to imagine compartmentalizing and being able to put on a strong face for the client while cussing them out later in the privacy of my own office or home than it might be for others.

          1. Yup*

            I get it. My default under major stress is total-poker-face-no-emotions-are-revealed, so I can easily imagine that kind of compartmentalization. (I’ve had people say accusingly to me, “How can you be so calm in the face of whatever?!” And I think “Yeah, just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean I’m not absolutely furious/terrified/devastated right now.”)

            1. KJR*

              I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve, and would love to be able to appear more impassive. I’ve gotten better with age/time, but it’s been an uphill battle!

    2. Anonymous*

      Yeah, I came here to say the same. A man who reacted as the OP did would not have been described as crying. She could have reacted better, sure. But this is BS.

      1. Joey*

        I don’t have a problem saying either gender is crying. I use at as shorthand for overly and unnecessarily upset. I also use it when someone continually complains about something that won’t be changed. It could be but I don’t necessarily think its a gender issue

        1. Zillah*

          Good for you? In my experience, though – and apparently others’ as well – that’s often not the case.

        2. EM*

          Yes, but would you say someone “burst into tears”? That seems very specific to me, while “crying” can connote more of whining or acting overtly put-out.

    3. ArtsNerd*

      One of my bosses sometimes says “there’s no crying in show business!” I correct her: “Show business is in fact all tears, all the time.”

      I’m glad I work in a profession where I can express being upset and not have my professional reputation dinged for it, so long as my conscious response is appropriate and measured (my word choice, the actions I take, etc.)

      I have a VERY expressive face, and a lot of disappointment and frustration just comes with the gig. I’d be in big trouble if I couldn’t ever look flushed or frazzled.

      1. Joey*

        The problem with it is it undermines everything you say or do because its hard to determine whether your response is based on your emotions or not. If you’re in a field where that’s not an issue great.

    4. monologue*

      This. I get why Alison said what she did because that’s the world that we’re still living in, but it’s total BS. It’s not like the OP stormed out, argued or refused to make changes to the project. She should be allowed to get quiet and process the situation before continuing without it having major career implications.

    5. Laufey*

      I agree with the the above about the gendered BS, but how is it “raced” BS? How does this affect one race more than another? I thought crying was a universal human trait?

      1. Victoria Nonprofit*

        Raced because White people can “get away” with being or acting upset more than people of color can. Black women have to contend with the “angry black woman” stereotype and Black men have to contend with people thinking they are being threatening if they express a strong emotion.

        1. Stephanie*

          Black women have to contend with the “angry black woman” stereotype and Black men have to contend with people thinking they are being threatening if they express a strong emotion.


          And this is why I’m overly perky in professional situations. I feel goofy, but the angry, black woman stereotype is well and alive

        2. Laufey*

          Gotcha. I had latched onto the image of crying versus being upset/emotional/human, and I can see how it can get racial very quickly in that case.

        3. Victoria Nonprofit*

          I know nobody is reading this anymore but I realized that I only addressed Black folks in my examples. It drives me crazy when people limit discussions of race to just Black and White, so I’m really sorry that I did that. Another example is the “fiery Latina” stereotype.

      2. Anonsie*

        It certainly can be, there are tons of stereotypes about this group or that group being easily riled up or hot headed or whathaveyou.

        And past that, there is a phenomenon of people being less likely to give feedback to people of different races because they feel uncomfortable with it and think it will go awry somehow– that the reaction is unpredictable.

    6. BCW*

      I think thats a leap. Even if the genders were as you described, I don’t think a guy would never be accused of crying. I’ve told my guy friends they were crying about stuff, when in reality it was more like whining and there were no tears there. Like I said below, they may have meant figurative crying, which I think can apply to either gender, as opposed to literal crying.

      1. Magda*

        OP used the phrase “bursting into tears,” though, which is more specific than a metaphorical “quit your crying.”

        1. BCW*

          Thats true, I guess its like the telephone game, since she heard this 3rd party. I’m just saying its possible that what the partner said wasn’t perfectly passed to the OP

      2. Zillah*

        But what you’re describing is a social environment with people you know well, which is very different from what the OP is describing. What’s appropriate with your friends is not necessarily appropriate professionally. I wouldn’t be all that bothered if a friend told me to stop crying when I wasn’t anywhere near tears… but if my boss told me that, it would be a different story.

    7. Anonsie*

      I wondered this as well, because it sounds so very very much like the classic “well maybe I did something bad but SHE freaked out and was crazy because she didn’t just immediately accept it with smiles s0 now she’s the problem” shifting of responsibility crap.

    8. Holly*

      “At the last minute, the OP’s weekend got upended. People get upset when that happens. I’d love to live in a world where it’s acceptable to be upset when upsetting things happen.”

      Oh my God yes, at least if we’re talking about showing a facial expression internally (versus in front of a client.) Your coworkers, your employees are humans. They are not robots. They will have reasonable, appropriate reactions to upsetting things. For God’s sake, don’t penalize them for that. It’s not like the OP threw a fit/started ranting or anything – they just made a bloody face and got quiet.

    9. Whippers*

      Abso-bloody-lutely. Why the hell shouldn’t people be annoyed when extremely annoying things happen and why should it be taboo to show it?
      People aren’t robots; they do have emotions. And in fact the OP DID control her emotions; she didn’t yell or cry and yet she is still being lambasted for it. I mean what more can you expect from people?

      1. Whippers*

        Also, this reminds me of the phrase “Cheer up love, it might never happen”, which is frequently used in the UK by random strangers to women.
        As if it’s unacceptable for a woman not to have a big smile and obliging demeanour at all times.

        1. Windchime*

          Yeah, I don’t think I have ever heard a man command another man to “Smile!”, but it’s sure been said to me on more than on occasion. I’m always tempted to retort, “Say something funny!”.

          I mean, seriously? You want me to walk around with a grin plastered to my face for no reason?

    10. Steve*

      I would be less forgiving of an emotional outburst from a man to be honest. Actually if a guy needed a few minutes to compose himself over a comparatively minor problem like this I would be surprised enough to mention it to coworkers, not so with a female colleague.

      1. Elaine*

        I’m not sure we’re in a position to determine if reworking an entire project within a three-day timeline is “relatively minor.”

        If the project up to that point had taken, say, a month, it’s a big deal with possibly limited chances of success and a high risk of disappointing a client.

  7. LizNYC*

    It also sounds to me like the OP, in addition to having the wind blown out of her sails, was trying to come up with a strategy to be able to accomplish this work in such a short time frame. Using any of the strategies other posters have suggested above may help.

    Also, having a “resting poker face” you maintain most of the time in meetings could help to. I find this helpful when I’ve turned in a bit of writing and I’m not sure whether the recipient is going to love it or rip it apart. It helps me not overreact either way.

  8. ChristineSW*

    I can completely empathize. I know I tend to show certain emotions, no matter how much I try to keep it together. You may not have shed any tears, but your reaction probably came through in your body language without you fully realizing it.

    That said, the partner definitely overreacted. Sure, it never hurts to work on how you convey your frustration, but I don’t see anything much beyond a pretty natural reaction to being told to change something a mere 4 DAYS before presenting it to the client. Alison’s advice is perfect.

  9. Magda*

    This could just be my own dirty lens, but I can’t help wondering if OP is a woman who fell victim to the common tendency of others to interpret female communication as more emotional than it actually is.

    I have been in workplaces, and thankfully am not anymore, where even the most calm and businesslike pushback I could muster tended to be seen as SHE’S GONNA BLOW. What sucks is that reaction always got me more uncontrollably frustrated than whatever the original work issue was.

    1. Anonsie*

      Being told to calm down when you were already calm riles you up something FIERCE. I swear people do it on purpose.

      1. iseeshiny*

        Ugh I had a boyfriend who used to tell me to calm down any time I disagreed with him, regardless of my emotional state at the time (like, he wanted pasta and I wanted tacos. “Just calm down.”). That wasn’t the reason we broke up, but it’s one of the reasons I wasn’t sad when we did.

        1. KJR*

          I have a co-worker who constantly says, “Quit taking it personally!” no matter what it is…it could be something completely non-personal.

          1. VintageLydia*

            May favorite is when they say something insulting and then pull that line when you, predictably, act insulted.

          1. VintageLydia*

            I’ve instantly dropped anyone in my social life who tried to use that line on me. No exceptions, just gone. And its always always always said by somebody who did or said something shitty to me but won’t take responsibility for it.

        2. Anonsie*

          I almost ended my comment with “hands up to anyone who’s ever dated a guy that did this” because haven’t we ALL? Gah.

        3. tcookson*

          My husband says “Don’t get all jiggy about it” and it makes me want to whap him upside the back of his head.

      2. the gold digger*

        It is an attempt to invalidate a person’s anger – to make the angry person the bad guy rather than the person who did whatever it is that made the angry person angry.

        In my experience, it is usually men telling women to calm down or whatever. It’s on the spectrum of infuriating male behavior (of some men – not all men) that includes the command to “Smile!” from a man to a woman. Nobody tells men to smile. Nobody asks men if it’s that time of the month.

        1. Elaine*

          No kidding. I once had a college professor, in engineering school (so there were few women), tell me to “smile, you look prettier that way,” when he incorrectly handed out the wrong exam, we all failed, and I simply and calmly asked if we’d be taking the correct exam the following week or would skip it.

          I had two part-time jobs to put myself through school and needed to plan my study time. I just looked at him quizzically and repeated the question.

  10. Ethyl*

    I’m a little confused as to why the senior partner couched this as “crying when receiving feedback.” The scenario described wasn’t feedback, it was completely changing all the project requirements at the last minute, causing the OP to have to work 65 hours over the weekend to get it done. No wonder you were flustered during the meeting! I would mention this if/when you do speak to your boss about this, because to me, explaining a flustered reaction under those circumstances is much more reasonable than “bursting into tears when you receive feedback,” which would indeed be a problem for a professional designer.

    1. A Dispatcher*

      We don’t know if everything was changed because they didn’t like the original, or if it was unrelated to OP’s work, so it could very well have been feedback related. The whole scenario makes more sense if it’s the former as opposed to the latter – maybe OP will come back and clarify.

      And I believe it was 62 hours total for the week (so 22 or so hours over the weekend, which is still quite a lot).

    2. Girasol*

      That’s what I was thinking. I had the impression that the fellow knew his request was a bit over the top, expected an emotional outburst from a woman, and saw what he expected. It doesn’t sound like she was much more emotional or out of line than a fellow who might say, “Damn! Well, okay, I’ll put in some weekend hours and have it done Monday,” which wouldn’t be worthy of comment. While there’s some great advice on hiding your emotions at work in the comments, I’d hate to think women have to be Vulcans to avoid being stereotyped.

      1. Holly*

        Is it sad that I just thought “that’s genius! I can totally roleplay as Spock next time I get crap at work!”…?

      2. Curious Bystander*

        The problem is that women do feel that they have to be Vulcan’s or risk being called emotional. Whereas I think the comments on how to appear calm are great, it doesn’t resolve the obvious bias that causes the need to begin with.

  11. Ruffingit*

    Quite possible that the story picked up false detail as in Ted saying to Jane “Susan nearly bawled when I told her XYZ feedback” and Jane hearing it as “Susan DID bawl when…” and thus that is what Jane says to Susan, when in fact that is not what Ted actually said.

    Happens a lot so maybe that’s what happened here.

    1. Judy*

      You mean like the time I got a call from the daycare saying son had a high temperature, and as I got my parents on the way to pick him up and got him a doctor’s appointment, called my mom to tell her to take him to the doctor’s office and was heading out the door to meet them, I got a call back from the daycare saying he was having seizures and they were calling 911.

      Ambulance, ER, blah, blah, took longer to see doctor than the appointment I had made for him.

      Talking to the teacher later that week, he hadn’t had a seizure. Someone just said, with a fever that high, he could have a seizure, and it became he’s having a seizure by the time it got to the front desk.

      1. Ruffingit*

        Ugh, sorry you had that experience with your son. It perfectly illustrates though how what people say, what they hear, and what they repeat can be three separate and distinct things.

      2. Ann Furthermore*

        OMG that’s awful! My daughter once did have a seizure triggered by a high fever, which scared the absolute crap out of my husband and me because we had no idea what was going on.

        Turns out that it’s a fairly common thing, and there is no lasting damage (other than the person who had the seizure being exhausted afterword), but it is a terrifying thing to witness if you have no context for it.

        So for someone to call you and tell you your son was having a seizure when he really wasn’t — especially if he didn’t have a history of having seizures — is just so irresponsible and careless.

        1. Judy*

          It was stressful, he was 20 months old, I was 6 months pregnant with #2 and it was costly.

          We moved to a new daycare when I returned from my FMLA.

  12. BCW*

    Yeah, I’d say its probably just a wording thing. Like me saying to one of my friends when they are upset (but no tears) “why are you crying about it”. I know its not the literal definition, but maybe he meant you were figuratively crying (which…. kinda yeah).

  13. AB*

    I have BRF (B*tchy resting face) well… more like intense resting face. If I’m doing something that involves a lot of concentration (such as going over in my head how I’m going to redo an entire report that took a week to put together in two days) it tends to be a bit worse. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been working at my desk, minding my own business, concentrating on this, that or the other and someone has come up to me to ask if I’m OK. Or if I’m walking down the hall puzzling over some quandary and a work friend stops me and asks if I need to talk.

    The best was when I was out walking my dog, thinking over what I wanted to get at the grocery store for dinner that night, and my husband’s co-worker drove by and saw me. She actually asked my husband if we’d had a fight because I looked really upset.

    My face just looks that way. I don’t do it intentionally; I don’t even think about what my face might look like most of the time. It’s my face; it’s just there. If I was actually fighting back tears, it would be really obvious. My face gets splotchy and I get these big red spots at the corners of my eyes (which also, apparently, happens when I lie and is how my parents always knew I was lying as a kid and why I’m a terrible poker player).

    1. Random*

      Oh gosh! YES. I have BRF as well and the amount of times I get asked in a month if i’m “feeling okay” or “doing alright” is quite alarming! It’s just my face!

    2. Queen Victoria*

      Ha, I also suffer from BRF. I look like I’m about to Hulk out, when all I’m doing is composing an email. I kind of enjoy it though. I have something of a “baby face,” so I think my BRF balances things out nicely. It’s never gotten me in trouble in a professional setting, so it seems to work out.

    3. Jamie*

      I have one of those too, and I’ll tell you it really comes in handy.

      I have cried at work in the past – I’m not proud of that, but it happened and since I’m lacking a time machine not much I can do – but the resting bitchface works because it’s harder to read.

      I love the term bitchface, because it so works, but when you think about it it’s just lack of active animation. I do think it’s a gender thing and it’s just part of social conditioning, but people expect women to smile more and be more obviously approachable than they do men.

      I think Cracked just did a thing on this recently, men who weren’t smiling were seen as more likable than men who weren’t – but it was the opposite with women. The conclusion is that the test group liked their men serious and their women happy.

      One good thing about not being overly smiley is it has more of an impact when you do. And fwiw I do smile often, just when I feel the impulse, not because other people want me to.

      I don’t get the “are you okay” stuff, though. I get it, too, but it’s called concentrating…some of my happiest times are when I’m focused and concentrating and staring at my monitor. If I sat alone in my office working and grinning to no one in particular that’s when someone should ask if I’m okay.

      Because if I’m alone and grinning about nothing, I’m so not okay.

      1. AB*

        I smile a lot too, just not all the time. Maybe that’s why the difference is so apparently alarming that people feel the need to comment. I feel like I would look a few eggs short of a dozen if I was sitting there grinning at my computer all day, or that people would think I was spending my day looking at cat pictures rather than editing reports.

        I have also cried at work. It wasn’t my proudest moment, and it was tears rolling down the cheeks bawling. In my defense, I also had a fever at the time and was getting yelled at for a project I didn’t work on (actual fist pounding on the desk yelling). I feel like crying is a lot more forgivable than fist pounding.

        1. tcookson*

          I cried at work because I was emotionaly overwhelmed by my boss yelling at me. I went home for lunch, and I still couldn’t keep it together by time to go back, so I emailed in that I wasn’t feeling well and took the rest of the day of. My boss started profusely apologizing at my first tears, but the situation was already too emotional for me at that point and I could’t go back; her apology was, at that point, evenmore emotionally inflammatory.

          1. VintageLydia*

            I cried in front of my boss when he was yelling (red faced near-screaming yelling) at me for something largely inconsequential. I was crying more out of anger than sadness, but then I got embarrassed which made me cry harder (thanks, tear ducts, appreciate that! Not!)

            I felt vindicated when I heard a few years later (after I left for unrelated reasons) that he was fired for his anger issues.

            1. Jessica*

              This. I rarely cry for anything other than anger (which is actually helpless anger: where I’m so angry but know I have no power to do anything about the situation), but sometimes people seem to think it’s because I’m overwhelmed. It really irks me when someone else holds all the cards and I just get more and more upset until it comes out in the only way that’s “socially acceptable” in certain situations. (Not that it’s completely acceptable, as evidenced by this letter, but it’s more acceptable than raging about it with non-socially acceptable words. ;) )

              1. Jessica*

                But I’ve only cried once at work and it was for the above reason, years and years ago. I won’t go into the story about that toxic workplace, but I did get called to the carpet for it when my local supervisor heard about it from one of the regular employees there and then she told my “real” (not local, as I was a contract worker from one company to another) supervisor about it. My real supervisor was the one who started the whole thing anyway, so that was super fun. The worst part is I wasn’t even really crying. I felt myself starting to tear up from anger and went into the bathroom, used the restroom for its intended purpose (hey, I did have to pee), washed my hands and splashed my face, and then returned to work. I never actually even had tears spilling down from it and I left the situation immediately and calmly when I knew it was fighting words or tears.

    4. BadPlanning*

      Sometimes I feel like my RBF is slipping at work when men that I don’t know will say hi to me in the hallway (I work at a big place). I am a woman and after a survey of assorted male coworkers, I am assured that they do not get random “Hellos” from hallway strangers.

    5. Steve G*

      LOL I don’t think “BRF” is a phrase used enough that it warrants an abbreviation, I don’t think it’s going to catch on!

    6. MaryTerry*

      Yes! Not only do I seem to have a BRF, but my migraine face has been called the “stare of death”.

    7. ano*

      Me too… if I’m trying to work out a new wrinkle in a plan or a change is made so I need to adust people tell me not to get “angry” about it….

      And if I’m switched off and just kinda in my own head everyone thinks I’m miserable and in pain. I’m not. Just don’t have a smiley off face.

  14. OP*

    OP here – thanks for the comments. It’s encouraging/enlightening to hear other people’s opinions.

    A couple more details people were wondering about:
    – I am a female and my supervisor, the manager and the partner are males. The other designer I work with is male – and I’m certain they would not say he burst into tears after that meeting.
    – The project requirements completely changed and I wasn’t given direct feedback about the work that I did – other than “it’s good, but it’s not the direction we want to go in” – which is not the part I got upset about. To go into further detail, the manager told me no voice over initially but at the meeting I spoke about the partner disagreed with the manager saying that the video needed a voice over… which it was too late at that point to to hire a vendor, so I wrote the script, recorded my own voice and re-did the whole video in 3 days. The point in the conversation when I got upset was when they said they wanted a voice over after all and I needed to deliver it in 4 days (including the weekend).
    -Saying “hmmm” is an excellent piece of advice.

    1. VintageLydia*

      I agree with the others then that it sounds gendered with this context. Having some second hand experience with what you’re talking about (Hubby used to be a freelance jack-of-all-trades video guy which included edit work) what they asked of you in such a short time frame over the weekend was on the ridiculous side. I’ve been in the room when he was on client calls similar to your meeting and he reacted exactly as you did.

    2. Ann Furthermore*

      I don’t think you reacted badly at all here. I think Alison’s advice was good, but really, there’s nothing wrong with needing a few minutes to process something that’s coming at you out of the blue completely unexpectedly.

      When this kind of thing happens to me, I’m very up front about needing time to think about it. I say, “Well, I was not expecting this, so let me have a few minutes to regroup and think about what we can do to address the issue.” Then I can take a few minutes to concentrate and tune everyone else out, and then come back with my suggestions, or, identify questions I need answered before I can decide on the best approach.

      I learned to do this because in the past I’ve faltered when I’ve been put on the spot. It’s not that I don’t know or have an answer, but I do need time to sort through it and come up with alternatives.

    3. Saturn9*

      Here’s the part that’s potentially concerning to your supervisor: You spent X-amount of hours on a project that was later critiqued so hard you had to clock 22 hours of overtime to finish it by the deadline. If excessive overtime isn’t a common thing at your company, this can look like you have issues with time management and/or following direction. Hearing that you cried when feedback was given is going to be seen as a huge red flag if your supervisor is already concerned with how you handled the project.

      You’re new at this company and if your supervisor doesn’t understand that huge changes were made with very little warning, this could bode very ill for you.

      Speaking of, was your supervisor aware of how much overtime was going to be required to meet the deadline and did they have a rough understanding of why? Tread carefully, is what I’m saying.

    4. Curious Bystander*

      Someone mentioned this but I wanted to elaborate a bit on this. In my company we have up to 8 hours of overtime that is within a ‘normal’ OK range, anything beyond that requires a supervisor prior approval before we start to do anything more. I can imagine a supervisor seeing a 22 hour OT on the timesheet would raise a red flag.
      I know you can’t do this now, but I would suggest keeping it in mind, if something like this were to happen again, it wouldn’t hurt to have a quick chat with your direct supervisor and say, ‘Hey, on such and such project the team has decided to go this way, I have one business day to make all the changes before the deadline but I don’t think I will get it done in time, so I plan to work the weekend to make sure we keep the deadline on Monday. Does that sound okay?’ That way the supervisor knows and isn’t blind sided.
      I’m making a guess that your direct supervisor didn’t know about all the changes that were made in such a short time or what your team expected you to do. So when payroll saw the OT, they went to the team manager, etc.

      I cannot tell you how many times giving my supervisor a head’s up, has saved my backside. When the higher up’s corner them about a situation and they can just say ‘Yes, I know about that and this is what happened/what we’re doing.’ It makes everyone look good all around.

  15. Katie the Fed*

    This EXACT thing happened to me a few years ago. I got a little flustered in a meeting, and it got told to someone else that I was “upset” which became a game of telephone that turned into me crying (I did not).

    The senior who mentioned that I was crying (I was not) NEVER lets it go, either. To this DAY when I see him he’ll comment how much better I am at handling things, and it’s good to see that I’m not getting emotional since that time I cried in a meeting. And I just internally roll my eyes and decide it’s best not to argue but it drives me absolutely nuts. It never happened, and this guy will never move past it.

    1. BadPlanning*

      And the guy is probably always patting himself on the back for how well he’s giving you positive feedback.

      I’m grateful that the time I almost cried with a coworker (I was really frustrated and did not understand what he was trying to explain) that he totally didn’t acknowledge it (There were no tears, but I’m sure I was very visibly upset and had a voice wobble). He did take a different tact explaining and then things got figured out. I also learned how interact with that coworker differently to head off my frustration.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        YES. And he’s the kind of person that seems to have exactly one phrase to remember every employee, so mine unfortunately is “that one who cried.” And he will never, ever update his original assessment.


        1. Vicki*

          “Yeah, I remember that say. That was the same week when you had the flu and almost barfed in the meeting in front of the visiting consultant. “

    2. ano*

      I have a few friends who have Exes who struggle with this. One Ex wants to remain friends and she then jumps if he says *anything* that could be taken the wrong way. I described it to him as she won’t treat anything as a new conversation and keeps lugging old baggage around as if its still relevant rather than just the past….

    3. Rayner*

      I had a boss who did this when I worked in retail, but I got so sick of hearing him say it. According to him, I’d cried in a meeting with him over a review. I hadn’t, I’d been monumentally angry with myself for missing a high score+ bonus – and it drove me bananas because all people saw was “crying lady” when they looked at me after hearing his description of me. Or so I felt.

      It got to the point where I corrected him. Maybe shouldn’t have done it but it was just going way too far for me, and I was sick of eing constantly told that I needed to stop being so emotional because ‘example that is FALSE’.

      Didn’t like it but eh. It was retail.

  16. AMG*

    It would really bother me if the managing partner thought I had cried. I would still really want to set the record straight, but I don’t understand why there isn’t anything good that could come of it. To me it goes back to keeping your reputation intact and not just letting people think the worst of you.

    1. A Dispatcher*

      I worry it may do more harm than good, particularly if it was a hyperbole problem or the telephone game effect people have suggested, and OP really has no way of knowing if either is the case.

      If there were concerns before about a need for thicker skin or that OP is too sensitive because of her reaction, bringing it back up may exacerbate those concerns. Besides, actions speak louder than words. In the future if OP continues to show she can handle these situations well and without emotion, that will speak volumes more than anything else.

      1. IronMaiden*

        I might be very immature but the temptation to spread a rumour that he was seen picking his nose at the traffic lights or scratching his junk in public would be too strong.

  17. Gene*

    “But you know how people sometimes describe someone as “yelling” at them when the person isn’t really yelling but is using an angry/serious tone? ”

    Oh boy…

    I have a voice that, if I put a little emphasis into it, can be heard on a windy day across a noisy Eric where people in armor are hitting each other with sticks. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been accused of yelling at someone when I’ve just been trying to emphasize what I’m saying – far too many of those by my long-suffering spouse. If I’m speaking at conferences I don’t normally need a mike. Trust me, if I’m yelling you’ll know. :-)

    1. straws*

      I have an employee like this – he basically has to whisper to reach everyone else’s normal speaking volume. It’s hard to have a private conversation without the entire office hearing, but luckily he doesn’t mind everyone knowing his business :)

    2. ano*

      Yes. But you do at least acknowledge it. I know a few who have this issue and always over emote things but then when another person gets antsy/riled because of it starts an argument about the secondary person being too quick to anger rather than remembering their own tone might have something about it. For some reason the first person *never* feels like she does anything wrong at all. Everyone is just nasty to her!

    3. Kelly L.*

      “A noisy Eric” is probably an autocorrect, but you’ve just made my morning by letting me imagine you yelling over a large, enthusiastic Viking. Thank you. :)

  18. ScaredyCat*

    I took a couple of deep breaths, so I was quiet for a little bit (maybe 1-2 minutes?), but after I collected myself…

    I don’t see anything wrong with that reaction? OK, so maybe saying “hmm…” instead of nothing would’ve improved things, but that seems like such a minor thing.
    Unless… I don’t know, those deep breaths made it seem like the OP was hyperventilating; perhaps that looked scary.

    I’m probably jumping to the wrong conclusion here, but coupled with Katie the Fed’s example as well, it seems that not having an immediate response to any random thing thrown is a weakness. As someone who tends to rush into decisions way too often, I call BS.

    1. tcookson*

      If the OP meant one to two *moments*, then fine, but one to two actual *minutes* is kind of a long time.

    2. BCW*

      I got the image of an a girlfriend taking a deep breath then sighing, then being silent for a few minutes. As a guy, you know that means she is upset

      1. Diet Coke Addict*

        I’ve been sitting on the couch quietly next to my husband for an hour or so, reading and doing nothing, and when I read that I took a deep breath and sighed for no reason, and my husband immediately said “What’s wrong?”

        Truth. (In some cases.)

  19. MaryMary*

    Last summer, I was about six months into a new job and was also building a reputation. I scheduled a status meeting, everyone excepted the invitation, but two of the attendees were no shows at the meeting. I was annoyed
    but went ahead with the meeting with the people who did show up. My manager, who was in the meeting, was much angrier than I was about the situation (there was some yelling). In later conversations he translated my annoyance as being “visibly upset” and didn’t mention his own reaction. OP, maybe something similar is happening to you? For whatever reason, the managing consultant couldn’t say how upset or frustrated he was that the project had to be redone, but he said that you were driven to tears instead.

    My only advice is to address it with the senior partner if you’re comfortable doing so. I had other people in my meeting who could back me up that I hadn’t cried or otherwise become “visibly upset,” and I talked to my no-shows and told them that while I wasn’t pleased, I wasn’t devastated either.

    1. The Clerk*

      For whatever reason, the managing consultant couldn’t say how upset or frustrated he was that the project had to be redone, but he said that you were driven to tears instead.

      That does put a different spin on it. It could be that the managing consultant was griping to the senior partner about having to scramble to meet this deadline, and said something like, “Oh, man, it was insane trying to pull that together. You should have seen Jane; she about burst into tears when I told her! But hey, the clients loved it. Whew!” Meanwhile “about” turned into “actually” and the senior partner zeroed in on what was meant to be a throwaway statement.

      1. Kou*

        Ohhhh my god I think this might be it. Plus she’s newer, she was obviously miffed, and she’s the only woman in the equation.

  20. Anonymous*

    Don’t know if anyone’s mentioned this, but I use this all the time when asked for huge effort/grand scope/complete redirects:

    “All things are possible, given sufficient time and/or resources.”

    And then I find out exactly what they need and tell them what’s required to get the result they want.

  21. HR CoolFish*

    OP- You have my sympathies. And yes, I do think it’s a gender thing coupled with the 3rd party info pass.

    I would clarify this with your boss though. It’s amazing how one single (perceived) incident can affect your reputation, as Katie the Fed pointed out so well.

    I was the “go-
    to” guy for many years, I used to say my title was “Fill” cause the company would send me all over remote Alaska to help in some crisis. There was one incident with the new HR Director that I had to decline, My plate was full and he had no idea the time and commitment needed for what he was asking for. At that moment I became “the guy who only does what he want’s to do”. There was nothing I could do after that to recover my reputation there. I think you have a chance though.

    Hell, you got quiet because you were deep in thought on how to handle this, mulling over ideas and methods to make this work.

    Your boss should have empathized with your lost weekend and thanked you for getting the project done.

  22. Ellie H.*

    I wonder if vigorous denial of tears would actually have a good effect. It seems like the proverbial protesting too much. Why not just say something like she is surprised to hear she was described as being visibly upset and actually crying though naturally she was briefly taken aback when she learned the client was requesting an entirely new project at the last minute. Repeating that she was not, definitely not, I repeat not in tears seems a little obsessive to me and like it would further emphasize whatever reaction she had (or as it were, didn’t have).

  23. Cassie*

    Anytime I hear people relaying a conversation or an incident, I always take the descriptions about emotions with a grain of salt. At our office, at least, everyone interprets situations differently and it really depends on who is re-telling the story. I was at a meeting where one staffer made a suggestion and the boss said “ok, why don’t you look into that more”. That staffer told someone else that the boss was super impressed by her suggestion – I wouldn’t say was an accurate depiction of the incident. Yes, he did tell her to go forward, but it wasn’t like he was lavishing her with praise for this novel idea.

    For something like that, it’s not that big of a deal (we don’t get brownie points based on how enthusiastic our bosses are), but when it’s something like the OP’s case, it can potentially be a problem. I feel like it’s a huge game of telephone, and the only way I’ll trust something is if I see/hear it.

    It’s possible the senior partner just said “she seemed upset” and it was the supervisor who took it as “the OP burst into tears” and also the fact that the senior partner mentioned it must mean that it’ll hold the OP back in the future. Or the senior partner did really use those words and say all that, but who knows.

    1. ano*

      Yeah. I had a discussion with my Outgoing Husband (divorce pending) and said “we’ve kept this calm but lets be sensible and take some apart time. I know you want to do X this weekend, how about you arrange to spend more time with that person and go tonight? Come back Sunday, give us some space for a few days” (wouldn’t be a problem for that person and I knew it). He went and told our lodger “She chucked me out….”

      Umm… no!

  24. mel*

    Well that’s a downer.

    Someone has to work hours on a project until nearly finished and then boss makes him/her start over from scratch on his/her own time…

    And a sigh and a pause is not considered calm enough? Really? REALLY?

    1. Whippers*

      I know.. is it any wonder people go crazy when they’re expected to internalise every negative emotion they might have.

  25. Vicki*

    Taking minute or two to breathe is a Recommended Way to avoid “reactionary” … well… reactions.

    Anyone who equates taking a few breathes with “bursting into tears” is not going to accept a sigh and a pause, or a “Hmmmmm” or anything other than an immediate “Yes! Let’s Do This thing!”

    Something is deeply wrong with someone, either the managing consultant or the senior partner.

    OP, you go to your mnanager and you say “I’m confused. I didn’t burst into tears. I didn’t even get moist eyes. I didn’t have an allergy attack. I didn’t get upset. I didn’t raise my voice. I did put in 22 extra hours and the client loved the video. I am very confused about where this feedback is coming from.”

  26. Kate O*

    Is it possible this is an issue with your supervisor? If your supervisor approached the senior partner about your overtime aggressively and with the implication that you were complaining or upset about it, it would make sense for the senior partner to say to your supervisor that you needed a thicker skin, and I can even see the particular phrasing (“she needs to stop bursting into tears”) being used in this instance.

    If I were in your position, I’d keep an eye on my supervisor, especially since he came back to you with what is obviously inappropriate feedback. I’d also find a way to bump into the senior manager and drop a comment about how “those last-minute changes were crazy but doesn’t he agree that the final product was much better?” to give him the opportunity to directly address any issue with you.

  27. nyxalinth*

    I did have a moment where I cried. I’d taken a dispatching job an was still in training, and i forget what I said, but the A-Hole tech I was talking too got very snide and rude with me. In my calmest tones, I saidm “I’m sorry, I’m still in training.” and he started gearing up to say some other snotty thing when the person monitoring me stepped in and took over the call. I went to the bathroom and cried.

    It must have shown in my voice, because A-hole tech told the boss I’d started crying over nothing and the girl monitoring me ha told him off about it. So after two days I got fired because I ‘wasn’t working out and I’d asked for too much money anyway’ and she’d (the boss who’d hired me) ‘had a bad feeling about me after the interview.’ Well, two things: why hire me if you had a bad feeling, and secondly, I ased for the amount that was stated in the ad.

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