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A lady I work with had a family tragedy that caused her an unexpected leave of absence. As a result some of the company's procedures were changed so that in case someone is unexpectedly not able to work for sometime, other people could easily pickup the work. Since the incident was fairly recent I'm sure it's still on her mind. So the topic seems to come up every so often. I notice my eyes tear up when this happens. Yesterday in a Zoom call I thought I was hiding it but could see my eyes were very red. I think my manager didn't want to stay on the call longer because of it. Any advice on how not to tear up or how to hide it? What should I say, I can't think of anything? The lady has a very practical type personality.

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    This is in a very developed country with a very low death rate of young people. Also FWIW I am a man. Feb 15, 2023 at 1:07
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    For the record, I don't think your gender should have any bearing on any answer. Feb 15, 2023 at 3:30
  • Aren't you allowed to be human at work, even when some tragedy happens? My dad died unexpectedly and my coworkers were very supportive and understanding, including my boss. Now that my own dad died I would expect myself to tear up as well if something similar happened to someone else. Being professional does not mean you give up your humanity. Now if this was in front of customers some more stoicism might be called for.
    – user77853
    Feb 20, 2023 at 18:58

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So, I work in Tech, I'm very disagreeable, I'm a manly man - so I want you to bear that in mind when I give you this advice:

If something is tragic enough that it makes you tear up, then don't be ashamed of it.

Unless it's impacting your ability to do your job, let your eyes glisten, politely dab the corners with a handkerchief and then get on with your day.

I'm all for stoicism being sorely needed in modern society - and if you are breaking down into uncontrollable sobs, then I might say differently - but a slight red eye and the occasional Tear?

Own it.

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    There is a concept of being a professional, which places additional standards on people beyond what is usually expected. For instance, while society may find it more acceptable for females to cry, in a workplace environment, it would be equally inappropriate for both genders to cry in certain circumstances. Feb 15, 2023 at 3:24
  • @GregoryCurrie - I agree in part - if he were breaking down in a fit of crying, I'd definitely consider that unprofessional. Sobbing out loud likewise. Red eyes and a few tears? nothing unprofessional about that, if it's in response to a tragic event. Feb 15, 2023 at 5:22
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    @TheDemonLord: even your rule is actually limited. Those red eyes are ok for at most 1-2 days (personal estimation) in a professional environment. After that, the red eyes send different message.
    – virolino
    Feb 15, 2023 at 5:46
  • @virolino - to be fair though, if someone is regularly bringing up a traumatic event for more than a few days afterwards, then perhaps there's other issues at play. Feb 15, 2023 at 5:53
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    @guest - Big Beard, Go hunting, oppose wokeness, go to the gym, subscribe to traditional gender roles, head of my household etc. etc. Feb 15, 2023 at 17:40
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If you focus on how she must feel and the pain and how it must hurt her and poor her, you are likely to tear up instantly.

If you focus on strong traits instead, amazing how she is back working, getting things done, taking it on the chin and climbing above it, you will find your feelings become more awe than cry.

Nothing wrong with tears. It is a guess that the manager ended the call because of you crying - they could have been starting to feel it themselves and bailed. Would prefer to see someone crying for me than hearing, "yes yes very good, can we get back to the meeting now?"

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  • Excellent point! OP should focus on the positive.
    – user77853
    Feb 20, 2023 at 19:01
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Any advice on how not to tear up or how to hide it?

Focus on what's best for HER.

From what I can read from your answer she has made the difficult and admirable decision to move on and get on with her life. If that's indeed the case, the best you can and should be doing is to support her. If she treat it matter-of-factly so you should you.

The more emotion you inject into the interaction the harder you make it for her. You can control and guide your emotion by telling yourself: "This is not about me, it's about her. If she can find the strength to move on, I can find the strength to control myself since that is what she needs me to do".

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Any advice on how not to tear up or how to hide it?

There's nothing wrong with tearing up when it is warranted by the situation. No need to hide it.

While you may be an employee, you are also a human being.

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    I'd be more concerned about people who are totally untouched by the situation, they don't need to tear up but to have no feelings of sympathy or empathy is worse in my book.
    – cdkMoose
    Feb 15, 2023 at 17:11
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While there's nothing wrong showing some emotions, if you want to minimize the tears and the feelings, you can do a few things. Before you start a meeting, mentally prepare yourself to self-control in case something comes up during the discussion. Everyone has its own method or tricks to do that, try yours first.

If it doesn't really help, the trick I know and use in this case is to take a deep breath, while you stare at the ceiling for a couple of second. Eyes wide open. Do that like if you were stretching a sore back, pulling your shoulders back, which is very common when working in front of a computer.

I did that many times to help concentrate and sweep tears away before they come. Keep some tissues on your desk. When I needed to clean a wet eye, I would just first gently wipe my mouth (like when you have wet your lips with your tongue and want/need to dry them) then my eye, so that the move to the eye isn't so obvious.

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Tell her the topic makes you uncomfortable and ask her to not bring it up at group meetings.

Or figure out how to innocuulate yourself against that reaction. If a song makes me tear up, I rehearse it until I can get through it without that reaction. You may or may not be able to desensitize yourself similarly, depending on the topic and why you react so strongly.

Or just pull out a handkerchief, say "excuse me, please go on", and wipe/blow as appropriate. Blame it on allergies if you feel you need an excuse other than "I don't deal well with that topic".

This is presuming the issue isn't central to your job. If it is, you may be in the wrong assignment.

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So the topic seems to come up every so often. I notice my eyes tear up when this happens. Yesterday in a Zoom call I thought I was hiding it but could see my eyes were very red.

Temporarily cover your face with your palms, until you pass the "critical point". Follow the tips below. Turn off the camera and the microphone temporarily.

I think my manager didn't want to stay on the call longer because of it.

It makes no sense to guess what goes on through people's minds. Or why they do things. So, do not worry about why the manager did something, as long as it does not have any (negative) direct consequence

Any advice on how not to tear up or how to hide it?

Here are several tips. I use them when I happen to be in emotional situations.

  • make an "intellectual" effort to detach my mind from the emotions;
  • breathe deeply and slowly; a well-oxygenated brain works better;
  • mind's control over body - use your mind to stop your crying and your red-ness in your eyes;
  • drink a little water (if possible and if appropriate);
  • find a way to not speak during the emotional episode; the "crying" will be noticeable in the voice, and not necessarily in an admirable way;
  • you might want to use some paper issue / handkerchief to remove your (traces of) tears; do it gently, to no add to the redness;

What should I say, I can't think of anything? The lady has a very practical type personality.

You do not need to say something every time when the discussion pops up. If you said something once, it is (usually) enough. I am not a "nice-talker", so I limit myself to the basics. I might go with something like:

I am sorry for < what happened >. If there is anything that I can help with, please let me know.

Please be aware that you might need to live to your promise and actually provide help, if requested. Do not just talk for looking / sounding nice.

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