Have you ever burst into tears during a negotiation? I have, and let me tell you, it wasn’t pretty. I’ll share my story with you because I don’t see tears as shameful, and as I’ve written before, I believe in embracing the awkward.
Several years ago, a position opened up in my department. I was interested in it because it would have meant a promotion and a move into a challenging new specialty. I decided to put my hat in the ring for the role, thinking I’d be a shoo-in as an internal candidate. During the interview — a negotiation in the sense that my employer and I were having a discussion aimed at reaching an agreement about my future at the organization — I was asked a number of tough questions that I unfortunately had not prepared for. As the realization that I was not a fit quickly dawned on everyone at the table, I felt humiliated and eventually burst into tears. The end of the interview is a bit of a blur, but the result was that I was not offered the job and it was eventually filled with an external hire.
I should have done a better job anticipating the questions I’d be asked, but I also would have handled my tears differently had I known then what I know now. Unexpected tears feel especially awful in a professional situation because tears make us vulnerable, and vulnerability might be seen as weakness. “Professional” is often seen as the opposite of “emotional” — but tears don’t have to mean it’s game over for achieving your goals if you know how to handle the situation.
Here are three ways to overcome the obstacle of tears and move forward to achieve your goals.
1. Don’t beat yourself up.
We are all emotional creatures and tears are part of being human — and of being a woman. Women are four times more likely to cry than men, according to Anne Kreamer’s book, It’s Always Personal: Emotion in the New Workplace. She writes about the biology of crying and how to handle tears at work. My favorite tidbit from her research is that men have smaller tear ducts than women, which makes their eyes well with tears, while women’s eyes overflow. There’s a biological reason why women are more likely to cry than men.
2. Own your tears.
Here’s what I say if I burst into tears when I’m not expecting to: “Please don’t be alarmed. I cry easily.” Using this phrase confirms that you are self-aware enough to acknowledge what’s going on and helps put the other person at ease. He or she may feel helpless or unsure of what to do, so give them a task: ask for a tissue. When you show that you’re comfortable with your vulnerability, it gives the other person permission to do the same.
3. Move on.
Tears caused by emotions like anger or frustration are a signal that you care deeply about the issue at hand, and that passion can be reframed as an opportunity — even if you’re crying because someone has criticized you or given you negative feedback. Try saying something like: “I wasn’t expecting that feedback, and I’m upset because this relationship is important to me. How can we move forward from here?”
You can also use tears as an opportunity to change the subject if your negotiation has taken an unproductive turn. Excuse yourself for a few moments. While you regain your composure, think about which direction you’d like to guide the conversation. When you reenter the room, it’s a natural opportunity to start fresh.
This post originally appeared in Women@Forbes, where Alexandra Dickinson is a contributor. She writes about how to use a negotiation mindset to achieve your goals.