Help! I cry in front of my boss

A reader writes: “I am marketing head of a family business, whose founder died. His son is now our boss. His father treated us like family; Junior imposes impossible targets.

“I argue with him, but he does not listen. He questions the way things are done, even if they are fine. My coworker says that I should change or leave. But if Junior does not improve, the business will go down.


“Yesterday I argued with him so much that I cried in front of him. He left the room. My coworker says I should never cry in front of the boss. But I am so frustrated. What can I do?”

I am sorry to hear about Senior’s passing. But the only constant in life is change, and nothing in your letter is proof that Junior is the one solely at fault.


You might have gotten so used to Senior’s familial style that you instinctively resent any change, particularly coming from someone whom I suspect is likely younger than you.

But don’t buy into stereotypes—just because someone is young does not necessarily mean he is incompetent. Junior questions the traditional methods which you claim are fine, but there is always room for improvement.

Give Junior a chance to put his ideas into practice. Put yourself in his shoes: he suddenly has to assume a leadership role he might not have been totally prepared for, and instead of support, longtime employees resent him.

“Your boss may feel uncomfortable with, even intimidated by, your level of experience,” writes US consultant Rebecca Knight in Harvard Business Review (HBR).

“Be sensitive to those feelings and show humility. Recognize that you and your boss have different talents and capabilities that you each bring to the table.”

For instance, you might have more practical experience, but Junior might possess more technical savvy.

Even if Junior is truly as hardheaded as you say, “the boss is only one-half of the relationship,” say US business professors John Gabarro and John Kotter in HBR.


“Developing an effective working relationship requires, then, that you know your own needs, strengths and weaknesses and personal style.”

Should you change your personality, as your colleague suggests? Barring momentous life-threatening trauma, it is difficult for any of us to substantially change.

This means that you should also not expect Junior to fundamentally alter his behavior and mind-set.

“You can become aware of what it is about you that impedes or facilitates working with your boss and, with that awareness, take actions that make the relationship more effective,” say Gabarro and Kotter.

For instance, why do you tend to argue so much with Junior? Perhaps you have used this technique to overwhelm Senior—but Junior is another matter.

Instead of butting heads with Junior, reason out. If you believe that his actions have severe repercussions, then give him facts to bolster your case.

Should you cry in front of your boss?

Crying sometimes works (with a kind boss like Senior), but often it shows that you don’t have enough self-control, that you lack emotional intelligence.

Apologize to Junior for breaking down, and request—respectfully—for him to hear you out. Make sure that you are prepared to present your case, not with emotion, but with reason.

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