Are you familiar with the saying ‘Big girls don’t cry?’ Well, according to recent research on emotion in the workplace by Anne Kreamer, author of the 2011 book, It’s Always Personal: Emotion in the workplace, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The dominant perception that crying at work is detrimental to one’s career is today being challenged by thought leaders around the world.
From the biological perspective, women are more susceptible to crying due to the prolactin hormone (the hormone that controls crying) being six times more present in our pituitary gland than men. Subsequently, crying is broadly defined as a “feminine” activity. If there is a biological argument for women showing more emotion than men, then shouldn’t this be embraced in the workplace and play a part in gender diversity discussions of a male-dominated corporate world?
In a study taken from Anne Kreamer’s book, she found that 41 percent of women and 9 percent of men reported that they had cried at work during the previous year and that it had no impact on their success. Is emotion, and indeed crying, part of a new workplace culture, making it acceptable and actually OK?
According to Kreamer, the fiction of the workplace being only about return on investment is now but a myth. Likewise, Sheryl Sandberg, Technology executive and Facebook COO, who has confessed to crying at work, said in an interview with Mint, an Indian business daily, that there is nothing to fear in crying at the office as it can actually promote close bonds and help build relationships.
We must remember that emotion is a natural function of the body designed to help us get through physical and cognitive dangers. Therefore, emotions don’t cease to exist once we hit the office floor.
The main reason many women fear showing emotion at work is because of the misconception that crying signifies weakness, instability and an inability to lead. In fact, crying at work is usually a manifestation of inner frustrations that have been suppressed due to workplace pressures. Peggy Drexler, Assistant professor of Psychology at Cornell University, writes in her article, “The Dos and Don’ts of Crying at Work,” that crying at work can be a powerful tool if employees learn to recognise that most emotion at work stems from frustration, and not sadness. On the other hand, crying is proven to reduce anxiety and stress and improve productivity, showing the human side of leadership.
“There is no tissue ceiling,” according to Kreamer, she goes on to add, “If you cry, you are not management material that is not true. The occasional display of empathy and emotion, not pushed under the carpet, can be healthy.”
Essentially, conveying emotion at the right time in the workplace can help to open up dialogue and bring issues to the surface. When co-workers gather to support a colleague, it can foster a working culture and environment where colleagues feel they are truly part of a team.
So, when then is it OK to cry?
Methods for managing emotions at work
The key differentiating factor between crying at work being acceptable or not rests in the word genuine. An outward display of emotion at work must be authentic because anything other than this will be considered manipulative, such as crying after receiving constructive criticism from a boss. In addition, crying in large groups or in front of clients can also create discomfort and awkwardness and is considered inappropriate as part of the executive-client relationship.
In order to avoid scenarios such as these, below are three useful methods for managing emotion at work:
1. Take time to understand what you are feeling
As discussed above, crying is often not a result of sadness, but internal frustrations manifested through emotion. The best strategy is to unravel the root cause of your frustrations quickly before they build up. Begin to ask yourself why you feel this way and take action to resolve and remediate the issues you are facing.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask for a moment
This is especially relevant when you are in big groups or a meeting. In her article, Magnolia Ripkin, blogger and Life Coach, writes that crying is “a big no-no,” but if you are going to do it, she advises, don’t be afraid to ask for a moment to compose yourself. Go out, breathe, refocus and find your balance.
3. Use techniques that create distractions
Carry a prop to put a barrier between yourself and the problem, or change the topic of conversation if necessary to divert your mind from the issue that is provoking a reaction. Kreamer also recommends writing down your views and thoughts before you enter a difficult discussion. This will help facilitate a rational and logical conversation in your favour. Being prepared beforehand for stressful or frustrating situations can ensure you get through them with all emotions intact.
The workplace is indeed changing and the barriers between personal life and work life are morphing as working hours increase and we spend more and more time at work. Although showing emotion at work can foster trust between colleagues, a full awareness of what is causing our frustrations in the first place is equally important.
Take time out for yourself to truly understand why your stress levels are building up, and if you do cry, ensure it is appropriate and combined with clear lines of open communication so that the underlying issues behind the tears can be addressed.