The Complexity of Connection. As one of my research participants explained, in most workplaces where masculine workplace values dominate the culture, you are expected to “leave your feelings at the door” when you come into the workplace.
I have always felt that tears are a natural expression of a wide range of emotions, from intense joy to deep frustration or disappointment, as well as less extreme emotional reactions, such as a release in response to the pressures of deadlines. Both men and women shed tears at work, but because of our socialization, women tend to express emotion more easily and tears come more often for them. Anne Kreamer’s study found that women cry in the office more than men do—40 percent of women cry compared with 9 percent of men.
I feel sad, though, that so many of my female clients feel they must suppress their tears at work. They have sometimes been told by supervisors that they are “too emotional.” When I ask why they think they should stuff down their tears, they have many answers:
- They will be seen as weak if they shed tears.
- They will make their male colleagues and bosses uncomfortable.
- They will be seen as irrational and out of control.
- They have been told that you can’t be a leader and cry.
These reasons have never made sense to me. Expressing a full range of emotions is part of effective communication and authentic leadership. When women (and men) have to choke off their tears, they are choking off their ability to fully and authentically express themselves and they are suppressing their voices.
Here are some ideas for what to do when your emotions and your eyes well up at work.
- Keep breathing, rather than trying to choke your tears down by holding your breath. You will probably find that if you keep breathing you can continue to talk.
- Explain to your coworkers that you are fine and that your tears do not mean you cannot participate in the conversation or meeting. Explain what you’re feeling (frustration, joy, or whatever) right now; these feelings are probably very relevant to what is going on. Just keep talking if you can.
- Excuse yourself and step out if you need a break because your emotions are really strong; then come back when you are ready. Explain your actions and pick up where you left off, thereby demonstrating that people can cry and not become dysfunctional.
Being authentic makes you a stronger leader, not a weaker one. When you are authentic, people will trust you more and become more comfortable with emotions—maybe even with their own. We are, after all, all human.
Where do you stand on this issue? Write to me and let me know.]]>