Next Steps

1. Assess your organization’s culture.

a. Describe your organization’s culture. Which values are rewarded? Which values are discouraged? Which values best fit your own orientation to the world?

b. Share your perceptions with other colleagues and, possibly, with your boss.

2. Identify your friendship rules. Talk to your friends, coworkers, and family members and bring these rules into your consciousness. Write them down. Continue to notice your unspoken expectations. 3. Identify the friendship rules of other women in your life, both inside and outside of work. Help bring these rules into their consciousness. Begin to notice where yours and theirs are similar and different. 4. Become more comfortable with conflict.

a. Make a list of the thoughts and feelings that come up for you when you think about conflict. Notice whether you think about conflict as negative or neutral. b. The next time a conflict or potential disagreement comes up, take the risk to reframe it as just a difference of opinion and stay engaged. Notice what happens. c. Assess how your organization holds or values conflict. Is conflict seen as healthy or as destructive? Is it encouraged or discouraged? Compare your perceptions with your coworkers and, possibly, with your boss.

  An excerpt from my book, New Rules for Women, available at Amazon (]]>

Tears at Work: Natural but Taboo

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.]]>


There’s an expectation that you check your feelings at the door. “Hey, this is the workplace!” It’s not that men don’t cry, but women are more likely to cry when you hurt their feelings in the workplace, and I think it’s really hard to cry in the presence of a man. If you must cry, ask a woman friend to meet you in the restroom and cry with a woman.

Once again, women are set up to be disappointed by each other in the context of the masculine workplace if they expect empathy and emotional engagement from each other, and some women are trying to play by the rules of the masculine workplace to get promoted. Many women in this study, as well as in my consulting and coaching work, have told me how important it is that they not cry at work. Why? Because they will be seen as weak? They will make men uncomfortable? Tears mean you are irrational and out of control? 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 emotion, such as those expressed by tears, they are choking off their ability to fully and authentically express themselves and are suppressing their voice. We will all benefit from working together to change this norm. An excerpt from my book, New Rules for Women, available at Amazon (]]>

Masculine and Feminine Workplace Values

Yes, this is a story about a personal betrayal. But it is also a story about women’s friendship rules crashing into the norms of a “man’s world” where a friendship between two women is destroyed by behavior that is expected between men and rewarded by the organization. A lot has been written about the ways that most workplaces favor and reward masculine workplace values and discourage feminine workplace values, which are described in the table below.

Alice, who worked in an engineering environment, would have found herself right at home in a study conducted by Joyce Fletcher. Fletcher found that the relational practices (which include collaboration, teamwork, coaching, and empathy) preferred by the women engineers in her study were discouraged and undervalued by their organizations, even though the engineers produced good results. She observed that work environments in which engineering is highly valued are often characterized by autonomy, self-promotion, and individual heroics—where self-promotion is essential to being seen as competent.

Table 2. Comparison of masculine and feminine workplace values
Masculine workplace values Feminine workplace values
• Task focus • Community/team focus
• Isolation/autonomy • Connection
• Independence • Interdependence
• Competition—individualistic competitive achievement • Mutuality—achievement of success through collaboration
• Hierarchical authority • Collectivity/flat structure
• Rational engagement (focus on task, logic, and the bottom line—leave personal matters at the door) • Emotional engagement (notice body language and process, encourage relationships, share feelings and personal information, show empathy)
• Directive leadership style • Supportive leadership style
  Alice’s story, then, gives us an example of women’s friendship rules of unswerving loyalty, trustworthiness, and equality clashing with masculine workplace values of autonomy, self-promotion, and individual heroics. The masculine values get rewarded: Alice’s coworker got promoted. And let’s notice that Alice says that men compete for promotions through individual heroics all the time. They just go out for a beer and move on, but Alice and her coworker were never friends again.   An excerpt from my book, New Rules for Women, available at Amazon (]]>