Have you ever cried at work? What triggered you…a loss? frustration? sadness? anger? Crying at work is a complicated topic. People that do cry at work tend to judge themselves and say…”Oh I should not have cried at work.” People who are on the receiving end of crying are not always sure what to do with the tears other than perhaps secretly hope it won’t last too long. Most men and women, try to prevent tears at work. Yet, we are human and we have a host of emotions. How did such a basic response get so complex?
Perhaps you know coworkers who have been embarrassed by crying at work. Often men and women who are highly empathetic and strong relationship builders find themselves navigating their own tears and tears of colleagues. Multiple studies reveal some facts and perceptions about tears in the workplace.The first fact is that women in general do cry easier. “Part of the explanation is hormonal: Men generate more testosterone, which inhibits crying, while women produce more prolactin, which seems to promote it. Anatomy also plays a role. Men have larger tear ducts than women, so more of their tears can well in their eyes without spilling out onto their cheeks.”
Kimberly Elsbach, a professor of management at the University of California, Davis conducted a study on crying at the workplace. She noted a few differences. “Men (who cried), she says, were uniformly perceived more positively than women. Men even reaped benefits from crying—things like, “it made me feel closer to him” or “it humanized him.” Sadly, the “baseline” view of women was that “women are emotional and lack control.” Women are judged more critically if they cry at work.
We tend to have a range of tolerances for tears at workplaces. A personal loss, it’s okay to cry with the door closed. Frustration, exhaustion, anger- not okay to cry. Happy tears-it depends. How do we learn these rules about crying at work. How did something as real as tears get so complicated? Do tears reduce productivity? performance? ROI?
Are we trapped in this “no tears” landscape because we have not spent time learning how to communicate through difficult conversations? Could we help ourselves by developing our collective emotional intelligence?
Take a moment this week to talk to a few colleagues about tears at work. What are your organizations unspoken rules on tears. Is there any value in testing or challenging those “rules”.
One has to wonder what would happen if we stopped judging those tears and allowed them to be the catalysts for the conversations we truly need to be having.