A new study says that crying at the office can be detrimental – to your (career) health. According to the report, shedding tears in the workplace “sends out signals of vulnerability – a violation of cultural norms -- and it tends to be off-putting. For that reason, your colleagues and managers can lose respect for you.”
That’s no surprise to Shontaye Hawkins, business coachand CEO of ProfitIsTheNewBlack. “It shows a sign of weakness, whether that’s true or false, right or wrong,” says the workplace culture expert. The office, “is not a place for crying. It’s ‘we have a job, we get it done, no matter what.’ When we have to deal with someone who’s slowing down progress, it can be seen that this person can’t handle the work load.”
A teary meltdown at work may be perceived differently, depending on whether you’re a man or a woman.
“When you see a man cry, it’s a little bit stunning and shocking,” Shontaye explains. “In general, society really doesn’t accept men being emotional.” And while some may consider him weak after he cries, a man’s tears can also be taken as frustration that the work isn’t getting done competently. If a woman has the same reaction, some may give her a pass, though many say she’s “too emotional to lead.”
Shontaye recalls a former colleague who let the waterworks flow one night in the office. “It was all the stress and pressure; she was having a tough time with a project coming together. And one of my co-workers said, ‘there’s no crying in real estate banking, you can’t do that here.’” But those tears don’t always translate to a fault. “As women, it’s the passion and care and concern we have, by nature, that leads to that emotion, not a weakness. It can mean she’s going to dig in so much that that passion shows up in tears.”
Those tears should come in a private setting, if at all possible. “It’s a shock to our pride and everything we believe in to get feedback that’s not so favorable. In that moment, you don’t want to start bawling.”
Shontaye advises leaving the office, if you can. “Take a walk, get some fresh air if you can, call a friend.” Once you’ve pulled yourself back together, start arming yourself with what you need to do a better job next time. “Tell your superviser ‘I appreciate this feedback, what can I do to do better next?’” Having the right tools to get the job done won’t leave you feeling as vulnerable in the future.
If you are a boss who cried in front of your employees, Shontaye has these action steps. “Set up a meeting with your team, and apologize for your error, but not for crying,” she says. “Own up to your mistake, and explain how you’ll move forward to get it right for the team in the next go round.”
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