A Real Crying Shame


When a woman cries in public, even against her best intentions to remain cool under pressure, studies show that it unleashes negative stereotypes, even in 2011.

However, it's a different story when powerful men such as U.S. House Speaker John Boehner and broadcaster Glenn Beck happen to unleash the waterworks.

In fact, these incidents, plus well-publicized recent research conducted by Kim Elsbach, a professor of management at the University of California/Davis, published in Forbes, has tapped into a wellspring of interest on the subject of crying at work.

While prominent women like Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi often get criticized for their "unfeminine" emotional restraint, crying on the job is just shy of being a career killer in many professional settings.

As a generation of women ascends the success ladder, one part of the price involves going against their natural tendency to show emotion.

Ellen Pober Rittberg — parenting expert, attorney and author of 35 Things Your Teen Won't Tell You, So I Will — had been put through her paces on the job, and has much to say on the subject.

Times may be changing, but some women need a little help in this area to train themselves not to cry, Pober Rittberg points out in her book.

She insists that keeping emotions in check in the workplace is the only way one can hold on to dignity, self-respect and the respect of others.

Conditioned Not to Cry
Elsbach's three-year study about crying in the workplace reinforces Pober Rittberg's advice. According to her research, women are much more likely to cry at work because of the way they are socialized as girls, while boys are conditioned not to cry.

Unfortunately, the nature and nurture that shape women, even with strong female role models, sends them to their adult career playing field with a clear disadvantage. And tears can be rewarded with harsh consequences.

Anne Kreamer sheds more insight on the subject in her book, It's Always Personal: Emotion in the New Workplace, which documents that 41 percent of women surveyed said they have cried at work, compared with just 9 percent of men.

All of those same women expressed the wish that they hadn't.

New York-based executive recruiter Patricia H. Lenkov acknowledges that the way young women are raised puts them at a disadvantage. She stresses the need to abide by the unwritten rules of business conduct: While they don t have to close down their emotions, women must understand that there are appropriate times and places to express them.

While it is healthy to cry at home, or go to the gym and get it all out, the expectation is that when you step through the door into the workplace, you are there to be a professional and keep it together, says Lenkov.

When you break down at work, you make people uncomfortable, and their perception of your being a leader and making good judgments is compromised; you cross a barrier that should not be crossed because people cannot deal with it from the other side. They are not trained to comfort you, as handling other people's crying is not part of most job descriptions.

It's not exactly a win-win for bosses, either. Philadelphia's John Eric Jacobsen, founder of Jacobsen Business Programs, Inc., cautions in his writings that "if you let an employee have their way or break normal company culture because they have cried, you're teaching them that tears are the road to your decision-making. You've taught them where you're weak and where your buttons are, and you can be sure they'll use the same tactic again for future manipulation."

Meanwhile, Lenkov points out, as do many books on the subject, that there are all sorts of anti-stress techniques that can be used to put the best face forward at work — the one without the tears. These include such common-sense measures as taking a short walk, closing the office door for a moment of privacy and asking the person on the other end of a conflict if the topic can be discussed later.

Sharon Melnick, a national expert on success under stress in the workplace, adds that the physiological reality is that a women's tendency to cry is an adaptive response that her body is set up to do in order to process emotions and move past them.

Men, on the other hand, have a low level of the hormone that sets women up to have that response.

Even with our bodies calling the shots, Melnick adds any person who wants to be a leader must be able to think clearly and decisively in situations, and not take things personally.


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