An intriguing discussion popped up on social media about the consequences of employees crying in the workplace. It all started with a question: “Is crying in the workplace okay? Does it show you are genuinely human or weak or overly sensitive or ______________(fill in the blank)?” Underneath a question like that is the proverbial value assessment: ‘Is crying a good or a bad thing?’ Martha Stewart would approve.
Reporter Stefan Stern wrote an article entitled: Behind Corporate Walls the Masters of the Universe Weep where he reported C-suite executives letting the façade drop to reveal the deep seated absence of meaning in highly intense workplaces. “Men are quitting for the same reasons many women colleagues had done.” That was in 2011. The appalling employee disengagement statistics today speak to failure of management decision-makers to evolve vision to the level where an inspirational sense of purpose delivers the impetus for superior contribution. Meeting quarterly targets doesn’t quite cut it. As long as a sole focus on profit reigns, and everyone accepts leaving untouched potential in the parking lot, disengagement will continue.
Back to the question: Is crying OK?
The short answer in my mind is: “It depends.” I’ve facilitated team breakthroughs when tears released pent up frustration after breaking through repeatedly circling around the elephant under the table. Unless the tough conversations can be held in a way that restores trust, breakthroughs can’t happen. Ask any elephant or sacred cow lurking in the boardrooms of companies. For me, it’s a win when blocks are removed and team members can revitalize agreements of how to better communicate when challenging the status quo is pivotal to progress. I’m even more grateful to the colleague who sheds tears of care for another colleague facing terminal illness or loss in the family. I respect the leader who breaks down to reveal what is really in his/her heart so that the mixed messages can be replaced with genuine honesty. That’s me. What about you?
Is it appropriate to cry in company layoffs? Or if your feelings are hurt? Or if you feel victimized? Or in order to manipulate the social situation to gain attention? Each scenario is unique to the workplace conditions, the situation, and the emotional and social intelligence embedded in workplace interactions.
Emotions are best defined as ‘energy in motion’ so if the workplace code is to repress your emotions a deeper more damaging message is being conveyed. The saying you’ll hear is, “Control your emotions or they will control you.” What control usually means when applied to emotions is to ‘repress’ or ‘avoid’. If you hear that in your company or fall out of your own mouth, it’s a belief that ignores brain science and compromises executive decision-making.
“The idea that business is just a numbers affair has always struck me as preposterous. For one thing, I’ve never been particularly good at numbers, but I think I’ve done a reasonable job with feelings. And I’m convinced that it is feelings – and feelings alone- that account for the success of the Virgin brand in all of its myriad forms.” – Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Group
Capacity to regulate your emotions is essential for sound decision-making for reasons explained in more detail in Decision Making for Dummies: Chapter 5. Intolerance for crying regardless of circumstances is an indicator that the workplace is not prepared to handle change or uncertainty in any kind of practical way for two reasons:
1. Brain science tells us that repression of emotions takes executive decision-making functions off-line which is hardly what you want when making decisions needing higher-level thinking. The image of decision-impaired executives comes to mind. Instead, working with emotions effectively entails regulating your emotions – only possible when you’re more self-aware, and capable of self-managing. Naturally, rather than assuming force is the answer for everything, it helps to acknowledge that you are human. Understanding biology doesn’t hurt either because you instantly process emotional and social data at higher speeds than your rational mind, whether you’re aware of it or not. (See Decision Making for Dummies Chapter 4 and Chapter 17).
2. If crying is judged as a sign of weakness then, from a decision-making and leadership perspective, it’s a signal the company isn’t paying attention to the health of the workplace. And it indicates that decision makers are operating off of what they know or believe to be true. That’s risky if companies want to stay ahead or keep pace with change.
When the only colours in your universe are black and white, it’s challenging to accurately interpret what to do with emotions. It takes aspiring to higher levels of personal awareness and willingness to develop trust in your ability to separate nuances of similar looking situations. It also takes admitting what you know you don’t know and reaching even further to be open to what you don’t know you don’t know. That’s the mark of a bold leader.
1. Monitor how you feel about waking up and heading off to work each morning. If you wake up with excitement and enthusiasm, you’re probably working for yourself.
2. Check in before making a high stakes decision. If you’re scared or attached to being certain about what will happen next, take yourself out for a walk. It’s not a good space to be in for decision-making.
3. If you find yourself crying, ask “Why?” if you find yourself judging others for crying, ask yourself ‘Why?’ What memory or feeling lies at the source of your query?
Self and organizational awareness is predicated on noticing and observing how emotions show up in the workplace, what emotions are provoked, such as snap judgments of incompetence or a more reflective stance, and what evolves as a result. Companies that learn to build inner resilience, also learn to grow at every level, including leaders in positions of authority.
Perhaps crying reveals one point of vulnerability pointing the way. It will take discernment, which is only available at higher levels of self-awareness, to use emotion in the workplace effectively. Otherwise, you’ll hear plenty of “it is either good or bad” types of arguments that fail to seize the opportunity to upgrade trust levels to free the emotional fuel behind engaged performance.
What do you think?
Check out my HuffPost article which tackles the question: If Great Workplaces Outperform the Pack Why Aren’t More Companies Switching?