Whether you prefer Streisand, Buble or Timberlake, we’re all familiar with the song. As someone who has always been affectionately labelled a “cry baby” by my family, I’ve been thinking recently about the subject of crying, and showing emotion in general, at work. I’m not talking about daily emotional outbursts and drama, I’m talking occasional and natural human responses to difficult and stressful events at work. Society teaches us that crying, nurturing, and expressing emotion at work is something to be avoided and ashamed of, that it is somehow unprofessional. But I’ve learnt that for me, it’s sometimes impossible not to cry in difficult and stressful situations. But that’s OK. Better than OK – it’s displaying a normal human response to stressful and traumatic events.
An interesting article in the Huffington Post earlier this year (“What 15 Female Leaders Really Think About Crying At Work“) highlights the issue perfectly, and makes me feel both inspired and shocked. For example, Facebook COO and Lean In author Sheryl Sandberg said in a 2012 speech at Harvard Business School: “I’ve cried at work. I’ve told people I’ve cried at work… I try to be myself.” On the other hand, Marina Whitman, professor of business administration and public policy, University of Michigan, former vice president and chief economist, General Motors, unwittingly sums up the problem: “Over the course of a long career, I’ve occasionally cried in the office, but only in privacy, never where anyone could see me, though I came perilously close once or twice. Why is it a bad idea? If the person you’re confronting is male, it provides one more excuse to make him think “Isn’t that just like a woman?”
Yes – it is just like a woman. And asking ~50% of the world’s population, plus of course a huge number of guys, to oppress their emotions – it’s wrong! And the only way to normalise it is for us to behave like normal humans with normal emotional responses in the place where we might be, according to Viralnova, spending 99,117 hours of our lives. In my opinion, the benefits of showing emotion in the workplace are HUGE – getting rid of stress straight away rather than letting it build up; openness with your colleagues which in turn allows them to be open with you; and above all, the very reason humans cry according to Scientific American: “Crying implies something is wrong—that we are distressed and in need of assistance”.
Let’s bring emotions out of the closet in 2015 and celebrate who we are!