I Cried Today at Work

6 years ago

I cried today at work. On two different people. In many companies, that's pretty much career suicide. Yelling at people? Not great, not a dealbreaker. Crying on people? Better to throw up on them. But both crying and yelling show a loss of control, so what's the big deal with crying at work?

Credit Image: Nicole Abalde on Flickr

Recently The Wall Street Journal ran a story on emotions in the workplace. I took away: "You're screwed if you do; you're screwed if you don't." For example:

The unhealthful result of what experts call "emotional suppression" has been shown in studies to cloud thinking, promote job unhappiness and negatively impact work performance. That's why experts say that it's important for employees to be attuned to what their emotional triggers are so responses -— even in more extreme cases -— can be predictably managed for more productive outcomes.


Whether you cry or lose your composure because you're blamed for something that wasn't your fault or snapped at by an angry customer, there's a stigma attached to emotional responses in the workplace that compels many executives to just bottle up their feelings.

AWESOME! My waterworks were brought on by some health concerns, not my job, but it all got me to thinking -- how crazy is it that we usually pretend we don't have emotions at work? And why is the expression of frustration -- because let's face it, work tears usually aren't grief tears -- so much worse in crying form than yelling form? Or are they? Here's my interpretation of how much danger each outburst below bodes for your career.

Emotions at Work: A Hierarchy of Suck

[Editor's Note: This list is based on no science at all, whatsoever.]

1. Crying -- again, there really is a difference between crying out of genuine sadness (someone died, your house burned down last week -- what kind of an jerkwit is going to throttle you for that?) and crying from frustration. I'd posit most work tears are anger tears, and you're better served to go ahead and feel the anger (but please don't yell and slam stuff around unless you do it in the Taco Bell parking lot three doors down from your office). Anger can be a useful emotion if you use it as a springboard for positive change. It will give you the energy to move things in a new direction if you're able to harness it instead of exploding. Linda M. Poverny and Susan Picascia write at Women's Media:

If, as you examine your feelings, anger is what you are avoiding, work at becoming more assertive, so you more accurately and appropriately express your anger. When you feel that sensation of crying start to build, take a deep breath and immediately ask yourself, "What exactly is angering me? What do I need to do to resolve the situation?" Re-focus on the problem. This can help calm you down.

2. Slamming Stuff Around. I once had a co-worker who would make big piles of stuff and then MOVE. IT. AROUND. when she was mad. I hated it because it seemed so passive aggressive: We get it. You're mad. Are you mad at us? No? Then could you please storm out? It's hard to concentrate with all the thwacking of paper.

3. Storming Out. While not as corporate-friendly as yelling, it may save you from crying in front of people. If you're in a really big meeting, you can pretend to be getting an urgent call or that you suddenly have something in your contact. Even if you're wearing glasses. The most important part of storming out is removing yourself before you really lose it in front of so many witnesses, all of whom have smartphones with cameras linked to Twitter.

4. Yelling. Yelling seems to be the most corporate-friendly loss of control. Better than throwing things, better than crying -- yelling may make your co-workers slink past your office door like scared rabbits, but generally speaking they won't whisper to themselves that you're definitely getting passed over for the next promotion. Why is yelling better than crying? THERE IS NO GOOD REASON. People feel bad when they've been yelled at. It's very demotivating. And it doesn't really make you look like you're in charge, either. A 2011 study found that people will hop to after being yelled at, but they aren't able to be creative with their solutions. Then again, who needs creativity on the job? But I've worked with and for many a yeller, and I've never understood why yelling is not as gauche as crying at work.

When I think about why people get emotional at work, it gets even more confusing. Unless you're dramarific all the time (and some people are), usually getting emotional means you care about what you're doing and are pouring yourself into your work. Would it really be better if we all laughed off our problems because -- at the end of the day -- we didn't really care as long as the check cashed? 'Cuz I have known plenty of cool cucumbers who could sit through any tense work-crisis meeting without breaking a sweat -- and most of them were calm because they were actually thinking about quitting their jobs before the poo really hit the fan.

Obviously, I'm being a little facetious. I am known far and wide for being melodramatic, but I also really really care about both my job and my work reputation. On those days that I lose it, I try to apologize or at least explain. And then I try to kick some extra ass to make up for it.

Jezebel writer Anna North refers to Mrs. Moneypenny, who says:

Moneypenny quotes Elizabeth Taylor: "Success is a great deodorant." She adds, "the best thing you can do is go in there the next day and act like nothing happened and not cry." Your coworkers will soon remember your recent successes, not your past meltdown.

Have you ever cried at work? How much does yelling versus crying bother you? Have I got the order of my list wrong?

Rita Arens authors Surrender, Dorothy and is the editor of the award-winning parenting anthology Sleep is for the Weak. She is the senior editor for BlogHer.com.

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