Why is crying such a bad thing in business?

In last week’s Deep Dive post, I explained why women are biologically and socially conditioned to cry more when we’re frustrated.

Crying is a normal human reaction that releases toxins and sheds hormones. As Goudreau says, “it’s important that professionals do not avoid crying entirely.” Nevertheless, crying at work is a major faux pas.

In business, people are expected to react rationally to feelings of frustration and anger. Both men and women see crying in business as a “sign of weakness or irrationality.” In public meetings, crying is considered very disruptive, while in private performance reviews or meetings, crying can be considered manipulative. Even crying because of personal loss, if prolonged, can be seen as “unstable or weak.” Part of the problem is that people naturally want to comfort someone who is crying, but this is inappropriate in business, and so it creates a very awkward situation. As Goudreau puts it, “when control is everything, crying will get you alienated.”

Men are especially unforgiving about crying. While normally I would not agree that women should have to change their behavior to suit men’s expectations, it is a sad fact that men still hold the majority of managerial positions. Unfortunately this means that women have to be “more stoic than a man” to be treated equally.

But why can’t men handle tears? It again comes down to biology. According to a study from the Weizmann Institute of Science, men’s testosterone levels drop significantly when a women cries. Since, according to pychiatrist Judith Orloff,  “testosterone is a key power hormone that gets corporate executives in warrior mode,” men are hormonally threatened when women cry.

Crying also affects men emotionally. When a female coworker cries, men tend to associate her with “their own wife, daughter, sister or mother” and become uncomfortable as their try to maintain their professional distance.

But men aren’t the only ones who view crying with disdain. Women also expect a  certain amount of professionalism in the workplace and look down on excessive displays of emotion. Martha Stewart, for example, coldly told a young women on NBC’s “Apprentice,” that “women in business don’t cry, my dear.” Those who have cried in the workplace feel no differently; women who cry at work have felt “intense shame, embarrassment and disappointment in themselves.” Many have said that crying had been “incredibly damaging to their success, saying they’d lost promotions and even board seats.”

What should I do when I feel like crying?

Business is business. Women and men expect a certain level of professionalism in the workplace, and that includes self-control over emotions. It can be detrimentally harmful to your career and professional reputation if you let your emotions take over. But as we all know, it’s not always possible to keep the stiff upper lip. Whenever you feel overly frustrated, or on the brink of tears, Goudreau suggests that you excuse yourself and cry privately. Rather than going to the bathroom, which is still a public space, try going outside where you won’t be heard or seen. To prevent tears from coming every time you get frustrated, practice staying neutral and putting on your “poker face” during stressful situations.

Martha may be onto something when she says business isn’t worth your tears. Give your business your passion. Give it your energy. Give it your best effort. But don’t give it your emotional well-being. There’s enough to cry over without adding work to the mix. It’s okay to cry and it’s okay to want to cry. Just realize that crying has a time and a place, and work is not one of them.

Be sure to check out last week’s post, Part 1: Why women cry more!

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