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The Crying Tribe: Men, Women and Emotions in the Workplace

The Crying Tribe: Men, Women and Emotions in the Workplace

By: Anne Kreamer, author of Emotions at Work

My insight into how complicated tears at work can be came first from anecdotal observation. In interview after interview, people consistently started their answers to questions about how they behaved at work by either saying, “I’m a crier, so . . .” or “I’m not a crier, so . . .”

I realized that a de facto sub-rosa “tribe” of criers might exist, including a small subset of men, who regularly behaved in ways that were perceived to be outside the workplace norms.

Attributes of Criers and Non-Criers
Two obvious categories of people emerged, the criers and the non- criers, respectively constituting 25 percent and 75 percent of the total population — but 41 percent and 59 percent of women. Here are some of their attributes.

The “criers,” whether women or men, strongly believe that emotions in general are positive in informing their behavior at work. They more often have female bosses, but also, compared to people who don’t cry, consider their bosses to be “assertive.” When receiving a negative employee performance appraisal, criers say that they often feel like “hitting something” (39 percent) and then feel like crying — which corroborates the findings from studies that suggest that crying is often the more socially acceptable secondary emotional response after anger.

In the survey, we found that there was a kind of emotional cascade that overwhelmed criers regardless of the provocation. At first they almost always have the urge to express their feelings physically, but when prevented by social custom from doing so, they next feel the impulse to lash out verbally — and then, when constrained by workplace norms from showing anger directly, they end up crying.

Why People Cry at Work
For criers, in other words, the emotional constraints of work cause crying. Criers also seemed to take slights — rude customers, being unfairly blamed or not properly recognized for their work by bosses or colleagues, other people at work slacking off — more personally.

But it was in the differences among the things that made women and men cry that the data also illustrated some important gender distinctions.

A large majority of the men (61 percent) who reported crying at work cited personal reasons — an illness in the family, the death of a pet — as the catalyst, while a similarly large majority of the women (58 percent) said it was something that happened at work — being unfairly blamed or criticized, someone else taking credit for work — that made them cry.

From the Book, It’s Always Personal, by Anne Kreamer. Copyright (c) 2011 by Bedoozled, Inc. Reprinted by arrangement with Random House, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.  All rights reserved.

Read more: Management Skills: Managing Emotions in the Workplace