Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Can you cry at work? 2 books explore the issue

Two books came across my path this month, both of them about crying--and both with data that women can use to better manage expressing themselves with tears at the office.

It's Always Personal: Navigating Emotion in the New Workplace takes a new approach to the issue of crying, using research to suggest that the office landscape may be more amenable to tears than has been previously thought.

Author Anne Kreamer, a former executive with Nickelodeon, starts with her own experience--and you'll find her opening story of getting screamed at by the chairman of her company's parent on a day when she'd scored her biggest success a heart-wrenching tale, and perhaps a familiar one. Here she describes her reaction at the end of that traumatic phone call:
The viciousness of the assault and the suddenness with which he ended it were breathtaking. In shock and frustration, having been too stunned and scared to defend myself, the tears that had begun to well up during the call spilled out, as I tried to process the information. Was I at fault? Had I done something wrong?...I was physically shaking with the anger that I felt but could not safely or appropriately express, and my body understood that I had to expel that anger somehow...so I cried. Bam! Just like that. In less than two minutes I'd gone from feeling on top of the world to feeling like scum on a pond--and worse, a specific pathetic subspecies, crying female scum.
At its base, this book describes an internal struggle about how we communicate in the workplace as women, a different form of "public speaking" that women often feel they need to hide, disguise or avoid. In an interview with Kreamer, Marketplace Money reported:
In her research, 41 percent of women reported they had cried at work during the past year and 9 percent of men. The surprising finding was that crying made no difference whatsoever in terms of a person's success; people at all levels of management reported crying on the job....Contrary to some expectations, male managers reported to Kreamer's survey they were fine with female employees crying. Kreamer found that it was actually female managers who were harsher against crying female employees.
Calling tears at the office "the check engine light on your dashboard," Kreamer suggests they're a signal of deeper issues that should prompt the question "what are they telling me?" (In her case, it led to a career change.) Her book includes not only survey data but a new take on the Myers-Briggs Indicators to help you determine how you handle tears and emotion at work. You can take a mini-version of the survey at the link.

The book Curious Behavior: Yawning, Laughing, Hiccupping, and Beyond looks in more detail at the science behind our tears. This review on Brain Pickings blog shares a critical point from the book: Both laughing and crying:
....don't have an on-off switch....it's easier to prevent a bout of crying than to stop it once under way. Crying causes more crying...In fact, voluntary control has little to do with starting or stopping most crying or laughing.
Maybe that's why crying makes you feel so out-of-control -- perhaps we can sense that it's not easy to stop it once it starts, and understand the consequences.

Go here to listen to the Marketplace Money interview with Kreamer and read the related article here.