Today’s issue: tears in the workplace. On this, folks either wholeheartedly agree with me, or think I’m an awful ogre. My stance is this: There is no crying in baseball. Or librarianship. Or in any other career you want to be taken seriously at. Don’t do it at work. Really.
(Note: I am not talking about the rare bout of tears that occurs when exhaustion overtakes you because you’ve been dealing with long illness, when you receive news of a death, that sort of thing. We’re human. I understand that. What I’m looking to address here is the issue of tears that occur during professional conversations at work that are not related to: your surprise hysterectomy, your cancer diagnosis, your wife leaving you for the mailman that morning, etc.)
It’s quite popular to get up in arms over this issue, stating that a “no crying at the workplace” attitude is inhuman, doesn’t take into account the fact that people are human beings, and may have issues outside of work affecting them. I’ve been accused of being heartless for being impatient and unimpressed with tears when discussing disciplinary issues with employees. While some folks are fine with regular bouts of tears, I and a number of other managers are not, and we do have our reasons. While the choice is yours about how much emotion and sensitivity you choose to display in the workplace, it *does* have consequences. To think that it doesn’t is naive and downright foolish.
1. Crying is manipulative. It takes attention away from the issue that needs to be addressed and places it directly on the crier as a personal issue, whereas workplace issues are not personal. They are *work*. If crying is a recurring theme every time your manager wants to meet with you, it may be seen as manipulative and an attempt to avoid necessary professional conversations and criticism.
2. If your way of dealing with constructive criticism of your work is to become overtly emotional, how am I supposed to trust you with larger projects, larger risks, and with presenting a public face for whatever organization we’re in? What if I need you to make a report that will be unpopular with the full faculty? The director? The public? I can’t, and that’s the bottom line, so don’t expect to get those assignments. They’re going to the non-crier.
3. While I am not asking you to be a complete automaton, I *am* asking you to maintain some professional integrity. No, I do not take you seriously if you cry. If that offends you, I’m sorry, but not really. We can speak about this again once the waterworks are turned off and you can hold a conversation without snuffling and snotting all over the place.
4. It’s childish. No, really. If your mechanism for coping is to burst into tears, how the hell are you going to be useful to me when I start dealing with downsizing, redistributing workflows, and other transitions in a crappy economy and stressful times? No thanks.
5. I’ve heard it argued that my attitude about crying in the workplace is a shame, since people should be free to expose exactly how they’re feeling. Um, not really. You are free to express your emotions in a professional manner. Occasionally I want to jump up and down on desks and scream and shake wet noodles at recalcitrant staff – but I don’t get to do that. Just like you don’t get to throw a tantrum and scream and pound on the floor when you’re frustrated, you don’t get to bawl at work and still be considered a professional. Nope. And it’s highly likely that even the folks patting your back are giving the “omgcrazy” look to colleagues over your head.
6. While I am concerned with how you feel – and by “feel,” I mean how our conversation will impact your ability to accomplish the work you need to do – I am not concerned with being your bosom buddy. Do criers take into account how the manager “feels” when a perfectly professional discussion spirals down into tears and incoherent mumblings? How about how that manager feels when they know this is your reaction to what *should* be professional discussions? Like it or not, you’re cultivating a reputation with your manager. Even if the manager never says a word, if they cringe every time they have to speak to you, knowing they’re going to get the waterworks, you’re not doing your career any favors.
I understand that some folks are more sensitive than others, and that some people’s natural reaction to being frustrated is to tear up. I’ve had a number of good friends come to me about this. My heartfelt recommendations:
- Work is not personal. Workplace criticism should be seen as a chance for you to improve your performance, not as a blow to your self-esteem. If it’s the same criticism over and over again, now, don’t cry over it. Change your danged behavior. Your manager is not “out to get you.” Your manager is out to meet the goals and milestones set by administration and their department. Your relationship with your boss is (and should be) based on how you fit into meeting those goals.
- Your boss is not your friend. Oh, you can be friends on weekends and at night, you can pal around and do barbecues with the family and all that. But at work, be very clear: you are there to work, and the relationship is different, however subtly. You need to be aware of this, or it’s going to come as a shock when your “pal” does your performance appraisal and it’s not all rainbows and pillowfarts just because you have a few beers together on Friday nights.
- Make a list. If you know you get flustered or frustrated easily, and it leads to tears and/or emotional outbursts, be sure to make lists of items to bring up in meetings. This is useful for a number of reasons. You can take notes and concentrate on the substance of the words instead of getting overly upset. If you are in the meeting to discuss your concerns, the list will make sure you address everything you wanted to – it is easy to leave out important items when you get flustered. Keeping a list and notes might also tend to pull you back into a more professional demeanor, since it keeps your hands busy and is a good way to keep yourself on-task.
- Hold it in. No, really. Wait until you get to the restroom, outside the building, your car, home, the shooting range, the gym, whatever. unless you’ve got a damned good reason that you can coherently explain, do *not* cry in your manager’s office, or at work in general. Really. Does that sound inhuman? Maybe. But how much do you want to be taken seriously? Think about it. If your reaction to interactions at work is to cry, you’re either in a very unhealthy workplace, or you’ve got to learn to deal with things in other ways if you’re going to be taken seriously.
You get no kudos from me for knowing yourself so deeply, for being proud of your oversensitive nature and parading it around as a badge of honor that . There are other personal things you don’t get to display at work – your fetishes, your bare feet, your skill with flambe – why would you think that emotional displays are any different?
Yes, I realize I’m making judgments here. A library pal of mine whose work I admire would say I’m trying to judge when it is and isn’t okay for people to be emotional. And I will nod and say “That’s exactly what I’m doing.” I’m okay with that, because I firmly and sincerely believe that it is *not okay* to pull that shite at work, and I don’t mind saying it.