Crying At Work: For Some, It Can Be A Powerful Tool

“Crying is all right in its own way while it lasts. But you have to stop sooner or later, and then you still have to decide what to do.”
C.S. Lewis

We have been taught that it is bad to cry at work. It makes us look weak, unstable, out of control and too in touch with our feminine emotions. Crying at work is often considered career suicide. But for some, crying at work can actually be a powerful tool, if they only use it rarely and strategically. In fact, crying can actually help people in their careers. We talked to some people about this.

Dr. Christine Tsien Silvers shared her story with The Grindstone:

“When I was a 33-year-old emergency medicine resident at the Harvard teaching hospitals, my husband and I decided that my increasing age meant we could no longer wait to start  our family. Nature was kind and I got pregnant immediately. After much discussion with my residency program directors, I was to be granted a 12-week maternity leave (and subsequently) a delayed graduation from residency to make up the clinical time). I was, however, scheduled to work until 41 weeks gestation (where, of course, a full-term pregnancy is 37-40 weeks).  In those last weeks of pregnancy, I was completely miserable. My back ached horribly during  12-hour overnight emergency room (ER) shifts. The skin on my over-stretched belly was  uncomfortably taut. I was exhausted physically and mentally.

At 40 weeks and zero days gestation,  I was due to start a string of three 12-hour overnight shifts at the Massachusetts General Hospital ER. Earlier in the day, though, I went to the Brigham and Women’s Hospital to get my “post-dates”  ultrasound. The baby looked fine on the ultrasound. As I headed back to the parking garage,  planning to go immediately home to nap before my shift, a car pulled up to me. My chief resident  rolled down her window and called out, “Hi Chris! How are you doing?” My emotions were so tumultuous, I couldn’t even form any words. I simply and uncontrollably burst out in tears. To this,  she said, “Ok, you’re done.” She sent me home and made arrangements so that my maternity leave  started right then and there. (I eventually paid back the five shifts of that week to my co-residents.)”

Dr. Silvers communicated her exhaustion and weak state by crying. But it was powerful because she hadn’t complained and cried everyday at her job before then. That is when crying be a powerful tool.

In Anne Kreamer’s new book It’s Always Personal: Emotion In The New Workplace, she looked at 700 Americans and found that women cried a lot more than men but claimed this was not viewed by others as a bad thing. Specifically, 41% of women had shed tears at work, compared with 9% of men. Both genders said the most common reason for tears was stress from home spilling over into work. “People at all levels of management had cried at work, dispelling the notion it’s career suicide,” says Anne. Another surprise was that men were more sympathetic to the idea of crying at work than women.

People work more than they used to.The lines between work and a personal life are very blurry. There is bound to be some overlap. Plus, companies are starting to look at Emotional Intelligence as an asset. A new survey by CareerBuilder conducted of 2,662 private sector U.S. hiring managers, found that EQ is starting to be seen as more of an asset as opposed to a hindrance in the work environment. Granted, crying during a job interview might be a bit much, but if you can show your EI (emotional intelligence) in a way that makes you seem calm, stable and productive it really might play in your favor.

The study found that 34% of hiring managers place “greater emphasis on emotional intelligence,” and  71% “value emotional intelligence in an employee more than IQ.” In fact in addition to these findings, 59% of employers would not hire an applicant who has a high IQ, but low emotional intelligence. The high EI was found to beat out the high IQ group 75% of the time when it came to being offered a job. Sometimes vulnerability can be looked at as a strength.

But can crying really help you in your career? One young woman we spoke with said she started a job at a newspaper and was promised a certain title and salary and then didn’t get either when she started even though she was doing the work of the higher position. After months of asking her boss for either the salary or the title with no satisfaction she finally, mostly out of exasperation, started crying in his office. He was so perplexed by how to handle this that he offered her more money. This was a last resort tactic, but it worked.

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    • Trish

      I really resent that this article is aligning releasing an overwhelming emotion via crying as a bargaining tactic.

      I am a crier. I tend to cry with any heightened emotion, whether it be happy, sad, stressed, angry, etc. I have luckily mostly mastered this tendency, and can keep the water works at bay.

      People who “use” crying to get what they want are just unprofessional, and frankly manipulative.

      I think when a person is honestly so overwhelmed that the only that can happen is tears is a valid emotional response, even if it does make others uncomfortable. We need to stop seeing women crying as a tool to get others to do what they want or as a sign of weakness, but for what it really is, an emotion being expressed.

      And to any women who do actually try to cry in order to get what they want from work, stop it. That is what children do.

      • Raero

        Amen sister!

    • mm

      This is so timely. I mean, you couldn’t have chosen a better day to post this. I cried at work for the first time today – almost lost it in a meeting but held it together until afterwards when I broke down outside to a co-worker who hadn’t been in the meeting. It was totally about stress from work combined with stress from family and boyfriend and everything else…I’m just glad I held it together (barely) in that meeting. It was mortifying. Luckily my co-worker, a guy, was super nice and gave me a pep talk. I’m 21 and work with people who are mostly over 35 in a serious setting with a legitimate position, not an internship. It’s intense!! It sucked having everyone looking at me like “oh, this poor sweet overwhelmed baby.” At the same time, I think they knew it was legitimate because I NEVER cry and everything has been really crazy there lately.

      I will say, though, that it wasn’t a tactic to get what I wanted. I didn’t want anything, and I was honestly overwhelmed and a little freaked out. I can’t say enough times how glad I am that I held it together until after. I think it shows more when you obviously care but don’t lose it. It shows emotion with strength. Maybe I’m just justifying it to myself, though….haha

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