Recently on the blog of the Harvard Business Review, writer Deborah Milstein weighed in on the controversial subject of crying. Not in your beer. At work. She cited the appearance of President Obama, shedding a few tears as he thanked campaign workers and volunteers for helping him secure a second term, which you can see on video and notes: “When he wipes his face, making it clear that, yes, he’s really crying, his audience applauds.”
Milstein goes on to note that while other males – Bill Clinton, John Boehner, Steve Jobs – have gotten a free pass on crying, it’s still frowned upon for women. She argues: It shouldn’t be. “Crying in a work context is sometimes appropriate, acceptable, and even, as Obama demonstrates, admirable….Tears–and any other authentic display of emotion–show that we’re deeply moved, which in turn moves our audience.” She cites cases of colleagues leaving and crying as they take their leave as well as her own tears after a mentor passed away.
Those instances seem valid to me as well, but I worry that – particularly for women – once tears are considered allowable, there may be no going back. As someone who has – on rare and not always appropriate occasions – cried at work, I have regretted it every time. I have gotten teary upon hearing I would not be getting a job I fought for, upon learning that someone else was being promoted before me, and once when I was being nudged off staff and into a freelance capacity.
For weeks if not months afterward, I had trouble carrying on even the most basic workaday discussions with the boss who witnessed the episode. I would lose not just confidence in my ideas but the ability to generate them. It was as if a different version of me had taken my place – and I couldn’t get that Genie (or Jeannie) back in the bottle.
Like it or not, we live in a world where women are still often paid less than men for doing the same work. (For extremely current proof check out The Simple Truth About The Gender Pay Gap from the American Association of University Women). One big reason continues to be that women do not negotiate. We do not ask for what we are worth. This has to stop, which means that oftentimes we have to find our voices. Unwanted tears have, on occasion, robbed me of mine. I don’t think we should encourage them.