Big girls DO cry

Rather than keeping your emotions in check, as a leader it’s as important to be human as it is to be strong and smart.

Current Job Listings

I grew up in an emotionally distant family. For years I heard “big girls don’t cry.” But why not? Crying is a basic human emotion and a natural release of stress. The media shows men crying including the former Speaker of the House John A. Boehner and  President Barack Obama who cried while talking about the Sandy Hook shooting.  Can showing emotion in the workplace become a strength rather than a weakness?

Is crying a weakness?

A study found that men cry less often than women because they lack the hormone which enables them to cry and because men perceive it as a sign of weakness.  The facts show 97% of women indicated that showing emotion was a sign of strength in men, while 80% of men thought women would not want them to be emotional. Crying makes people uncomfortable because they don’t know how to respond. But crying is a genuine feeling which can draw people closer.  

Why are we uncomfortable about showing emotion at work?

41% of women have cried at work at some point in their careers, and 52% of employees admit to losing their temper at work.  Women cry five times more often than men, and 65% of women end up sobbing (compared to 6% of men). Men feel better after crying at work, but surprisingly women feel worse.

Not showing emotion makes you appear robotic and not authentic and leads to stress

Holding back tears can even hold you back professionally. Trying to keep a calm exterior can suppress creativity and collaboration. People want to see your passion. Inspiring leaders like Microsoft’s previous CEO Steve Ballmer are known for jumping, screaming, and showing emotion. Leaders use emotions to find solutions and inspire action.

Are there good and bad emotions?

Some people construe crying and anger as negative emotions while they see pride or excitement as positive emotions. Your expression of emotion should fit in with the corporate culture. Genuine emotion can have a positive impact. A study found that people who react emotionally when they failed at a task were more successful with the next related task. Showing passion can also provide inspiration and motivation.

Emotions can be a source of strength

  • Own your tears. They are a genuine expression. Acknowledge your passion.  Others will see this as positive.  If the tears turn into sobs, excuse yourself until you have regained control and then return. Crying can unite a room.
  • If someone cries, acknowledge and validate their emotion.  Don’t try to ‘understand’ how they feel. Crying is a visceral reaction. Act professionally, allow the group to regain balance and focus.
  • Expressing anger at work can be powerful, particularly when related to the violation of a moral premise or correcting injustice.

Women in leadership tend to suppress their feelings. They strive to be perfect, overthinking how they are perceived leading and avoiding emotion.  As a result, women can be seen as dispassionate, which is also perceived negatively. Strong leaders need to be passionate and honest.  This shows that they are emotionally attached. Authentic leadership means showing frustration, passion, compassion and focusing it to be positive and action-oriented.

Inspire the people around you

Keep your internal dialogue genuine, be transparent and don’t mask your emotion. For years I suppressed my emotions.  To appear stronger, I trained myself not to cry, not to laugh too loudly and not to express anger. I carried bottled emotions and presented a thoughtful, logical perspective. I held my passion in check and became replaceable. Passion sparks creativity and innovation.  It makes people want to follow. Competent leaders produce results, where passionate leaders create disciples.   This is a huge difference!

Women leaders walk a fine line between expressing passion and being seen as hysterical. Women are more apt to ruminate on issues, while men forget and move on. Harness your emotion to capture the hearts and minds of your colleagues and take action. Use your emotion to create a shared sense of purpose and mobilize your team to act. Raw passion is electric when presented honestly and openly. Be genuine. Let your emotions prompt action, not sway opinion or obscure facts. As a leader be strong, smart, and human.

This article is published as part of the IDG Contributor Network. Want to Join?

Related:
How do you compare to your peers? Find out in our 2019 State of the CIO report