You're in an important staff
meeting when suddenly your boss begins to
criticize your work, in front of your co-workers, your subordinates,
other superiors, everybody. You want to defend yourself, but to your
horror, you feel your eyes filling with tears.
Crying at work isn't something
any woman wants to do, especially
in front of men, who too often view tears as a sign of weakness and
reinforcement of stereotypes that women are "too emotional."
Repeat crying on the job "does
affect your credibility and reputation,"
says Alexandra Levit, 28, a Chicago marketing consultant, who teaches
strategies for avoiding tears in the workplace in her book, "They Don't
Teach Corporate in College: A Twenty-Something's Guide to the Business
Levit learned firsthand how
crying on the job can hurt a career
after weeping several times during her first job out of college, at a
high-stress public relations firm in New York City. Levit cried twice
in front of a critical boss and later was passed over for promotion.
She left the firm, but the experience helped her come up with
techniques to forestall public tears.
For many women, though,
frustration, stress, personal problems and
hormonal changes caused by pregnancy, menstruation or menopause can
result in unwanted tears that for some are unavoidable.
Certain women, for unknown
reasons, cry more easily and often than
other people, says tear researcher William H. Frey II, a professor of
pharmaceutics in the neurology department at the University of
Minnesota and director of the Alzheimer's Research Center at Regions
Hospital in St. Paul.
In general, women cry four times
as often as men, says Frey--an
average of 5.3 times per month compared with 1.4 for men, with some
women crying nearly every day and about 6 percent saying they never cry
(compared with 50 percent of men who say they never cry).
Frey's research has shown that
emotional tears are chemically
different from tears caused by irritants, such as chopping onions, and
contain higher concentrations of protein.
"Crying is an excretory process,"
he says, theorizing that crying
"evolved as an adaptive response to emotional stress. It increases our
survival by reducing the harmful effect of stress on the body."
Women also are biologically set
up to cry more visibly and more
often than men, he says; female tear ducts are anatomically different
from male tear ducts, resulting in a larger volume of tears.
"When men cry, 73 percent of the
time, tears do not fall down
their cheeks," Frey says. Men may get misty-eyed, but teardrops don't
give them away. With women, on the other hand, almost every crying
episode involves runaway tears, he says.
Hormones also likely play a part
in women being more tear-prone,
Frey says. Not only do tear glands contain both prolactin (a female
hormone) and testosterone, but there is also evidence women cry more at
different points in their menstrual cycles, with more frequent tears
three to five days before onset of menstruation and also at ovulation.
Tom Lutz, an English professor at
the University of Iowa and
author of "Crying: A Natural and Cultural History of Tears" (W.W.
Norton & Co.), says if women cry more than men, it is due mostly to
"I think the cultural forces at
work are much more powerful than
the biological ones," Lutz says. Social rules govern which group can
cry for what reason, he says, so that in the U.S., "men are expected to
cry more often from pride, for instance, than women are, but men are
never supposed to cry from frustration, while women can."
Tears are often a "sign of
submission," Lutz notes. "Since
women are conditioned to be more subservient than men, they are
`allowed' to cry more often."
As females become less
subservient, Lutz believes, the frequency
of female crying changes. To stop unwanted tears, Lutz says women
should "refuse to accept the social role that makes crying appropriate."
To avoid tears, Frey says there
are no magic drops or pills you can
"Women can try doing the things
men do," he says. "You can think
about something else, you can tune out. You can try biting your lip,
causing pain. I'm not sure any of these things are going to actually
work. Often by the time people realize they are going to cry, it's too
late. They're already upset."
Rebecca Kiki Weingarten, a life
coach and former teacher in New
York City, says she often counsels businesswomen on ways to prevent
tears, and has successfully used some of the strategies herself.
"For most of my professional
life, I really struggled with this,"
says Weingarten, a self-described "crier" who hasn't had a problem with
workplace tears for the past year or so.
are similar to Levit's--involve
mentally preparing for potential tear-producing encounters,
role-playing and coming up with lines that women can practice saying in
Why not just give in to tears, if
they help ease stress?
Weingarten says sometimes women
do need to break away for a
private cry in the bathroom, and agrees that "crying is a great healthy
thing," but warns that "in the workplace it can do damage."
Other workplace consultants agree.
"It's all about the perception of
power," says Stephen Fairley, a
business coach in Chicago.
"Unfortunately, males very much
have a stereotypical pejorative
attitude toward crying, where people who cry are seen as weak. You're
not going to change the typical male's mind. They may say otherwise,
but if truth be told, they'll see it as a negative."
Andrea Kay, Cincinnati-based
career counselor, says "you wouldn't
believe how much this comes up with women. It's a big issue. It's a big
While Kay sometimes cries with
clients who are in difficult
situations, she recognizes that for many women in the corporate world,
"if you're in a situation with a client, it's crucial for you to
maintain your cool and be in control. If you don't do that well, if you
consistently don't stay in control and you cry in front of clients,
that could be difficult."
For Dr. Patricia Raymond, a
Chesapeake, Va., gastroenterologist,
tossing out the rules of the old boys' network and allowing her
emotions--and tears--to show has not hurt her medical practice.
"I tried for years in medical
training to be one of the boys and
not share emotions with my patients diagnosed with life-threatening
diseases. I was led astray."
Raymond now will hold hands with
patients when giving bad news,
often with tears in her eyes. "I'm not blubbering. They're not running
down my face. I don't lose control and run out of the room. But
allowing a few tears of sympathy to fall does not diminish my power as
Indeed, her tears might make her
a more sought-after doctor, Raymond
"Women physicians are in demand
because we will cry," she says,
noting that in this way medicine is "different from politics and
different from business."
No matter the work environment,
Frey hopes more women are able to
find ways to integrate their emotions--and the tears that may accompany
them--with their professions.
"As more women move into the work
force, I hope in order to
succeed that they don't have to become more like men," Frey says. "I
don't think the workplace should be a sort of dehumanized environment
where only cursing, swearing and yelling are approved, but someone with
a few tears running down her check is a godawful thing."
Jut out your jaw. According to Philadelphia
psychotherapist Larina Kase, "there is some evidence pushing your jaw
forward interferes with the tearful response."
Use breathing exercises. For example, inhale while counting to
six, hold for four counts, exhale for six. Try other counts if these
don't work for you.
Chew gum or nibble on a snack. "It's physiologically quite difficult to
cry when you are chewing something," Kase says.
Sipping water also can help.
Focus on something tangible outside yourself, such as a colorful poster
or the aroma of your coffee.
Do something physical, such as climbing stairs or push-ups against
the wall of your office. "This will burn off stress hormones and raise
endorphin levels," says Debbie Mandel, a stress management expert,
author and radio host in Lawrence, N.Y.
Use aromatherapy to calm yourself. Lavender and vanilla are common
de-stressants, Mandel says.
Don't obsess on "not crying"--it might make it more likely to
happen. If tears are coming, excuse yourself to go to the bathroom or
say you have other business to attend to.
If you wind up having a good cry in the bathroom, here's what you
can do to hide that fact: Dr. Thomas Bournias, an ophthalmologist with
Northwestern University's Ophthalmic Institute, recommends using
"Refresh Tears," which are lubricant eye drops with no preservatives to
help redness and irritation. To counter eyelid swelling, use cold metal
spoons. "Run spoons under cold water and hold them over your eyes for a
couple of minutes," Bournias says. "Keep dipping them in cold water and
putting them back on. This helps constrict vessels in the eyes and the
swelling in the eyelids goes down."