Have you heard this before? I frequently was told “you’re too sensitive”, especially at a young age. I believed it to be an unworthy trait. Now I own it. That is right. I am a sensitive person. Things impact me. My emotions are clear and sometimes that means I cry. We are taught not to cry. “Crying is for babies.” “Big girls don’t cry.” “Boys don’t cry!” “There’s no crying in baseball.” Bad news, we do cry, and actually it good for us. Check out this article for more on crying and why it is good for you.
I had two clients talk to me about crying in the workplace these past two weeks. The first was someone going through personal ‘stuff’ and was afraid her sadness and tears would seep out during work time. I had told her during one of our earlier conversations that expressing my emotions in the workplace is one of my superpowers, and so when this came up for her she asked me to explain that further. I have cried time to time in situations with peers and managers about things that felt so big and impactful to me that I wasn’t able to find a way through them. The emotion overtakes me in the moment and I cry. Instead of adding that to list of things to feel bad and ruminate on how or why I let that happen I decided to own it. I am not afraid of crying. It doesn’t make me weak. It makes me human. Now more than ever do we need acceptance of human experiences in the workplace. It is clearer, then ever before, we do not leave our home life at home and come to work (literally since many of us are still at home). These lines are blurred and with that comes a messiness, a messiness called life. I asked my client to think about what it was doing for others who see that she gives herself permission to cry with her colleagues? Gives herself grace when she isn’t always happy? Could it give them permission to show up fully? An acknowledgement that we are human with human emotions and expression?
My second client was afraid her emotions regarding a work struggle would overtake her in a meeting and she would start to cry in front of her boss. “If I start to cry, I will need to get up a leave. If he sees me cry it means he won.” Won what?? Won knowing that you care so much about doing a good job and having positive outcomes for the work you do means sometimes you are moved to tears! Sounds like the engaged person I want on my team. The person who cares enough to cry!
Why is crying the ‘no no’ outlet of emotion? Why is it so wrong to be affected by situations in such a powerful way that the expression of that is water out of your eyes? We want people passionate about their work. We want people engaged! Doesn’t crying mean you are so moved, so challenged, care so much, that you would cry over it??
I am not advocating to boo-hoo all day long, this is where emotional intelligence comes into play, read a previous post on boundaries and oversharing. Not everything needs to effect to us to tears, and I suspect most of us do not spend all day in sadness (if you do, chat with a therapist, I have three on speed dial I can share their numbers). But when things do impact us and we cry, can we maybe not feel bad about it, or that we are watching our entire career of goodness get flushed down the toilet with the rest of the water works? It’s time for a reframe on crying!
Sometimes I just need a good cry. It is super cathartic. When I get to the point of tears, it is because I have been too strong, for too long. I have not adequately listened to me or taken care of myself. Crying gets those emotions out and on the table. When someone on my team has cried, which has happened quite a few times, I sit there with them, in it. I know this is something they are really struggling with. Silently I am pleased they feel safe enough with me to express themselves freely. I can see how deeply affected they are. We then both appreciate the weight of what is happening to adequately address it. The bigger question is why are we so uncomfortable with people crying? What would be your reaction (or bias) if a team member started to cry? How would your respond? Would you think of them as weak? As too sensitive? Too emotional? Incompetent? If yes, or unsure, to any of these questions you may want to consider what tone you are setting for people to be their authentic self with you. How are we encouraging people to bring their full self to work, to show up authentically, to be passionate about their work! But only so far that there is no crying or messy emotion. Being “too sensitive” is my superpower. Both for myself and for those who interact with me. I am good with the emotions and tears of living.
“Judge tenderly of me.” ~Emily Dickinson