4 Highly Successful Women on Crying at Work

RS_4 161Ever had nasty words spread about you at work? And were those words published as front-page news in Politico, with your colleagues describing you as “a source of widespread frustration and anxiety,” “impossible,” and “disengaged or uncaring”?

That’s what happened to the first-ever-female New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson. She opened up to Cosmopolitan in a recent interview about the negative press (and her very public dethroning):

“I did cry after reading [that] article about me in Politico. I don’t regret admitting I did. The reason I wanted to do this interview is that I think it is important to try to speak very candidly to young women. The most important advice I would still give—and it may seem crazy because I did lose this job I really loved—you have to be an authentic person. I did cry. That is my authentic first reaction. I don’t regret sharing that.”

Despite the fact that crying has proven mental and emotional benefits, and that 41 percent of working women surveyed in 2010 said they had cried at the office in the previous year, the taboo remains. While Abramson didn’t specify where exactly she spilled her tears, a high-powered woman openly discussing her authentic emotions brings up the perennial crying-at-work debate.

We rounded up a few highly successful women’s thoughts on the letting the tears flow in the office:

“I think crying at work is inevitable. It should be done sparingly. It’s a non-issue. It happens from time to time, and it’s usually for a good reason.”
Real Simple editor Kristin van Ogtrop, author of Just Let Me Lie Down: Necessary Terms for the Half-Insane Working Mom

“Most people believe—and research suggests—that it is not a good idea to cry at work. It is never something that I plan to do and is hardly recommended in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, but on those rare occasions when I have felt really frustrated, or worse, betrayed, tears have filled my eyes. Even as I have gotten older and more experienced, it still happens every so often.”
—COO of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg, in her bestseller Lean In

“The last thing I or any other boss wants to hear is, ‘Wahhhh, I was just trying to be helpful, wahhhh!’ That’s why I officially banished crying to the sidewalk outside. You think I’m a bitch? Fine. Go sit on the street and call your friend and talk shit about me all day. Just get out of my office and stop psychically blowing my vibe and that of the others who came here to make money and be serious instead of being jokers. […]Once you enter a workplace, you’re surrounded by grown-ups, not friends. Your boss is not your boyfriend, and she’s not your therapist. She is a person who is paying you to do a job. If you (or she, for that matter) think otherwise, you will be burned.”
—Fashion publicist Kelly Cutrone in her book, If You Have to Cry, Go Outside: And Other Things Your Mother Never Told You

“Some people say, ‘Never let them see you cry.’ I say, if you’re so mad you could just cry, then cry. It terrifies everyone.”
—Comedian Tina Fey, in her memoir Bossypants

The Huffington Post put together a great list a few months ago with even more successful women weighing in on the conversation. How do you feel about crying at work? Tell us in the comments.

COMMENTS

  1. Kate Runyon

    Wow…I am quite certain that when the time comes to announce that Ms. Cutrone has passed, no tears will be shed…even outside on the sidewalk. Quite sad.

    July 17, 2014 at 7:04 am
  2. Patty F

    I rarely comment on public forums however reading Ms. Cutrone’s response left me feeling cold and sad for her. I can not imagine going through life with such little heart. Honestly, a good cry may be just what she needs.

    July 17, 2014 at 10:35 am
  3. Jeri L

    I agree with the ladies above. I would never want to work for someone like Ms. Cutrone. I wonder how many women are walking around kneeless because she cut them off?

    July 17, 2014 at 11:27 am
  4. Betty S

    I used to work in factories with lots of guys. If a guy has a flare up of rage, screaming, you name it, he’s encouraged to “walk it off”, even if it involved a physical altercation.

    If someone cries, male or female, even from physical injury and pain, everyone gets really awkward. Friends stage weird interventions. Bosses do big write-ups of what happened and why. The crier is usually seen as emotionally unsound.

    It’s not fair. It’s not right. But it’s how things go.

    July 17, 2014 at 12:19 pm
  5. Gilty

    This post was incredibly timely for me. Though I’m naturally an emotional person, in the workplace, I usually keep it together. My boss however has become increasingly abusive and manipulative and YESTERDAY berated me for what, in the grand scheme of our business, was nothing significant (nor even my fault). Instead of remaining professional when discussing his concerns, he attacked me on a personal level, questioning my integrity, honesty, and trustworthiness. The second he crossed what I felt was “the professional line”, alligator tears swelled up and plopped from my eyes. I sat there taking the ridicule, but there was no stopping those tears. I’m not ashamed or embarrassed. Had he been professional, I never would have cried. And hey, I don’t think crying is “professional”, but often our colleagues and bosses are more than just people with whom we work, they are our friends and confidants…if someone you trust as a colleague attacks you in the workplace in a way that is beyond reproach, the occasional emotional response is inevitable. We may be professionals…but first and foremost…we are human. It is my humble opinion that businesses who appreciate that their employees and clients are humans are more successful than those who treat them as robots.

    July 17, 2014 at 12:30 pm
  6. Aisha Milburn

    I’m a Cutrone type. I think there’s a time and place for everything. Personal tragedy/trauma aside, if your tears are related to work in any way, take a deep breath and suck it up (or go outside).

    July 17, 2014 at 2:57 pm
  7. Rosr Thornton

    You suck Aisha!

    July 17, 2014 at 7:17 pm
  8. Keta

    I’m not a cryer – at work or at home. I generally choose rage when I’m REALLY upset or feel betrayed. But I had this boss once who would cry at the drop of a hat. It was very uncomfortable for me especially and the other folks on our team too. Now that I no longer work for her, I see that she was a big emotional manipulator with those tears. They were simply a way to reel you in and divert you from her real motives – which were quite cut throat. I always felt sorry for her – until she lied about me and almost got me fired. She definitely had issues. Now I totally mistrust crying in professional environments and say tears be damned ! :D

    July 17, 2014 at 8:47 pm
  9. rebecca

    Look, it’s not appropriate to cry at work. If you need to cry, and trust me, I’ve been there, it’s what bathrooms, locked offices, and cars are for. I’ve cried in all three.

    July 18, 2014 at 11:56 am
  10. mitchell

    sometimes i get really frustrated it makes me just want to cry but i had to suck it up and go on w/ work as usual. i like Cutrone ( her unbiased use of words and Sherman ways ) – i had a boss just like her and everybody’s terrified except for me. staff meetings (about 100+), she used to always point me out for whatever reason – even if i have not done anything wrong…she somehow helped me become the person i am today – tough enough to deal w/ just about anything, anywhere, anytime, anyone…i just cry on my way home…

    July 18, 2014 at 12:53 pm
  11. Kristie A

    Simply put Ms. Citrone is a bitch no one should work for. Quite a nasty attitude

    July 19, 2014 at 10:27 pm
  12. Jinjin

    I agree with Kelly Cutrone and with 17 years of work exp. there have been times I wanted to cry my heart out. I tell my reportees- all ladies that they can talk to me but no tears allowed, not in front of me and definitely not at their desk in the cube farm. I have in the rest room, twice in front of my manager and I still regret most breaking down in front of him.

    July 22, 2014 at 4:09 am
  13. lin

    I cry easily and I don’t know what to do about it. Part of it is physical; my supersensitive eyes are always watering (it’s not allergies, it’s any kind of irritation, and often no reason at all) and my tear glands react to the least emotion. When I had surgery near there I pleaded with my ophthalmologist to remove them altogether (no dice).

    So what do you do if you’re in the middle of a convo with your boss and you feel tears coming, just run out past everyone with your eyes welling up? Everyone knows you’re crying, and in the bathroom or on the street you’re even more public than in your boss’s office. I think if you go somewhere to cry, you’re going to cry a lot more than just a few tears leaking out. And then what do you do about the red eyes and ruined makeup?

    I do find that if I have something difficult to say, rehearsing it enough times can defuse the emotion, but sometimes you’re caught off guard.

    July 22, 2014 at 7:01 pm
  14. luvwheaties

    How interesting that the women who have agreed with Kelly Cutrone have been attacked here! I also agree with her. I have worked for almost 50 years, including working in a male-dominated industry. I have definitely swam with the sharks. Women, if you need to cry, go outside and call a friend. Don’t boohoo in the office, unless it’s behind closed doors. Some days are hard, some people are difficult to work for. That’s just how it is.

    August 2, 2014 at 6:46 pm
  15. Absalom

    The thing is that you can’t always stop yourself. Lin is right – if you feel tears coming on, and you can’t reign yourself in at that moment – and we are all human beings, and sometimes multiple events conspire to make us feel assaulted or helpless – then it’s better to cry a few tears than run off dramatically into the sunset. If you do, people can speculate about how deeply you’re panicking rather than see you cry a few tears and get ahold of yourself.

    I figure I’m alone here since I haven’t heard anything else like this, but crying – showing genuine emotion – has actually gotten me better understanding from two colleagues. Showing my genuine upset put us on the same page. Ever since then, we’ve been better at working together. I cried not because I had any idea that would be the outcome, but because I was at the end of my rope… but remember that not everyone reacts to the same emotions in the same ways.

    August 3, 2014 at 9:55 am
  16. Danielle

    I don’t think you should cry at work. And I dislike the fact that people are calling Cultrone a bitch. If a man had written everyone would be like, well that’s that. I think crying at work makes everyone uncomfortable. It makes you look like you are not tough enough to handle the stress, makes your boss look like an asshole, whether or not s/he actually is one, and makes the other employees think less of you. Gilty, I would have cried too. I would have also reported that boss for emotional abuse to someone higher up than them. I’m an intern and when my boss started acting mean to me, I held it together (while my eyes were BEGGING for a good cry) until I could go to the bathroom and cry in a stall. I later asked her to tell me things in a different, less demeaning manner and she stopped doing it as much.

    August 4, 2014 at 11:56 am
  17. Rocio

    Well, sometimes if I don’t cry I will explode, I am a survivor!

    August 10, 2014 at 6:56 pm
  18. lora

    I think that if it is compromising your job productivity sure you should maybe step away (the sidewalk as cultrone says) handle it and get back to work. A few months ago I couldn’t get through a day of work without weeping the entire ten hours. This isn’t because of work, it is simply how I feel. I hate the struggle life has become and it depresses me, my soul hurts, all the hate and judgement in the world, the tragedy. Mostly co workers show concern not annoyance. I am not harming them in any way. I just tell them I am fine and that is that. I do unfortunately have an instant crying reaction to certain things I think it is something I developed in childhood, for me when a boss, teacher, etc gets angry/disappointed with me for something I didn’t do or did unknowingly tears are instant and I cant even speak because it instantly chokes me up. And this is a reaction I can’t control. I think it really depends on what kind of work you are in whether it will be detrimental or not.

    But my belief is that people should feel what they feel and that we should all accept the fact we are humans with feelings. Denying our impulses is to deny the very thing that makes us human (The Matrix). Denying those feelings and suppressing them is not healthy or productive in my opinion. And I feel extremely courageous showing what I feel. To me someone who owns their feelings and isn’t afraid for them to show is a person to be respected not ridiculed. I can’t resist just saying that lady cutrone prolly cries anytime she is out of the public eye. lol, I can’t imagine someone being so damn cruel, its one thing to be strict or whatnot but she just makes it seem as though people who show emotion are beneath her. I think this attitude must be her “thing” pretty lame thing to be known for, and it doesnt make you seem cool at all to be heartless, and we all know you have feelings so give the heartless stone cold bitch act a rest.

    August 12, 2014 at 3:50 pm
  19. Dara

    I work in the homeless housing field. Sometimes I see things at work that are upsetting. We all do. I manage people who manage people. Emotions run high . I would never not console an employee who is upset. It just isn’t in my nature.

    August 15, 2014 at 4:08 pm
  20. Cathey

    I agree with Ms Cutrone. While authenticity of personality or character is important, the capacity to control the display of one’s emotional state is also important. Those very same individuals who claim that they cannot control that urge to cry don’t find it difficult to control the urge to laugh when it would be inappropriate. Controlling the display of our emotions is a sign of emotional maturity. This is true whether the emotion is displayed by crying, laughing, shouting or hitting or singing. You don’t pee in your chair because you’ve got to go really bad and you don’t cry in your boss’s office because s/he upset you. The bathroom is a good place for both those things at work!

    August 17, 2014 at 12:25 pm
  21. R.N. UNNI

    TEARS IS THE OUTLET OF OUR EMOTION

    August 18, 2014 at 9:16 pm
  22. Heidi D

    I’m one of those people who tears up easily when emotions run high. That doesn’t mean I’m bawling and making a spectacle of myself, and most of the time I don’t look much different than when I’m outside on a windy, cold day, and my eyes start watering from the weather. It’s unfortunately true that some people cry for effect or sympathy, but unless someone has shown themselves to be manipulative, I’d give them the benefit of the doubt.

    Do I want to cry in front of others? Of course not. If I do, it’s usually that life has thrown too many things at me at once (nearly always relating to my children) to deal with, and I do my best to downplay the emotion or “suck it up” as so many have said. Usually I apologize if necessary and that’s pretty much that. There is a huge difference between leaking tears and blubbering – just as there is a big difference between calming down from getting angry with a few deep breaths or by hitting things. Tears make people uncomfortable, and therefore it’s always best to avoid them. Is it always possible? In my own case, no.

    To address Cathey, if a person is suppressing laughter, they usually are smiling or giving some outward indication of amusement. Just because someone says they “can’t control” the urge to cry doesn’t mean they are sitting there blubbering and bawling – tearing up is the emotional equivalent of a smile instead of a laugh, and nearly as difficult for some to avoid.

    August 18, 2014 at 9:25 pm
  23. Lynn

    The only time I really cried at work for work related issues was while I was a community college recruiter. I cried mostly in private, but started sharing my frustrations with one of the other recruiters I trusted because she seemed nice. The dept. and my manager had not given me any training whatsoever, they just expected me to read their entire college catalog and figure it out myself with minimal support, all while trying to help students. I got so confused about what exactly my role entailed, because it seemed like the other dept deans and heads were actually the recruiters, and I got the feeling if I just sat on my ass most of the day, they wouldn’t really care. I felt guilty sitting there getting paid for doing nothing, because this was a grant funded position and I wanted to help students! My manager’s boss who never introduced herself to me after 3 months came back at me and gave me the crappiest review ever, I thought they were going to fire me, but no they didn’t, and she also made me throw my boss under the bus in front of her. Then my manager pulls me in the office and tells me privately admitted that she never trained me. I got so mad, I put in my resignation the next day. Got my old job back after that where at least I felt appreciated.

    August 18, 2014 at 9:33 pm
  24. Sara

    I cried when presenting in front of 400 people and a news crew. It was a heroin forum and I followed the mother of one of my clients who had died of a heroin overdose. I was mortified, but a persevered. I took a deep breath, made a joke about coping skills, and got my point across. I hate crying, but it was sad and I’m a person and what the audience perceived was the genuine love that goes into my work.

    August 19, 2014 at 12:29 am
  25. Paul

    I am incredibly iffy about crying in work, seen it used and abused waaay to often.

    Like a lot of things, there’s a time for it.
    Crying in the workplace is a loaded issue.

    I got no problem with crying, it’s healthy, but a lot of the time crying is used as a dodge to stop criticism of performance in its tracks. It’s a bit of a minefield. And I also have a problem when crying is so constant that it becomes an issue that needs constant addressing.

    Not everyone cries for justifiable reasons, and not everyone can control their crying, There is an issue on when people cry and why people cry and many times it’s not for good reasons or reasons that deserve empathy.

    I don’t like people who use it for the sympathy vote and I don’t like people who use it to make themselves appear the victim after messing with others.

    And I don’t like peoples default reaction to crying which is to rally around the person in tears. It’s right to show concern, that doesn’t mean you excuse bad actions and assume the person critical of the person crying is in the wrong. I understand the desire to side with a crying person, but more often than not they are crying because they know they did something they shouldn’t have.

    August 19, 2014 at 12:32 am
  26. Erin

    At least Kelly Cutrone has self-awareness. She really is a bitch.

    August 19, 2014 at 10:03 am
  27. Rachel

    It is unprofessional and shows a lack of control and coping skills to cry at the office. Cutrone was blunt, but correct. Especially concerning any profession dominated by men (law, medicine, engineering) a weepy woman will be seen as unreliable and overly emotional.

    August 19, 2014 at 11:21 am
  28. Shell

    I have an issue that when I get angry, I cry. So sometimes when frustrations are high, the tears spill. That usually makes me angrier because I’m crying and, surprise, makes me cry more. I try very hard not to cry at work, but it does happen. There’s nothing wrong with saying, go take a walk and cool off. I think a boss that tells you to take your tears outside is awful. We all know we’re at work to do a job, but we are still people, after all. If you want a machine to do this work, find one.

    August 19, 2014 at 11:23 am
  29. Debbie

    Wow, some very strong opinions. I have been very fortunate not to have been bullied, degraded or made to feel incompetent in my work. I am an emotional person. I do believe that it is important to be in control of ones emotions when at work as much as possible. It can be portaid as a sign of weakness. Isn’t that sad, that we are made to feel that way. Through my career as a Customer Service Trainer I have learned how to deal with all sorts of personalities, as I am sure all of you have. I learned that I need to adjust my tone and body language with who I am dealing with. I learned to put myself in the other guys shoes and to never forget where I came from. All of your opinions a valid and understandable. I respect every one of you., but I do feel that if a person feels the tears are gonna flow find a discreet place and look for a confidential person to confide in, and never let them see you sweat! The worst part about crying out in the open is that after you do it, you feel like the whole world is watching and judging you and they are. Keep smiling it makes people wonder what your thinking.

    August 22, 2014 at 10:30 am
  30. Keta

    Paul – I so agree with you! I’ve seen a lot of manipulation with crying. And this may be inflammatory – but sometimes women just need to own up to that is what is going on when they cry at work. While I know you can’t put all crying into the same category, and yes we are human – I get that :D – but come on – most crying can be controlled!

    August 22, 2014 at 1:20 pm
  31. Susan d

    It bothers me a great deal that many people automatically assume that tears are manipulative, and then they become angrier and nastier as a result. I am an excellent worker, who was verbally , physically and emotionally abused as a child. When bosses are abusive,and have attacked personally,and have speead outright lies about me, I have shed tears. Then the abusers have made fun of me. My tears were never manipulative or a choice. If I could control it, I would!!
    . If bosses make people cry often, something is wrong and they need to look in the mirror.

    August 22, 2014 at 6:14 pm
  32. Keta

    Susan d….you may find this hard to believe – but I have also been verbally, physically and emotionally abused – as a child and as a young adult. Now as a mature adult, I NO LONGER ALLOW IT! I am old enough and powerful enough to do something about it! If someone says something to me that is out of line, I address it verbally – not with tears. I’m not saying it is easy, but I am saying it is doable. I don’t condone bosses abusing their employees – but if it is legitimately the boss with the problem – then the employees should work together and get that boss moved or fired. HR departments may not be as good as they used to be – but if an employee or enough employees complain about improper behavior, it will be dealt with. I know that for a fact. So I’ve got ammunition for you to use if you haven’t used it before. The next time your boss is abusive and attacks you – say this. I will no longer tolerate your verbally abusive behavior towards me. I will no longer allow your personal attacks towards me. Your behavior is unprofessional and inappropriate. If you do it again, I will report you to Human Resources. If Human Resources doesn’t do anything about it, I will take it further. I am here to work and I am an excellent worker. I will continue to be an excellent worker – even after this conversation. But I will never be disrespected by you again. Try this Susan d – I guarantee you it will get results. Write it down if you have to and give it to your boss if you can’t deliver it verbally. Let someone else know about what is happening to you. The reason that abuse continues when we are adults bottomline is because we allow it. The way your message reads, this type of behavior from bosses has been a repeat issue. That leads me to believe that a behavior change is needed by you. Abusers know who they can abuse. You have to become someone who no longer falls into that category. Good luck ! :D

    August 23, 2014 at 12:33 pm
  33. Liz S

    Wow, what a cruel field fashion publicity must be where the work is so important that crying simply is out of place! Cutrone is right, she probably is a bitch and so proud of being one,it’s rather sad. Glad I’m in healthcare and not the so important world of fashion.

    August 24, 2014 at 12:45 pm
  34. Cindy

    Crying should happen in private. Too many times a person cries in front of the rest of the team and draws them into her personal drama. It sucks the forward momentum right out of the workday and brings everyone down. Cry if you must but for the right reasons and in the right place.

    August 24, 2014 at 2:02 pm
  35. Ursula Alexander

    Ursula Alexander—Aug.26 2014 at 2:16pm

    This article really intrigued me. Probably because I’m already immensely interested in the study of psychology (just graduated with my B.A. in Psychology from UNT) but also because of my own life experiences pushing and pulling my thoughts and attitudes different directions. That’s basically what Psychology is about. The science of why we do what we do. And the answer to that question is usually multi-faceted. You’ve heard the nature vs. nurture debate all over psychology. Genetic makeup inherited from our familiies is not the only factor in any personal life issue. For example, (a lot of these thoughts have been on my mind lately) Say singing in the choir for example. I participated in elementary school choir in 4th, 5th, and 6th grade, which was a total blast and I learned a lot about music without even having to enroll in private classes or lessons. I wasn’t super serious about choir and I knew I didn’t have a naturally killer voice, but I kind of just did it to be with my friends and later found out the choir director was a really cool lady and it made choir so much fun. Where am I going with this? Ok, also my father was a member of the Yale Russian Chorus in college even though he went there to study engineering. He did it for the love of it and got to have a lot of fun making friends in the chorus and traveling for contests, etc. So basically, I love singing, but mostly in a large group or in the confidence of my shower.. That’s because I’m a more introverted, socially awkward person naturally, though I’ve confronted a lot of my fears about what other people think of you, but over time, I’ve gained more confidence in my singing voice and tried different techniques to improve my vocal quality. I love singing! The past two days I have especially become more comfortable belting out high notes and harmonizing in my favorite gospel songs. It’s a gift I think I have, that needs more development. So how do I tie this in to crying at work?

    Some people are more prone to being easily emotional than others, and when stressful things happen in the workplace, whether to the man or woman, sometimes there’s not much you can do to suppress your tears. I think everybody reading this should try to take this concept back to your office, that people are gonna cry at times, but you don’t have to be rude about it. Tears are simply an expression of emotion, and EVERYBODY experiences intense emotion in one way or another, whether it’s in bawling like a baby, punching somebody in the face, or just communicating verbally in a supportive or not-so-supportive style. Let’s try to be more respectful of the coworker today, and get to know a little of their life story. You’re not always gonna be BFF with every coworker, but you have the responsibility to have dignity in how you treat other people. This can be related to any social situation, teacher-student, parent-child, brother-sister. Thank you for reading that ginormous post….. I hope it touched you in some way!

    August 26, 2014 at 5:53 pm
  36. Chris

    Do your job! Be happy. If you are complaining and crying at work find a solution to your unhappiness or find another job! It’s very simple!

    August 27, 2014 at 8:39 am
  37. Lisa P

    I had received news at work during a class I was teaching that my father had died. I instantly swelled into tears and began to cry in front of my class as I was explaining the situation to my class and preparing to get a substitute so that I could leave, one of my students went to grab the principal who immediately reprimanded me for my behavior.[crying in class]. Later my principal went into staff lounge and began telling the other teachers that I was a cry baby and my contract would not be renewed. I lost my job and my parent all on the same date! From now on I will not cry in front of anyone, including my husband. It is a shame that people are not allowed basic human emotions anymore.

    August 27, 2014 at 11:51 am

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