Women who hate to shed workplace tears have good reason to rein them in. The immediate response among co-workers is not empathy but downright awkwardness. In fact, studies suggest if the apparent reason for the tears wouldn’t cause the average person to cry – if it falls short of a discussion about a death in the family or an immediate firing, for example – then the next predictable response of female onlookers is disdain. As for male witnesses, a new study from the Weismann institute of Science shows that when males witness female tears in the workplace, testosterone levels plummet and brain cells associated with sexual arousal hit the brakes.
Are women biologically wired to cry?
What do we mean by crying – tearing up or sobbing? When tears hit cheekbones, regardless of accompanying noises, it’s considered “crying”. Tear expert Neurologist William Frey noted that women cry four times as often as men — an average of 5.3 times per month compared with 1.4 for men. When it comes to “never crying”, only 6 percent of women make that claim, compared to 50 percent of men who claim to always be able to hold back tears.
Frey also found that 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,” he noted; hence, men are very capable of masking their emotional duress. With women, on the other hand, almost every crying episode involves wet cheeks.
How to handle workplace tears
The reality for women is that workplace tears can derail careers, change company dynamics, and reinforce male-friendly company politics.
If crying is a first or a usual response to moderate stressors, face it, ladies, professional development may be in order. There are desensitization techniques and new coping strategies that can be learned. A heightened understanding of emotional triggers, new ways of reframing situations, better threat assessment techniques, and role playing exercises to help you retrain autonomic responses may lift your spirits as well as your professional outlook.
More often, however, it’s the rare occurrence and unexpected pounce that brings tears to your eyes and a lump to your throat. For example, you are blindsided or unable to respond verbally to a perceived assault, such as when a supervisor unfairly criticizes your work in a public setting. Before you can even think, the waterworks start. In that case, decide to fully address the situation at another time, when you are more able to control an emotional response, and just get through the moment as best you can.
If you do cry, add an assurance that you do care very much about the project and let that be your final word for the moment. It is not the time to defend yourself; tears paired with a defensive posture is too often interpreted as manipulative. Instead, wait until you calm down to press your case or respond.
And a final thought: crying is human. We all cry – even tough, strong male CEOs. Tears lower hormone levels and toxins and leave us more “clear headed.” The key to professional growth, however, is to shed those tears in private.