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When Crying at Work Can Get You What You Want (And When It Can't)

Dec 21, 2015

We all know there's no crying in baseball, but could getting emotional at work actually work to your advantage? Politicians have been known to get a little verklempt at times, to make them seem more human and relatable and less like robots (or maybe they were really sad). It could stand to reason that the workplace is an OK place to let down your emotional barriers from time to time.

Right Time and Place

A recent study published in Journal of Applied Psychology tested the outcomes of interactions between two different parties who were negotiating with different levels of power at play.

What they found was that "if you are identified as powerless and in need of something, rather than being seen as powerful and not so dependent, the neutral negotiator will more than likely feel a sense of social responsibility to make concessions in your favor," writes George Lorenzo at Fast Company.

In layman's terms, the weaker party in a negotiation can actually gain something by showing some sense of sadness.

This comes with some particular caveats, however. The "sadness" expressed must be perceived as genuine, and the timing must be appropriate. You wouldn't want to come into a job interview, for example, expressing a sad and emotional tone. That wouldn't get you hired. If you're in a negotiation that could lead to future interactions, or a shared benefit, also improve your chances at getting your way with a conciliatory tone.

Showing Emotion Doesn't Mean Bawling

We're not talking actually crying at work. If you have a minor setback, like some criticism of a creative project or a request for revisions on a report, bursting into tears isn't an appropriate response. So, you shouldn't grab the box of tissues every time your boss pulls you into their office. But just like in couples therapy, expressing how something makes you feel isn't a bad thing. Think: "I'm frustrated that you're not providing the most constructive feedback on this latest revision. It makes me feel like you're disparaging the work my team has been putting out."

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Tears Aren't Gender-Neutral

Women tend to cry more easily than men, and there's a library's worth of debate on the books about if you give away your power if you shed tears at work. Whether you think it's a good idea or not, lots of top female business types think that women are judged differently when it comes to emotion.

One female leader, Joanna Barsh, director emeritus at McKinsey and Company advises: "Gain self-awareness of your own patterns through reflection, seeing yourself without judgment, but with appreciation for your underlying needs or fears. Learn to pause, and in that moment, step outside of your own movie to view it."

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