Women: Is Crying At The Office Totally Taboo Or A Sign Of Strength?

by Katie Gonzalez

Crying isn't just for the overly-sensitive kind of people; it can happen to anyone.

Perhaps you had an especially bad day, received some tragic news or just became so overwhelmed with insert whatever here, you needed to take a little tear break. Ain't no shame.

But when these feelings start bubbling up at the office, things can get a little bit awkward.

Whether you're stuck in an open floor plan where everyone can see, the flood gates starting to open up, or in a private room where you can shut your door to the outside world before the sobs take over, crying at the office can be complicated.

It appears as though the current establishment of powerful working women is divided on the issue.

Facebook COO and "Lean In" champion Sheryl Sandberg has confessed to doing it, and said she thinks it's important to be upfront, and not ashamed, by shedding a few tears at the office.

"I've cried at work. I've told people I've cried at work... I try to be myself."

Sandberg further explains why it's OK to cry in her book "Lean In," and even admits that Mark Zuckerberg has seen her break down.

Sharing emotions builds deeper relationships. Motivation comes from working on things we care about. It also comes from working with people we care about.

But there are definitely others who advise against letting colleagues see you weep.

For women especially, they say, this behavior can reinforce unfair beliefs that female employees (and females in general) are somehow more emotional (as if that's a bad thing) and unable to moderate reactions in the workplace. (Although, an impassioned yell from a male colleague would likely be applauded as a bold and strong strategic business move... we see the double standard here.)

Mika Brzezinski, co-host of MSNBC's Morning Joe, told The Huffington Post that crying in the office is simply "not worth it."

If anything, when you cry, you give away power. When you are in control of your emotions, you are communicating that you are in control. Being in control of your emotions gives you much more power at work... and much more dignity. I suggest never, ever, ever crying at work.

Still, there are many female executives who have found a way to make crying among colleagues (we're talking shedding a tear or two — not sobbing) work in their favor.

CEO of retailer CST Brands Kim Bowers said she was pushed to tears during a lengthy negotiation process in which the other side wasn't taking her company's claims seriously, drawing out discussions that were frustrating and a waste of everyone's time.

It was a buildup of weeks and months. Nothing has ever been as tough. I envy folks that have the ability to absorb it and move on. Every interaction I have is personal. When they go poorly and I can't fix it, I don’t like that.

Bowers excused herself from the conference room while crying to regain her composure, and later re-entered the room to continue the talks, without harping on her outburst.

Bowers said she believed that this move — albeit unintentional — helped pick up the pace as the two parties worked better to reach an agreement.

It probably helped that I snapped because I was the last person in the room they expected to snap.

Crying at work is no longer a career-killer for women — approximately 40 percent of women have sniffled and shed a tear during work hours, according to a survey by Anne Kreamer, author of "It's Always Personal: Emotion in the New Workplace."

But most agree there's still a delicate etiquette with showing that form of vulnerability and expression in the office.

Marie Claire magazine has even published a slew of helpful tips to help you attempt to avoid the situation, but mitigate perception when you inevitably succumb to crying.

While pausing in the middle of an upset is valuable advice anyone could take when they start to feel their feelings flare up, it seems more and more to be an impossible expectation that women — and every employee, regardless of gender — keep their cool all the time.

Nowadays, workplaces are no longer spaces we simply occupy from 9 am to 5 pm; they are places where we eat lunch, and oftentimes also eat dinner, working into the hours of the night.

And "work environments" are no longer limited to bare-boned office buildings; they're "campuses" (as the likes of Google and Facebook affectionately refer to their complexes) — places that are personalized and made to appear like home so every employee feels free to "be themselves."

But clearly, the only way to truly be oneself is to feel free to act within a range of emotions, within reason, of course.

So in a time of people's increased investment in their careers and work cultures, crying doesn't seem so taboo after all.

Photo Courtesy: CBS/How I Met Your Mother