Book discusses controlling emotions at work

Michelle Singletary
Columnist April 9, 2011

I’ve cried on the job. Many times.

But I cried the most while working as an intern at a newspaper during my college years. An editor made it clear by the cold way she talked to me and the reporting assignments she gave me that she didn’t like me. I felt that her actions were racially motivated because I was one of a group of young African Americans she consistently treated unfairly. I didn’t share my suspicions with management. I just cried.

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.” View Archive

I did most of my weeping in the restroom because I didn’t want the editor to see me cry. Even now, the memories of working with that supervisor still sting.

One of the many pieces of advice you hear about working is to never let your boss see you cry, especially if you’re a woman, even if your boss is a woman.

But is this advice still relevant? Can women cry and still be taken seriously? Have you cried at work, or displayed an outburst that dismayed your co-workers?

We spend so much of our time at work, how can we avoid getting emotional every now and then?

Well, we can’t.

So what should be the rules and boundaries for showing how you feel while you work? That’s a question asked and answered in Anne Kreamer’s fascinating book, “It’s Always Personal: Emotion In The New Workplace” (Random House, $25), which is the next pick for the Color of Money Book Club.

Kreamer, a former executive vice president at Nickelodeon and part of the founding team of Spy magazine, interviewed scientists and workplace experts and talked to everyday folks to find out how they feel about, well, having feelings on the job.

Kreamer writes that she wanted to find and offer “a blueprint for how each of us can remain true to our individual temperament while nevertheless developing the means to be more effective within the social context of work.”

This isn’t the kind of book you take on spring break with the kids. Although the anecdotes make it very readable, it’s an analytical and scientific look at an issue that rarely gets discussed. As Kreamer points out, our emotions don’t turn off when we show up for work.

There’s some good research that would be very useful for both employee- and management-training seminars. Kreamer teamed up with advertising firm J. Walter Thompson to commission a poll to get perceptions on what leads to emotional incidents at work. The survey found:

•  Nearly three in four respondents said they felt frustrated on the job.

•  Forty-two percent of young men believed that anger could be an effective management tool. Only 23 percent of women felt that way.

•  An overwhelming majority of workers said they had witnessed their bosses get angry about something.

•  Women cry on the job more than men. Forty-one percent of women said they have cried at work, compared with just 9 percent of men. But because women are often embarrassed when the tears come, they are also the most critical of workplace weeping, Kreamer’s research shows. And yet, she says just about every woman she spoke with during her research admitted to having cried at work. And they all wished they hadn’t.

“In spite of all the benefits of tears, our culture has negative, unaccommodating attitudes toward public crying,” she writes.

However, crying has no ceiling. The survey found that people from every level — from junior workers to top executives — admitted they have wept in the workplace. House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), one of the most powerful politicians in the country, has been known to publicly weep at times.

To better manage your feelings, Kreamer recommends building an emotion-management toolkit. For example, if you tend to be very emotional, write down your feelings. Try some deep breathing to relieve stress that might lead to an outburst. Eat. Drops in your blood sugar can weaken your emotional self-control. Find people who make you feel confident and who support you, and connect with them on a regular basis.

So, you know what? Cry if you want to. Just use the suggestions and techniques Kreamer outlines to make sure your weeping doesn’t get in the way of your work.

I’ll be hosting a live online chat with Kreamer at noon Eastern on April 21 at washingtonpost.com/discussions. Every month, I randomly select readers to receive a copy of the featured book or books, donated by the publisher. For a chance to win a copy of “It’s Always Personal: Emotion in the New Workplace,” e-mail colorofmoney@washpost.com with your name and address.

Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1150 15th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Her email address is singletarym@washpost.com. Comments and questions are welcome, but due to the volume of mail, personal responses may not be possible. Please also note comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.

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