“Are you crying?… There’s no crying in baseball!” That line was immortalized forever by Tom Hanks as baseball coach Jimmy Dugan in the 1992 hit movie A League Of Their Own about the women in professional baseball during World War II. The sentiment was echoed by a panel of executive women last night at an event I attended. When the moderator asked, “Is it ever okay to cry at work?” all four women gave an instant and simultaneous thumbs-down. This started me thinking about other emotional behaviors that are not acceptable for women or men, and how to express them more appropriately in the workplace.
Beyond tears, I think the most challenging one is anger. Anger is an emotion that we all feel at times, but how can it be expressed appropriately? We’ve all probably had the misfortune of witnessing a boss berating an employee, often in sight or earshot of others. While the employee is momentarily humiliated, the person who loses more respect is the boss who lost control and felt compelled to tear someone down in public. Regardless of the error made or how justifiably furious you are, there are right ways and wrong ways to express it.
First, you need to ensure that the language stays professional, not personal. Asking (even if not calmly) “How could this have happened?!” is very different from yelling “How could you be so stupid?!” Even if you’ve had multiple conversations with the person about costly, sloppy work in the past, it’s important to keep the discussion focused on the behaviors: “This is the second time you have missed critical details that have cost us time and a significant amount of money. You got an oral warning the first time, so this time I need to make a formal note in your records. If it happens again, I’ll be required to escalate it with HR.” If you want to curse and scream and call him every name in the book, fine – but do it in your car on the drive home when nobody can hear you, or take out your frustrations on the heavy bag at the gym. When you return to the office the next day, keep discourse civil and focus on finding solutions.
Anger is also toxic because it tends to lead to other destructive communication behavior, particularly scapegoating. Maybe nobody on your team made an egregious error, but perhaps a client backed out of a deal you were desperately counting on. Or a blizzard in the Midwest wreaked havoc on your delivery schedule across the region. While these kinds of situations are understandably stressful, it’s important to manage that stress and be careful not to take out your frustrations on others, whether your peers, employees, vendors, other clients, or family.
If you know that you get short-tempered and tend to snap at people when you’re in a bad mood, proactively communicate this to those around you: “I know we’re all working as hard as we can to solve this problem, and none of us caused it. For the next day or so, if I seem particularly short with you, let me apologize in advance; please know that it is not about you so do not take it personally. Thanks for your diligent efforts and patience at this difficult time.” Then, of course, make sure that you don’t make the language personal, and if you do speak harshly to someone who didn’t deserve it, be sure to apologize to them personally afterwards.
Of course, as with all communication, context is key. Someone else on yesterday’s panel made reference to a double standard in which it was okay for Joe Biden to cry in public, but it would not have been okay for Hillary Clinton to do so. I think that was an overstatement, given that Joe Biden wasn’t crying time and again out of frustration because the Republicans were pushing back on the Affordable Care Act. He only cried once in public, and it was while talking about the tragic loss of his son. It was a moment of palpable grief, and the country mourned with him. In a similar situation, if – heaven forbid – something equally awful had happened to Chelsea, and Hillary had wept as Joe did in the moment as a parent overcome with grief, I think it actually would have helped her. Ironically, it would have made her appear more human and relatable, which were two deficits that plagued her campaign. There is a time and a place for everything.
In the end, there are certain emotional behaviors that have no place in business. Recognizing what they are is crucial, but so is having coping mechanisms in place to deal with those triggering emotions when they arise. Not only does incorporating these mechanisms help you do your job more effectively, but doing so transparently and explicitly so others understand your intention is a great opportunity to mentor and teach leadership by example.
Do you or does someone you know struggle with managing how they express their emotions in the workplace? Or do you have other questions or feedback about this issue? If so, contact me at email@example.com or click here to schedule a 20-minute focus call to discuss it with me personally!
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