Yesterday I finished up my attendance at the SWE Region A Conference in Stockton.  It was a fun event- as always and a great opportunity to catch up with my network as well as learn.  The conference ended with a SWE officers meeting.  Most of the time SWE meetings are pretty tame and there are not too many differing opinions.

This Sunday we did have some differing opinions, and unfortunately with those- an eruption of emotion.

And unfortunately, with this emotion came tears.

Now although I am a woman, I have no tolerance for tears.  (I think my mom roughened me up)  I understand why they come, but I still believe they do not belong in work or workplace settings.

Let’s start with getting to the bottom of why this emotion comes and why, especially with women, it so often results in tears.

I think that most of us care about the work that we do.  We put time, effort, and passion into it.  The more passionate you get about something, the more your emotions become intertwined.  When someone starts to challenge your direction, your opinion, the way you have approached a problem/solution you start putting up your defensive.  Depending on how the question are being asked, that defense can come up hard and strong.  As the questioning continues, your brain races to pull up facts to defend your position.  Unfortunately, if it is something you have poured hours and passion into, the brain reaches for data intertwined with emotions.  You feel your face start to flush and your adrenaline pump.

At that very moment, it is critical to remind yourself to separate those emotions from the rest of the situation.  You have to control that inner voice and tell yourself- “it’s just work, it’s not me being questioned, remain objective, breathe”.

This is the exact moment that most women struggle.  I think that on average, men put in as much effort, time, and passion into their work as women.  I also believe that they can be equally hurt and defensive when someone comes down hard on their ideas and output.  So why do women end up crying much more than men?  I think there are two reasons.

First, men are trained from a very early age to control their crying.  Because of the social norms that “real men don’t cry”, most guys learn in elementary school not to cry in front of anyone.  They hold it inside, if not always, at least long enough to make it to a secluded location.  I think if women had the same social norms, we wouldn’t be seen crying nearly as much at work.

Second, men and women’s brains are wired slightly differently.   I think that women’s thoughts and memories are connected to emotions in a way that looks like a big ball of twine.  As we dig through our memories for that “back-up data”, it drudges up any emotions that were present when the data went in the first time.  Think about arguments you have with your significant other.  You may be complaining about him leaving his dishes out, which them makes you think about the time he left out all the pots from cooking and you had spend the whole day cleaning the house and were exhausted and upset at yet another mess, then you think about another time you were out running errands and asked him to do one things for you- run the dishwasher, and he didn’t and you complained that he expected you to do too much.  So now, as you tell your significant other to pick up his dishes, you start feeling exhausted and get riled up about how he is not pulling his fair share of chore duties.  Suddenly, you’re accused of making a big deal out of nothing.  Our brains work this way, men’s don’t.

There is no reason to cry at work.  Not only does it never help you, it makes all the men you work with uncomfortable.  They hate it when women cry because they have no idea what to do to make it better.  It also ruins your credibility- suddenly, you’re known as “emotional”.  A brand you don’t want.

The best way to keep yourself from crying, is to develop a self-awareness.  Train yourself to recognize when the emotions are creeping in.  Train your inner voice to tell you to breath, remain objective, separate out the emotions.  You’ll get much farther defending your ideas.

2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by kiki on September 20, 2010 at 11:30 am

    I’ve also heard that if you look up, your tear ducts close and you are physically incapable of crying.


  2. I am definitely a crier and it is one of the things I have been trying to work on. A lot of it stems from taking any and all problems that happen at work personally. Unfortunately I’m already known as “emotional” at my current job, but I have been working on training myself to recognize when tears might come. Hopefully, I can utilize this new skill when I take on jobs in the future so that I won’t be pegged as emotional again!


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