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How Observers Assess Women Who Cry in Professional Work Contexts

How Observers Assess Women Who Cry in Professional Work Contexts 

by Kimberly Elsbach and Beth Bechky 

https://journals.aom.org/doi/10.5465/... 

Using qualitative methods, we examined how observers assessed professional women when they cried at work. Our findings showed that, in four common but stressful, professional work situations, observers used relatively complex and context-specific cognitive scripts to evaluate female colleagues who cried. Specifically, we found that script violation led observers to make dispositional attributions of criers (i.e., that they were weak, unprofessional, and/or manipulative), while script confirmation led them to make situational attributions of criers (i.e., that they were experiencing a tough situation at work, or personal issues at home). Interestingly, assessments of the underlying emotions experienced by criers did not appear to influence observers’ attributions of those criers. Together, these discoveries help to elaborate a relatively sophisticated framework describing the assessment of crying at work that builds on recent theorizing by Vingerhoets (2013). More generally, these discoveries extend our understanding of the interpretation of ambiguous “expressive cues” (i.e., visible expressions of emotion such as crying) in organizations, and suggest how contextual factors influence attributions of these ambiguous cues.

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