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Quartz: How to cry at work without the social cost

18 Jun 2018
When assessing female criers at work, observers rely on cognitive “scripts” about the way people should act in common—and stressful—work contexts such as receiving negative feedback.

Originally found at Quartz, by Kimberly Elsbach

While I was working as an engineer at a large food company, I once became frustrated and upset when the meeting leader dismissed a concern I had expressed and, in my mind, put me down for voicing the concern at all.

I felt tears in my eyes, but decided to stay in the meeting and try to get my emotions under control. Afterwards, I heard through the grapevine that many people were talking about me. My colleagues were shocked that I would cry in a meeting. I also found that many of them treated me differently—as if I were fragile—after that instance. I now understand that they may have perceived me as weak and unprofessional because I cried.

Psychologists have shown that women are perceived more negatively than are men if they display emotions at work.  Observers are more likely to make dispositional attributions (i.e., attributions to a person’s innate characteristics) when women express emotions. By contrast, they are more likely to attribute male expressions of emotions to the situation (e.g., it was an unexpectedly demanding situation). Researchers have also found that the belief that “displaying emotion at work is dysfunctional” is more likely to be applied to women than to men. In my own research, which I conducted with my colleague Beth Bechky, we looked at a particular emotional display: crying. We focused on crying because it may be expressed in response to many of the emotions employees feel at work (e.g., frustration, anger, sadness), and because it is highly salient and memorable for people who observe it at work. For the study, we interviewed 65 full-time, working professionals employed in a variety of industries and firms in Northern California. Our findings revealed one way to explain why observers tend to be judge women who display emotions at work differently than they judge men who do the same. They showed that when assessing female criers at work, observers rely on cognitive “scripts” about the way people should act in common—and stressful—work contexts such as receiving negative feedback.

Continue reading original article at Quartz at Work.


Read the original research in Academy of Management Discoveries

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