I was brought up to think that crying at work is completely taboo and I’d lose all credibility if I let my emotions get the better of me. When I was working as a corporate lawyer in a global law firm in London sometimes I’d escape to the loo to have a private weep. I remember excusing myself from my first appraisal as I realised I was going to cry and didn’t want my bosses to see that I was upset.
Years later I trained as a psychotherapist and spent much time in groups where we were encouraged to let the tears flow as we shared our feelings and I could see that this was a powerfully healing experience.
All too often, when overwhelmed by strong feelings and unable to hold back the tears, I see people apologising for “being emotional” – seeing tears as a shameful sign of weakness.
In my programmes for women leaders around the world we’ve been having lively discussions about whether it’s OK to cry at work.
“Why not!” I say.
I know that I feel a lot better after a good cry and there is nothing inherently shameful about tears. We are not meant to be robots at work, leaving our humanity at the door as we come into the office.
Women in particular fear being seen as weak or manipulative if we allow tears, yet I think that many men would welcome the opportunity to express their vulnerability in this way too. Women often find it easier than men to access their tears, so you can show leadership by letting your tears flow and being OK about it when others cry. I’m not suggesting you bawl your eyes out in the boardroom every week, but if from time to time you feel genuinely tearful then experiment with letting this show.
We have made so many strides in the diversity area – gender, race, LGBT, disability, taboos around mental health – is it time for tears to come out of the closet too?
Liz Rivers is a women’s leadership coach who supports women leaders and entrepreneurs to survive, thrive and change the rules of the game.
A former corporate lawyer, commercial mediator and psychotherapist, she combines over 25 years’ business experience with a profound understanding of psychology and human behaviour. She's a frequent expert contributor on BBC radio and has coached women in the UK House of Parliament on how to get their voices heard.
Her Purpose, Power, Presence leadership programme for women is highly acclaimed. www.lizrivers.com