Remember when Tom Hanks' character in A League of Their Own said, "Crying?! There's no crying in baseball!"? He was playing a beleaguered coach of a women's baseball team who couldn't deal with one of the team member's emotional outbursts.The line was meant to be funny (in fact, one of the few in that movie that was) but there's a spark of truth to it too. I saw an article recently that said women (and men too, I suppose, though the article was directed at women) can suffer irreversible career setbacks if they are perceived as emotional.
One time long ago, I was a middle manager who made an impassioned please to my boss against a planned intiative that would have put my team at a production disadvantage. No tears, just impassioned.
The result? The initiative went forward and at my next performance review, I was told my performance was good but that I could be "too emotional." Normally, I would completely understand an aversion to excessive emotional displays in the office, but this particular boss, who was about one chip away from being a cyborg, confused my passion with emotional instability. From then on, I tried to retain my passion but consciously controlled the way I manifested it.
Ironically, it was a few months later that I got an internal transferree who was the walking embodiment of excessive emotions. This woman, I'll call her Camille, would cry at the drop of a hat. And this wasn't a slightly weepy, slink-off-to-a-restroom-stall kind of crying either. This was the sobbing, co-worker-hugging type that erupted because of everything from a minor job performace critique to any of a thousand personal dramas that seemed to plague her life.
I'm pretty soft-hearted — sometimes to a fault — but this all got tiresome pretty quickly. Her behavior alienated her from the team, a situation that became increasingly difficult to manage.
Now, on the flip side, there was a guy in another department who often lashed out verbally at other staffers when he felt frustrated. At first, we attributed this to the fact that he was going through a bitter divorce. But months later, we began to think the divorce was the result of the anger and not vice versa.
So what do you do in cases like this? It's more politically correct to reprimand an employee for an anger issue (especially in light of the gun-toting nut jobs who've made the news recently), but how do you discipline someone for crying too much? And is it more of a personal issue rather than a workplace one? Short of spiking their morning coffee with Prozac, is there any way to change that kind of behavior in someone? I don't have the answer. Do you?
Toni Bowers is the former Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.