Ya, I Cry at Work. Do You?

Dan Pontefract Last Friday night, I sat down at home with the family to watch a film. Group consensus found us selecting “We Bought a Zoo”, a brilliant 2011 film by Pearl Jam fan Cameron Crowe based on a true story. Benjamin Mee – rather tragically – loses his wife to illness and subsequently decides to ‘buy a zoo’ which then precipitates him to move his two children from city life to rural zoo life. You can visit Benjamin’s Dartmoor Zoo site to learn more and to find out how you can book tickets to actually visit their zoo. (they even have a European Reindeer)

By the closing scene, I was a bucket of tears. And I wasn’t cutting onions.

That of course got me thinking.

Do you cry at work?

In the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, President Obama wept during his press conference discussing the situation. Who wouldn’t? Who couldn’t? I did, and I was thousands of kilometers away in Europe on holiday.

Is it ok to cry amongst your peers and team given difficult situations? Do you feel uncomfortable if someone cries in front of you?

crying2If President Obama cried with the entire American nation watching, does that make you think more or less of him? Do ‘real leaders’ cry?

Do my current or past peers think more or less of me because I occasionally cry in a given situation?

I’ll provide three personal examples for you to contemplate:

  • 1997 – While watching the graduation class of St. Patrick Regional Secondary School march across the stage to collect their degrees, I was tearing up. When the Valedictorian spoke, by this point I was openly weeping. I knew it was the last time I was going to be a part of a high school graduation as I was moving on to other pastures. The students (and staff) didn’t know I was leaving until after they had celebrated their moment. It was tough but I believe they were ok with my waterfall.
  • 2001 – I had to let someone go while working at BCIT. It was a painful decision, but one that had to be made for various reasons. During the discussion with the employee, I welled up. It was the individual who looked at me and said, “Dan, it’s ok. I get it.” When I told the rest of the team that the individual was no longer going to be a part of our group, I welled up there as well. I don’t think this affected my leadership or the results of our team. I don’t have empirical proof it affected it negatively or positively, but perhaps I was viewed more humanely in the eyes of everyone.
  • 2008 – I made the painful decision to leave SAP and a culture, team and ‘work family’ that was very dear to me, and my heart. When I informed my direct manager in California about my decision, I wept on the phone. When I gathered the leadership team together, I wept there too. And when I had to tell the entire team of roughly 100 members, I lost it … couldn’t even finish my sentence.

After personally opening up in this space and describing a few examples of me weeping in front of various peers in various situations, do you now think less of me?

I’m not suggesting, however, that I’m an emotional wreck, watering conference rooms after every difficult situation. That might be coined emotional unintelligence. But rest assured, I don’t think differently of those that cry at work.

We’re all humans; get on the bus.


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4 comments on “Ya, I Cry at Work. Do You?”

  1. Good post. And yes, I think it’s important to be able to emote in a professional or personal situation. In fact, I believe vulnerability is the cornerstone of good leadership.

  2. I’ve lost cost the number of times I’ve welled up at work. If you ask my wife she’s say she’s not that surprised considering any well scripted commercial involving emotional content or eveu second episode of Grey’s Anatomy pretty much has me tearing up at some point.

    I remember about eight years ago when my mom, sister, and I were driving to my Dad’s funeral and my mom turned to us and said, “I’m sorry haven’t been able to hold it together the past few days and been stronger for you two.” My response to her was, “weak people hide their tears and strong ones let them out.” [just remembering that story caused me to well up]. I stand by that statement.

  3. I would rather work with people who are true to their emotions than those who keep them bottled up day in day out. The latter is not healthy and a recipe for an explosion down the road. I’m a pretty emotional guy, I wear my heart on my sleeve and I’ve shed a few tears over the years in various personal and professional circles. Upon reflection, I think these experiences were actually cathartic and somewhat rejuvenating. Kinda like hitting the reset button as the well overflows with sad thoughts, tragic losses, project difficulties, unfulfilled dreams, disastrous relationships etc. that have accumulated over time.

    @Mike – Grey’s has brought out the tissues on our coach too! And as turn to my wife to hand her a kleenex, there’s something special about that moment when we look at each other and empathize with each other and the fictitious onscreen situation. The crying is then usually replaced by laughter which to me completed the full cycle of emotional well being.

    @Dan – thanks for sharing this post!

Hey! I'd love to read what you think. Surely you have an opinion. Love, Dan.