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Why You Shouldn't Cry At Work (Hear that John Boehner?)

I once had an employee, Angela, who cried. Often. Strategically. It was the way she got things done. If she needed a little extra time, more money on her budget, a bit of leeway somewhere, she wept.

I was reminded of her when I saw House Republican Leader John Boehner weeping. I'm not fundamentally opposed to displays of emotion. In fact, if we were more open about just how emotional business is, I think we'd make wiser, more transparent decisions. So when I hear of someone weeping publicly, my first instinct is to defend them.

But I feel as critical of Boehner's tears as I did about Angela's. Why?

1. Because I feel I'm being played. The tears are too knowing. I don't think they're about emotional incontinence because highly successful people do not get to powerful positions by being out of control. So when they appear to lose control, I feel I'm being manipulated. I'm not moved, I'm insulted.

2. I dislike weeping in the office when it attempts to replace reasoned argument with pure sentiment. If we are discussing hiring, firing, budgets and resources, tears just aren't relevant. It isn't about how you feel. The discussion is - or should be - about what has and hasn't worked in the past, what might work now. The best negotiators understand that ultimately arguments are won with evidence. If they have to introduce tears, it's because there's no data. That's why Angela never liked working for me; lacking content, her tears weren't an argument.

3. Crying also can be a form of bullying. Which is why Angela's co-workers hated her tears too. They felt the weeping said: either you agree with me or I'll cry. Men in particular loathed her tears, fearing being caught alone with a weeping woman. Everyone felt manipulated and belittled, annoyed at having to be the grownup to her child.

On the other hand, I've seen people weeping after layoffs and felt: they're right. This is always a terribly sad event - for those laid off and those who remain behind. It's foolish to pretend otherwise. Work is a community and layoffs damage that community.

A few more visible tears around this subject and perhaps some executives would understand that such decision aren't entirely about numbers on spreadsheets. And I believe executives should have to see the human consequences of their actions.

But what do you think? Would you cry in the office?

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