Do Tears Work at Work?

tears at work The office has traditionally been a place to keep a stiff upper lip, but recently, with an emotional new speaker of the House and TV commentators who choke up freely, tears have been making a comeback. But do they really work in a professional setting, and when they flow freely, are they suspect?

In an investigation of the nature of true and false remorse, Leanne ten Brinke and colleagues, from the Centre for the Advancement of Psychology and Law (CAPSL), University of British Columbia and Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada, found that those who show a greater range of emotional expressions and swing from one emotion to another very quickly are more likely to show false remorse with tears.

The study found that those who are overly histrionic, a phenomenon referred to as emotional turbulence, often fake remorse -- as well as speak with more hesitation. Many supervisors realize this, either consciously or subconsciously, and deny the criers the sympathetic response they're seeking.

So even if you're really, really sorry, alligator tears are probably not going to help you get away with anything. And if you display big emotions on a regular basis, your tears are more likely to be ignored or met with annoyance.

Ten Brinke and colleagues examined the facial, verbal and body language behaviors associated with emotional deception in videotaped accounts of true personal wrongdoing, with either genuine or fabricated remorse, among 31 Canadian undergraduate students. Their analysis of nearly 300,000 frames showed that those participants who displayed false remorse displayed more of the seven universal emotions (happiness, sadness, fear, disgust, anger, surprise, and contempt) than those who were genuinely sorry.

The authors grouped the emotions displayed in facial expressions into three categories: positive (happiness), negative (sadness, fear, anger, contempt, disgust) and neutral (neutral expression, surprise). They found that participants who were genuinely remorseful did not often swing directly from positive to negative emotions, but went through neutral emotions first.

In contrast, those who were deceiving the researchers made more frequent direct transitions between positive and negative emotions, with fewer displays of neutral emotions in between. In addition, during fabricated remorse, students had a significantly higher rate of speech hesitations than during true remorse.

So if you really can't help crying at work, know that your tears will be taken more seriously if you keep them, and other emotions, in check as much as possible. That way, instead of having your boss respond with, "Oh no -- she's crying again. She's just SO emotional!" you'll get, "uh oh -- he must really be sorry -- he never loses it like this."

Next: The Crying Game: Can Tears Help Your Career?

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Although there are people who are simply drama queens or kings and who try to use tears and other strong emotions as leverage with co-workers and/or supervisors, there are people who may be affected by a medical problem (NOT MENTAL for those who will rush to that judgement) and have a difficult time reining in tears when they encounter a strong emotional response. I had such a medical condition which had my hormone levels so whacked out that I would get tears in my eyes over the most mundane things. That was bad enough, but when I could not stand up for myself against a bullying co-worker or boss, I would get so frustrated; first, because I couldn't control my response, and then because my response would seem to delight in my response so much they would invent reasons to try and force me into a corner.

Those of you who would jump to the conclusion that someone is just "weak" and not worthy of empathy are sick and probably should not be in a job where you are working with others. Suggesting to a supervisor or boss that they recommend to the "weepy" one that they might want to visit with their doctor to see if they can find if there is a physical cause for their tears would be the kinder course to take.

February 10 2011 at 2:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

No wonder we haven't cured cancer yet! We keep spending money on pointless studies like this.

February 10 2011 at 1:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Hey, crying works for Boehner, why not for you?

February 10 2011 at 1:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If a man is crying in public he needs to be slapped.

February 10 2011 at 12:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to corey's comment

...preferably by a woman. It tends to have more of an impact.

February 10 2011 at 12:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I knew a cop who very much disliked crying by violaters when he stopped them for trafic violations. If he stopped someone and they began to cry they definately got the ticket. I was allowed to ride with him in his patrol car and he was running radar. A young lady was driving over the speed limit and he stopped her and planned to give a warning. He went to her car and immediately returned to get his ticket book. After she left with her ticket he saw my look of question. He explained that when he went to talk to her she turned on the tears and that is when he decided to issue the ticket.

February 10 2011 at 12:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Men start fist fights, women cry. That's how both sexes show emotion. Regardless of how much women try to fight it, it happens.

February 10 2011 at 11:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Somebody better tell Boehner...

February 10 2011 at 10:59 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
kathy quaty

lol, these comments people post up are funny, but, crying at work (or anywhere/ladies crying at home in front of husbands/ tends to be deceiving, if u cry "too much" then u are labeled 'a cryer' & your tears are not even seen anymore as a big deal...u get labeled 'too sensitive' then this is viewed as a bad quality/not an asset to the company.... it depends on alot of factors nevermind this is so embarassing i have to go cry, lol

February 10 2011 at 10:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
sean Ryan

Unless something absolutely catastrophic happens WHILE working, people crying on the job I’m sorry to say, is a sign of weakness and does turn people off. Keep your deep and dark emotions at the door and just do your job. If there was a death in the family, and you’re distraught about it don’t go into work that day if all you’re going to do is cry. I’m sorry if I sound cold, but not only is crying on the job a waste of time, it’s also embarrassing and awkward for everyone else who actually are doing work.

February 10 2011 at 10:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think that even on a personal basis it is difficult to trust people with flamboyant emotions.

February 10 2011 at 9:51 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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