Cry Your Way to the Top, Ladies

During a speech to Harvard Business School, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg told the gathered aspiring magnates that part of her success can be attributed to ... crying at work. Record scratch sound! What?!

Sandberg's "cry at work" advice came in the midst of a plea for honesty among business leaders — if you're working alongside people who don't feel like they know the "real you," she argues, they're not able to empathize with you as a real person, and they're not going to communicate with you honestly in turn. Thus, if you are concerned that you are surrounded by incompetence and bullshit, then say so, and encourage your employees to do the same. And if you feel like you need to cry, then by gum, unleash the floodgates.

As you graduate today, ask yourself, how will you lead. Will you use simple and clear language? Will you seek out honesty? When you get honesty back, will you react with anger or with gratitude? As we strive to be more authentic in our communication, we should also strive to be more authentic in a broader sense. I talk a lot about bringing your whole self to work-something I believe in deeply. [...]

I've cried at work. I've told people I've cried at work. And it's been reported in the press that Sheryl Sandberg cried on Mark Zuckerberg's shoulder, which is not exactly what happened. I talk about my hopes and fears and ask people about theirs. I try to be myself. Honest about my strengths and weaknesses and I encourage others to do the same. It is all professional and it is all personal, all at the very same time.

So should women go all John Boehner on their colleagues? Or is this just another instance of Sheryl Sandberg applying something extremely specific to her own experience to the greater world of business? Yes — and no.

The COO of Facebook is probably not the best, most relatable place for a fledgling female wage earner to get advice; what she does in her day-to-day life is so privileged and removed from what most women experience in their careers that it's best to think of many of Sandberg's musings as the business equivalent of Gwyneth Paltrow's GOOP. Why not cry in front of your coworkers to remind them that you're not an alien queen from outer space? Why not buy your step-uncle-in-law a $500 leather wristlet as a stocking stuffer?

And I'd argue that most bosses don't have the same view on separation of work and personal life that Sandberg has —

I don't believe we have a professional self from Mondays through Fridays and a real self for the rest of the time. That kind of division probably never worked, but in today's world, with a real voice, an authentic voice, it makes even less sense.

(A view, oddly, that sort of reflects Facebook's overall view of whether or not people should have any sort of online privacy. Weird!)

This isn't the first time that something Sandberg has said has sounded a little off. Remember that time she told a PBS/AOL's Makers Project that everyone should leave work at 5:30, or that time she said that she used to use a breast pump during conference calls and then tell her colleagues that the weird buzzing they were hearing was a firetruck, or that other time when she said that unless your lazy ass husband starts pulling his weight around the house, women who want to be successful should consider marrying other women? But her crying advice is sort of crazy like a fox.

According to the folks at The Grindstone, workplace tears aren't the career kryptonite they used to be — 41% of women claim that they've cried at work compared with 9% of men, but in most cases, no one really cares. In some instances, ability to show emotion can be viewed as an asset. It proves that you're not an automaton.

I've cried at work before (not at this job, but at the job I had before I had this job, when I was miserable and working in finance) and it ended up serving me well, but not as a way to convince my coworkers that I was being my true, honest self and that I deserved a raise and a promotion. In fact, my tears convinced my boss that I was truly unhappy, that I'd reached the end of my rope, and that it was time for me to go. I left the industry less than a month later, and my boss gave me a bottle of pinot and threw me a happy hour send off party. And then I flew away on a 1957 Cadillac next to Danny Zucko, for some reason.

So, to cry or not to cry? It depends on your place in the hierarchy and the culture of your office, and apparently the authenticity of the feelings behind the tears. But beware forced or manipulative waterworks — Sandburg would warn you that dishonest tears could cause your stock to drop faster than Facebook's.

[The Grindstone]