Cry Your Way to the Top, Ladies

Illustration for article titled 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?!

Advertisement

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.

Advertisement

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.

Advertisement

(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.

Advertisement

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.

Advertisement

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.

Advertisement

[The Grindstone]

Share This Story

Get our newsletter

DISCUSSION

Here's a query: what do you do when your job makes you not so much want to cry, but instead makes you very very angry? What do you do when all that incompetence and ridiculousness just makes you want to scream "I quit!" in the middle of conference calls and then run out of the room? What if you'r primary response to your job is not sadness but but hatred?

A little background — I took my current job a little over two and a half years ago. At the time, the company was in deep financial trouble, though of course I did not know that at the time of my hiring (or I wouldn't have taken the job — I had another job that was fine, but I had reached the top of that ladder and was looking for a growth opportunity). About 7 months after a took the job, the company buckled. Most of my coworkers were laid off, the rest were spun off into a new company. But I was part of a small group that was retained and absorbed by our parent.

So for the last year, I've been trying to find a role within my corporate parent. I am now the only remaining member of my original group still in my city, so I have no real "coworkers" to speak of. The woman who hired me left in January under very negative circumstances. My current boss is actually a VP stationed at corporate headquarters, who is unfamiliar with my area of the business and has offered me little to no guidance.

So how do I occupy my time? Well I established a web presence for our business last fall as a means to maintain some connection to our customers as we sort out what we're doing. That's been fairly successful. But I've also been tapped to help shape the new business plan going forward, and that's going terribly. Everything we put forward gets, well, not rejected exactly. We keep being sent back to the drawing board, but without being told what the problem is. Right now we have no revenue and no prospects for revenue, and we've just been told to do more market research and "refine" our current business case.

But at least I have a job, right? Well, yes, and trust me, I'm grateful for the paycheck. I'm exploring other options but being picky, seeing as how my last job change resulted in my present situation, and I am not going to make this decision quickly. In the meantime, I mostly just want to throttle people (over the phone, obviously, since I don't work with anyone in person). When I wake up in the morning, my first thought is, "Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck." I've become that negative person who hates everything and is a total downer, and I don't know what to do about it. I don't give a shit about anything, even, to a large extent, the website I've built and grown from scratch.

I'm entertaining a soft job offer from a start-up, but worried about job security (my boyfriend wants us to buy a house this summer), plus I'm not sure I can function in this industry anymore. I am in the running for two government jobs, one of which I'm pretty excited about, but that process takes forever (could be October before I know one way or the other).

So folks, I'm asking: what do I do? Other than crying. I mean, I can try that, but there's no one around to see it. Should I lay my unhappiness out on the table for my "boss". He likes me, but I'm not sure there's much he can or will do. Do I take the leap on the start-up? Do I try not to go totally postal while waiting on these government positions? Do I pack it in, use my savings to buy a yurt in the desert, and write a novel?

All suggestions are welcome.