THE BLOG

Emotion At Work

11/17/2011 09:02 am ET

A little cheer seems allowed. A small yippee or yahoo is also OK. Even voices raised in disagreement are accepted in most workplaces. So, why are these emotions permitted yet others utterly taboo? Specifically, why is it career suicide to cry at work?

This question recently occurred to me as I was myself publicly afflicted by an outburst of tears at the office. It was at a going away party for a colleague from Sweden who during her three years in America had become not just a colleague but a real friend - a friend I was truly sad to see go. As someone known to be a die-hard competitor and a very determined professional, I think my tears surprised those present as much as they surprised me. And, despite the fact that several people who were there told me they found it touching, I was embarrassed. So, I started thinking: is there really a place for emotions at work and if so, who or how do we determine which emotions are proper and which are not?

For example, why is yelling more acceptable than crying?

From my years living overseas, it's clear that not every culture wears its heart on its sleeve the way we do. But in America, we seem to be OK with showing strong emotion at home and at play. But why not at work?

I don't have the answer to that question and I clearly don't set the rules. But I, for one, like to bring emotion into the workplace. It's real. It can add to team spirit. Competing is intense. Winning is exciting. I think emotional engagement - full emotional engagement - can help teams and organizations succeed. Obviously some people find strong emotion difficult to handle in any circumstance. But should this be the norm? Should crying be a career-ending occurrence, or, should we try to bring even more emotion into the workplace, to be more real and more emotionally engaged in our work?

I don't think corporate America needs to be the mind numbing experience so many TV shows and cartoons depict these days. Why can't teamwork at the office be more like teamwork on the playing field? Maybe I'm just missing my hockey stick but I'd love to see more pumped up team spirit in the office. How about you?