Is it OK to cry at work?

Is it OK to cry at work?

I was brought up to think that crying at work is completely taboo and I’d lose all credibility if I let my emotions get the better of me. When I was working as a City lawyer in a global law firm sometimes I’d escape to the loo to have a private weep. Indeed, I remember excusing myself from my first appraisal as I realised I was going to cry and didn’t want my bosses to see that I was upset.

Years later I trained as a psychotherapist and spent much time in groups where we were encouraged to let the tears flow as we shared our feelings and life stories and I could see that this was a powerfully healing experience.

All too often, when overwhelmed by strong feelings and unable to hold back the tears, I see people apologising for “being emotional” – seeing tears as a shameful sign of weakness.

In my programmes for women leaders around the world we’ve been having lively discussions about whether it’s OK to cry at work.

“Why not!” I say.

I know that I feel a lot better after a good cry and there is nothing inherently shameful about tears. We are not meant to be robots at work, leaving our humanity at the door as we come into the office.

Women in particular fear being seen as weak or manipulative if we allow tears, yet I think that many men would welcome the opportunity to express their vulnerability in this way too. Women often find it easier than men to access their tears, so you can show leadership by letting your tears flow and being OK about it when others cry. I’m not suggesting you bawl your eyes out in the boardroom every week, but if from time to time you feel genuinely tearful then experiment with letting this show.

We have made so many strides in the diversity area – gender, race, LGBT, disability, taboos around mental health – is it time for tears to come out of the closet too?

Let me know what you think!


Note: First posted on Liz’s blog:

Wonder Woman was right – posture is power

Wonder Woman was right – posture is power

Do you ever wish you could have some more oomph when you speak? Would you like to be able to get your audience to sit up and listen to you without fail? An unlikely source of inspiration is Wonder Woman – a 1970s series in which Lynda Carter, dressed like a female gladiator, vanquished villains and saved the day. Her trademark pose was legs planted wide apart and fists on hips – like a female Superman.

It turns out, according to acclaimed TED speaker Amy Cuddy, that Wonder Woman was on to something. Cuddy shares some surprising research about the power of posture. We have long known that our body language is a huge part of our overall communication with others. If our words are powerful but our stance is weak, the listener will believe our body language (55%) and tone of voice (38%) rather than our words (7%).

Cuddy tells us that our posture also has a powerful impact on how we feel inside. Simply adopting a high status power pose (a la Wonder Woman) for two minutes is enough to significantly raise our testosterone levels – the hormone which encourages confidence and risk taking. Conversely, just two minutes of a low status, unconfident pose will reduce our testosterone and raise our cortisol level – the stress hormone – which causes us to doubt ourselves and lose confidence.

Our bodies are the most powerful tool we have for strengthening our confidence and self belief. Women particularly have been socialised not to adopt powerful, high status postures or take up too much space (just look at how men and women take up space on public transport to check this out). The result is we can spend years developing our technical skills only to let ourselves down through poor posture.

So, next time you have to perform under pressure – whether it’s giving a presentation, making a pitch or attending a difficult meeting or negotiation – find somewhere private and stand like Wonder Woman for two minutes. You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes.

Liz Rivers and Esther Stanhope demonstrating the Power Pose to Accenture Women’s Network

If you want help to look and feel more confident when it really matters then get in touch.


Note: First posted on Liz’s blog:

Women – when NOT to say sorry

Women – when NOT to say sorry

We are taught that we should say sorry when we have made a mistake. This is generally good practice when a genuine mistake has been made, but is there a danger women say sorry too often and undermine their credibility in the workplace as a result?

Linguist Deborah Tannen, author of “You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation” points out that men and women understand the word “sorry” in different ways. Women will often say sorry to express empathy as in “I’m sorry that happened” whereas men will hear it as “I apologise, it’s my fault this happened” and respect the speaker less as a result.

For example, I was a guest on a live BBC radio programme last weekend and there was an awkward moment when the female presenter mistakenly announced a record which was not scheduled and there was a longish silence. These things happen in live broadcasts but she then went on to apologise for it so profusely that listeners started to call in to comment on it. A simple glitch which would have been forgotten in five minutes became much more significant due to excessive apologising.

Since becoming aware of Deborah Tannen’s research I’ve started to monitor how often I feel the impulse to say sorry and to question whether I really need to or whether there is another way of responding. I’m shocked by how often I say “sorry” unnecessarily. I have noticed that women will sometimes put themselves “one down” in order to make the other person feel comfortable, but at a cost to their own credibility.

This becomes even more critical in formal situations such as presenting. How often have you heard someone start a talk by saying “I’m not very technical” as they wrestle with their PowerPoint? It’s a bit like saying “please like me” and it always makes my heart sink as it neither shows confidence nor genuine vulnerability.

So, if you have genuinely made a mistake then by all means say sorry and accept responsibility. However, if you are a woman beware of saying “sorry” to a man in a work situation unless you really mean “I apologise”. Find another way to express yourself or you could unintentionally lose credibility. And, unless you have just punched your host, don’t ever start a presentation with an apology.


Note: First posted on Liz’s blog: