There's no crying in business
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Okay, you. I can't keep this inside any longer. You and I need to have a little talk about this situation. No, not the fact that your budget got rejected and you have to go back to the drawing board for next Thursday's presentation. We're going to talk about the whole crying at work thing. That's right. You're a grown woman, making almost seven figures. It's time you stopped turning on the waterworks on the rare occasions you get really frustrated or angry.

I wouldn't mention it in such a public place except that it's just not helpful to your public posture. You're not the first woman I've known who, under certain kinds of pressure, changes from a capable executive into a weeping little girl. Nobody talks about it much, because it's not politically correct to notice the differences between the sexes in the workplace, even though we're all perfectly capable of noticing when a colleague is wearing a pinstriped miniskirt--or a tight pair of pants, for that matter. But that's pretty commonplace in the office now, managing the urge to merge on a personal basis. What's not so easy to handle is this tendency you display to well up when thwarted.

A couple of years ago I attended a meeting in one of our New Media fantasy divisions. The president of this group--a cool, brilliant, tough woman about 35 years old--got up and did one of those PowerPoint presentations that put me to sleep faster than kibble made Pavlov's dogs dribble. About halfway through, the rude and highly effective chairman of our company, for whom this entertainment had been prepared, got up and started perambulating around the room. The president went on as Himself went to the sideboard and, his back to the screen, began the thoughtful process of selecting a breadstuff for his plate. The president hesitated. There was silence. Then she sat down and ceased presenting entirely.

The chairman, without turning around, said, "This is all very well, but where's the upside growth in the near term?"

"Well," said the president in a strangely glottal tone, "I don't have the resources to move all that quickly or to be evaluated quarter to quarter."

"Yeah, Lisa," said the chairman, "but that's how we have to look at things. Shouldn't New Media be judged by the same criteria as our other operations?"

"I don't know what you expect me to do with one person and an assistant!" said Lisa. She was now crying. The room was dark, and everybody pretended not to notice, but she was crying, all right. This a woman who had graduated at the top of her class at Wharton or Kellogg or some damn place, managed to balance a successful career with duties as a mom of two, and could hold her second martini without spilling it. Crying. I was so mad at her I could spit, but I said nothing. What was there to say? If she'd had a booger hanging from her nose it would have been no less embarrassing.

Our chairman, who is now departed and unmourned, had a real knack for saying what others in a room were too civilized to utter. It was probably this poor impulse control that made him so successful, come to think of it. "Jesus Christ," is what he said at this juncture, "stop crying!" He left, and the meeting ended.

A few of us gathered afterward in the smoking ruins of the boardroom. "She cried," said Moskowitz.

"Yeah," said Broyles. "I can't take it when they cry. I want to shake them or hug them, but you can't really do either."

"I can tell you one thing," said Reynard. "I never want to be in another situation with her like that again." And he never was. She went bye-bye when the frost descended on the New Media chimera.

I wouldn't mention this sad tale if I hadn't seen scenes like it before, always with capable women who are being asked to do too much. The crying has been leached out of men for the most part. When we're young and our eyes begin to leak, there's always somebody around to say, "Hey! Quit that, you sissy!" And after a while, we do. It isn't necessarily a good thing, but, for the most part, men have solved the problem of public crying. Now, having come so far, you women have to do the same.

Let me give you a suggestion, as a friend:

Don't get moist--get even. Very often tears are a mask for anger that you've been taught not to express. The way boys are taught not to blubber, girls are told to suppress unseemly rage. Look at the big male morons around you who are doing well. Usually the ones most capable of generating Olympian anger are doing the best, right? So when you feel a sniffle building? Yell instead. Inflict pain--do not suffer it. Then, at the end of a long, tearless day at the office, you can go home, pull up a drink, kick the dog, and have a good old-fashioned cry.

We do, those of us who are still sane.

Stanley Bing is an executive at a FORTUNE 500 company he'd rather not name. He is the author of two recent books: The Big Bing, a collection of essays, and You Look Nice Today, a novel. He can be reached at