No matter what gender you are, if you were raised in the US or UK, when reading the initial post that began this blog, you most likely assumed that “displays of emotion” was another way of saying “crying.” If you generated a mental image of what was being discussed, you also likely pictured a woman crying, not a man.
In fact, public displays of emotion (other than rage and triumph) are seen as feminine in our culture. There’s been a lot of interest of late in the public display of emotions in the workplace–and particularly around women’s display of emotions. This is probably due to a number of factors, but two that easily come to mind are the death of the Iron Lady, former UK Prime Minister Maggie Thatcher, died in April, reviving interest in her working style; and Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO published her book “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead” and in a speech at Harvard, said “I’ve cried at work.”
Business Insider came up with another eight powerful women who were willing to weigh in on crying at work, and six of the eight said “it’s OK.” The other two believed crying at work was taken as a sign of weakness by co-workers. The article cited the book which originally piqued my interest in this subject. “It’s Always Personal: Emotion in the New Workplace,” by Anne Kreamer, is about the results of two national surveys, including the research cited in the BI article that 9 percent of men and 41 percent of women owned up to crying at work in the last year.
What none of the research that I can find has explored is whether there are differences in how emotion is both displayed and judged in the fully teleconnected business. If you have never met your boss in person, you have obviously never cried in front of her or him. If the only time you see your boss is at annual business conventions, it’s seriously doubtful that you’ve ever displayed any of the more volatile emotions in front of that person in the face-to-face sense of most current research.
The ability to disguise, downplay or even deny “displays of emotion” differs sharply between the face-to-face and teleconnected worlds. With the ability to turn off the video feed and work only with voice, is it easier to hide emotional displays that may be seen as detrimental? Is it easier to disguise untoward emotion with your voice or with your face? The easily broken communication streams of the teleconnected sphere can provide that bathroom stall or closed office door that lent refuge to the powerful women interviewed by Business Insider. How do the flaws inherent and understood in the technology impact your ability to either disguise or leverage displays of emotion in the virtual world?
So the answer to the subject line’s definition of “displays of emotion” is pretty much one that is limited to face-to-face interaction, and is gender-biased toward being strictly women’s bailiwick (if you go look at the Business Insider article, they never even asked a male CEO to weigh in. Why not?) The jury’s still out on what it means in a networked culture.
- UK’s Maggie Thatcher died April 7, 2013.
- Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO
- Business Insider: Is it OK to Cry at Work?
- Psychology Today: The Dos and Don’ts of Crying at Work
- It’s Always Personal: Emotion in the New Workplace by Anne Kreamer,
- Global business culture research by Dutch social psychologist Geert Hofstede.