Do Tears Work at Work?

tears at work The office has traditionally been a place to keep a stiff upper lip, but recently, with an emotional new speaker of the House and TV commentators who choke up freely, tears have been making a comeback. But do they really work in a professional setting, and when they flow freely, are they suspect?

In an investigation of the nature of true and false remorse, Leanne ten Brinke and colleagues, from the Centre for the Advancement of Psychology and Law (CAPSL), University of British Columbia and Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada, found that those who show a greater range of emotional expressions and swing from one emotion to another very quickly are more likely to show false remorse with tears.

The study found that those who are overly histrionic, a phenomenon referred to as emotional turbulence, often fake remorse -- as well as speak with more hesitation. Many supervisors realize this, either consciously or subconsciously, and deny the criers the sympathetic response they're seeking.

So even if you're really, really sorry, alligator tears are probably not going to help you get away with anything. And if you display big emotions on a regular basis, your tears are more likely to be ignored or met with annoyance.

Ten Brinke and colleagues examined the facial, verbal and body language behaviors associated with emotional deception in videotaped accounts of true personal wrongdoing, with either genuine or fabricated remorse, among 31 Canadian undergraduate students. Their analysis of nearly 300,000 frames showed that those participants who displayed false remorse displayed more of the seven universal emotions (happiness, sadness, fear, disgust, anger, surprise, and contempt) than those who were genuinely sorry.

The authors grouped the emotions displayed in facial expressions into three categories: positive (happiness), negative (sadness, fear, anger, contempt, disgust) and neutral (neutral expression, surprise). They found that participants who were genuinely remorseful did not often swing directly from positive to negative emotions, but went through neutral emotions first.

In contrast, those who were deceiving the researchers made more frequent direct transitions between positive and negative emotions, with fewer displays of neutral emotions in between. In addition, during fabricated remorse, students had a significantly higher rate of speech hesitations than during true remorse.

So if you really can't help crying at work, know that your tears will be taken more seriously if you keep them, and other emotions, in check as much as possible. That way, instead of having your boss respond with, "Oh no -- she's crying again. She's just SO emotional!" you'll get, "uh oh -- he must really be sorry -- he never loses it like this."

Next: The Crying Game: Can Tears Help Your Career?

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