Career Woman

Why it’s okay to cry in the workplace

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If you subscribe to any kind of pseudo-science around personality types, you may have come across the Myer’s Briggs Personality Types.  Often called the astrology of the corporate world, Myer’s Briggs describes in 4 neat little letters what kind of thinker (or moreover, FEELer) you may be as an employee.

I’m an ENFJ, or an Extroverted Intuitive Feeling Judging type. We love teaching, mentoring, inspiring and leading (and pina coladas and walks in the rain, yada yada yada).

We feel someone’s place in the team, understand what they need, and then use that to motivate on a very personal level. An ENFJ is a person who leads with compassion and feeling; someone who cares about the micro and macro goals of each person in their team, and celebrates everyone’s success without ego.

Sounds like an ideal person to have in a leadership role, right?

Well, it’s not all Braveheart talks and trust falls. Being an ENFJ, or an empath, in the workplace has a flipside.

We cry.

Spoiler Alert: I did not need any kind of personality test to tell me this. Sure, it has a fancy label now, but I have always known that I could be termed what some lesser-evolved people called “sensitive”.

I remember the first time I cried in the workplace. I was 19 and working for Channel 10 as an employee, and a story got cancelled for filming on the kid’s show on Totally Wild. It was probably raining and the film crew would have been scheduled to shoot a story on an outdoor petting zoo or something. After I received the call cancelling the shoot, I immediately felt hot. I got up from my desk and went to the bathroom. I locked myself in a stall and sobbed. Sobbed because I’d let people down, that somehow this was my fault and I could feel everyone judging me. This was not the case. But it’s what I felt like.

Because I’m an empath, I have to feel something before I can think about something. Like a giant storm builds up quickly in the summer heat, rains down heavily, and then washes away the soot to reveal a clear sky, a good cry is a circuit breaker for me.

But it has taken me a long time to figure out that crying is part of my process, and not a personal failure. A long time to separate the physical act of crying from what it means in our society to cry.

It normally means weakness.  A sign of incompetence or incoherence. Big boys don’t do it, little girls do. Another thing on the biological proof list that women aren’t meant to do big things or lead. Because we’re too emotional and it’s All. Too. Hard.

And I felt this, too. Every time I would cry at work, I felt like it was, and therefore I was, a failure. Like I couldn’t hack it and I wasn’t meant to be doing what I was doing.

But as I’ve gone through my career evolution, as a junior, then senior employee, as a business owner, leader and board member, I’ve realised it’s a part of who I am as a person.

The difference between myself locked in the bathroom at Channel 10 and me having a moment in my office now (which I definitely do) is that I now know WHY I cry.

The crying doesn’t indicate weakness. It indicates that I feel something strongly about a situation and then it’s how I release my stress and process my feelings. Some people get angry, some people retreat into themselves. Some people are passive aggressive and sarcastic. I cry.

I know I’m not a weak-willed person. I do hard things all the time. I know I’m not a broken person. I have wonderfully functional relationships with many people.

I no longer panic about the crying itself. It’s a mechanism to process what I need to, so I can get on with my very messy, and very human-oriented job of leading a company of 60 employees.

I’m not advocating for this kind of process at work. I don’t see crying as a strength or weakness in of itself. However, I see it as a strength of mine that I can process hard things in a healthy way, recognise my reaction for what it is, and then move on with my day.

To my fellow empaths, hiding in bathrooms and cars, beating yourself up because you “let it get to you” again, here are a few top tips for dealing with your beautiful, caring, strong, passionate natures at work.

  1. Don’t stress about it. Stressing about the crying itself will make it worse. It’s a process. YOU ARE NOT BROKEN.
  2. Take your time. People take cigarette, coffee and tea breaks. You’re allowed an emotional one.
  3. Don’t use your crying time to try and solve anything. Let the storm pass. Clear, blue skies are ahead, and THAT’S your best problem solving time
  4. Be matter-of-fact with people if they ask if you’re okay. You are okay, you just needed a moment to yourself. Now get back on the job, calmly and confidently.
  5. If you find yourself in the crying situation more and more often, reach out for help. Talk to a colleague, doctor or friend. Talk to a helpline.

And if you see someone else walking out of the bathroom with panda-eyes, and a slightly flushed face, give them a mental high five. They’re one step closer to nailing that pitch deck, or finding a last-minute indoor petting zoo for a television crew to film.

About Kristen Souvlis

Kristen Souvlis is Co-CEO, Digital, Like a Photon Creative, a multi award-winning and internationally acclaimed production company based in Australia. She is also co-CEO of Kindergo, the children’s reading app which has been number 1 on iTunes in over 30 countries. Kindergo was also recently nominated for a Kidscreen award. After graduating from a Bachelor of Creative Industries (Drama), Kristen worked as a Production Coordinator for TOTALLY WILD on Network Ten before working with Jonathon M. Shiff Productions. Kristen has since produced concepts for the ABC, Sesame Street USA, Disney and The History Channel. Kristen also specialises in children’s communication, with her Associate Diploma from Trinity College London and is passionate about educating children through storytelling. She is currently based in the US where she is the only female in the current round of Landing Pad, an initiative created to help market-ready startups and scaleups take their business global.

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