Don’t Fear the Tears
By: Allyson Mallah, ACC and Casey Reason Ph.D.
When was the last time you had to fight back the tears? As you reflect on that, think about how hard it was. Think about that uncomfortable lump in your throat or the pain in your head as you attempt to constrict the tear ducts behind your eyes.
The power of the emotion is so strong and we want to express that emotion with a tear — and we fight to deny ourselves and others the knowledge that we cry. We deny ourselves access to that emotional edge of who we are. We deny others access to the most real version of ourselves.
Why do we fight so hard to hold back those tears? Let’s really think about it…
We Don’t Want to Appear Weak
Really? Weak? For most of us when we feel like we are on the verge of tears we are probably in touch with some really powerful emotions. Those powerful emotions usually give us the strength to defend ourselves and others most powerfully.
We Don’t Want Others to See That “Side” of Us
What side is that? Your real side? In virtually every model of leading, learning, and innovation, one of the most important undergirding elements for advancing innovation is trust. Trust can only occur when we feel that we are dealing with others in a real and authentic way. Tears demonstrate access to that authenticity.
We Don’t Want to Appear Out of Control
We live in an unpredictable world. We all know it. One of the most inauthentic things we can do is pretend that the world isn’t going to throw us some curveballs and that nothing would surprise us. There are a number of things out there that are very serious, sad, or simply emotional. Those moving moments experienced by authentic, real people will likely result in tears. Refusing those tears is not a demonstration of control. In fact, it’s likely to send the message that you’d rather inauthentically pretend to be in control than to get emotional for a moment in getting to the truth.
Crying Retreats and other Tips on Tears
Are we suggesting that thoughtful leaders infuse crying retreats into the annual agenda? Should onion carving team-building be executed as a lubricant to this process?
Smiling, we say no. What we are suggesting is that leaders continue to push their personal envelopes and work on creating system cultures where people can be honest with each other and express their emotions in an open and honest way. If organizations are allowed to get real about their circumstances and be real with one another, there may be times when the stakes are high and the feelings are such that the tears will emerge. When, and if, they do we recommend that you go with it and look at it as a sign of strength, honesty, commitment, and a connection to what’s real about the organization, and about the emotions that exist within your fellow man.