A good friend of mine, Carrie Arnold, is a Leadership Coach wrote a blog that I’ve thought back about quite a bit since I read it. With her permission I share it with you today:
This summer I picked up a book by Anne Kreamer called It’s Always Personal, Navigating Emotion in the New Workplace. I’ll start by saying I did not care entirely for the book. I found it difficult to read, but I admire anyone who has the stamina to write a book so I won’t use this blog to criticize her work. The author blends story with theory and then throws in some interesting aspects of neuroscience. It was the neuroscience that caught my eye and I continue to be drawn back to a specific portion of her book that deals with tears and why we cry. Tears are a controversial subject in that most people aren’t comfortable shedding them in front of a witness, and when they do they rationalize the tears in order to avoid feeling residual shame. For example, “I’m just really tired” or “I’m really stressed” or my favorite “I don’t know why I’m crying”. Good news – I can tell you why you’re crying!
There are different types of tears. There are basal tears that keep our eyes moist on a daily basis. Reflex tears wash out dust, eye lashes and bathe our checks when we cut onions. Then there are the psychic tears that are in response to something triggered by an emotional state. These tears carry higher concentrations of protein than the other two types. I liked how Anne puts it in chapter seven, “Psychic or emotional tears, because they are exceptional, force us and those around us to acknowledge that something important has just happened.” We cry because something has moved us emotionally and it is never about the tears. It is about the event. Some people tear up when something powerful and positive happens. That same event may move others to smile, laugh with joy or whoop and holler. Others tear up and cry when something painful is happening. Again, that same event may cause a rage in someone else, or cause another to go off in an angry rant or a silent shutdown. Reactions to any stimulus are going to be different, and yet we tend to demean our tears as a sign of weakness above all other responses.
As a coach, when I get the privilege of being witness to someone’s tears, I slow the drilling down because I know we’ve hit oil. The tears are a signal to me that the conversation has shifted into something very important for the client. If I wasn’t fully at attention before, I certainly am now. And yes, tears may come to a person by surprise, but that is only because they weren’t fully aware of how important that “something” was until now. I find the best response when someone is shedding tears is to ask what is behind the tears. When they apologize for the tears I like to remind them that their tears just tell me that something is very important to them. If they want to apologize for anything, apologize for the yawns, sighs and involuntary eye-rolls that we’ve perfected over time. Those biological responses are much more insidious, and indicate we’ve become indifferent and perhaps shamefully superior in our thinking. I’ll take tears over those hurtful responses any day.
How do you handle your own or other people’s tears? Can you shift your focus away from the tears, especially if they make you uncomfortable, and instead, focus on what the tears are about? Remind yourself that the tears indicate something important is happening!
You can find this article at http://www.willow-group.com/blog/-its-always-personal-and-why-we-cry