When I worked in corporate sales, I would sit in a plush office every Friday afternoon and sort through my weekend plans with my therapist. My plans more often than not revolved around my love life. I was fresh out of a divorce, unhappy, and vulnerable. I was also living in a city that was notorious for its dearth of viable men—most my age were either already happily married, serial womanizers, or gay. Every Friday afternoon, my beloved therapist would go over my day planner with me with the same intensity that accountants review income tax returns with their clients.
“Look, Lauretta,” she’d say. “You can’t see Ken on Sunday. Come Monday, you’ll be an emotional wreck and will have to stay home from work. Or you’ll go into work and be completely useless.” She was right, of course. Ken and I had a habit of breaking up on Sundays. We’d have a grand time together on Friday and Saturday nights but by the time Sunday morning rolled around, he’d feel that things were getting too serious too quickly and would break up with me before our brunch dishes arrived, only to have a change of heart the following Thursday when no other dark-haired multilingual women were available (yes, Ken had a type). Terrified to spend the weekends alone, I’d be back in his arms before Happy Hour came to a close.
A Room of One’s Own
I didn’t listen to my therapist, and many Mondays at the office were spent in a tear-stained haze. I’d stumble over my words in meetings with clients. I’d forget entire phone calls. I’d mess up on reports. I would also hide in the women’s restroom, weeping for hours, until my office manager would discover me, wipe away my tears, and send me home without reprimanding me. She empathized. All the girls on my floor did, as they’d been there too. It was, to us, The Crying Room.
Men Carry On
I’m pretty certain men don’t have crying rooms. If it weren’t for the fact that I was previously married to a sensitive man who was prone to crying, at that age I was pretty certain that men didn’t cry at all.
The men at our office bewildered me. It didn’t matter what might be going on in their personal lives—a separation, a move into a smaller and less attractive apartment, a sick relative, a devastating diagnosis, a child with a drug problem; they operated with robotic efficiency. They’d meet with important clients as if their only concern in the world was finalizing the sale. They’d talk on the phone with absolute ease. They’d produce flawless work. And while doing so, not a hint of confusion or sadness would ever cross their faces. If they had problems, they would deal with it only after business was done.
Me? I’d get a call that my dog had a cough and have to leave the office immediately. I’d learn that my best friend was angry with me and need a few extra days on a deadline. If I was bloated, having a bad hair day, or spilled a drop of coffee on my skirt, I’d have to pass on the company lunch on the waterfront. My grandmother in Italy passed away? Well, I’d have to spend at least a week in bed recovering. Compartmentalizing was a foreign concept to me, and engaging in any sort of cerebral activity when I was upset was close to impossible. The men, however, carried on, as diligent as ants.
Why are men able to separate their emotions from their thoughts much more easily than most women? Believe it or not, but we’re hardwired differently. Studies have shown that women possess higher levels of emotional intelligence than men, which means that we’re more sensitive to our emotions, as well as others’. If we can’t complete that review because we’re waiting to hear how our child performed at soccer try-outs, it’s because we’ve been genetically and environmentally programmed to do so.
Women’s brains evolved differently than men’s and made us into the fairer sex we’re known to be, in large part because of our roles as caregivers, which means that our emotions are intertwined with our actions and our focus is spread over several different matters at once. Men, on the other hand, are able to concentrate because they’ve been conditioned to problem solve. In short: Women empathize while men rationalize. And the more women worry about the fundamental differences between the genders, the more fragmented we feel, and the less we get accomplished.
The Value of Emotional Intelligence and its Impact in the Workplace
What if we embraced our emotional awareness instead? After all, as author Bambi Turner writes in her article ‘Are Women Really More Emotional Than Men?’, “The difference in emotional intelligence may actually prove beneficial to mankind. This sense of empathy allows women to fulfill their nurturing roles: The woman acts as a support system to friends and family.”
Through time, I learned to use my empathetic and emotional side to my advantage in the workplace—and then, once I had a daughter, as a mother. I was more attuned to clients’ feelings and expectations than my male colleagues, just as, years later, I was more attuned to my daughter’s moods and exactly what she needed more than my husband. I anticipated my clients’ needs—closing sales by tapping into their emotional cues—just as I soothed my daughter’s feelings and created an unbreakable bond with her by navigating her emotional landscape with care and concern.
I used my emotional awareness to create stronger relationships in the office, smooth over tensions between feuding co-workers, and offer support to both women and men. In addition, I was able to assess my boss’s and my daughter’s moods, manage my reaction to their behaviors, and realize what both truly needed at critical moments. I became more self-aware, and gained a better understanding of when I needed to address my emotions—and how—so that I could work with greater speed and efficiency, and mother my daughter with wisdom and love.
The Crying Room, I discovered, was nothing to be ashamed about: As Penelope Trunk points out, it’s perfectly okay to weep in the bathroom at work. The Crying Room existed—and exists—for a reason. It’s a place to unleash, unwind, and regroup—so that we can get back out there and compete with the boys.
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- Why Women Sit in the Crying Room While Men Get Things Done - March 18, 2016