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MCLEOD: It's always personal: Why even men cry during work

Photo by Tori Boone

Photo by Tori Boone

She was absolutely blindsided, sucker-punched. She hunched over the telephone, turned her back on her colleagues and gazed unseeingly at the high rise across the street as Sumner Redstone. Then the almost 70-year-old chairman of Viacom Inc. let loose with his tirade.

Anne Kreamer, then a 37-year-old senior VP at Nickelodeon, had just completed a huge deal with Sony. Her team was celebrating and she thought Redstone, as chairman of the parent company, was calling to congratulate her.

She was wrong.

She writes, "Redstone's rant seemed to magnify in intensity and reverberate throughout my brain and body. I felt my heart racing. He was the lion and I was the prey. It became an out-of-body experience, as I watched my quivering, helpless self from above.

"Redstone wasn't delivering strategic or tactical criticism, but rather personally attacking me. I could practically feel his spittle frothing out of my telephone receiver."

Her offense? In spite of healthy media coverage, the deal with Sony had failed to make Viacom's stock price move up. Unbeknownst to Kreamer, and most of the rest of the world, Redstone was planning a hostile takeover of Paramount Communications and it was essential to him that his currency for the acquisition, Viacom stock, rise in value quickly and significantly.

She says, "I kept mumbling apologies, I'm so sorry I had no idea. Yet as I was outwardly groveling, I had a parallel conversation running in my head, 'Get out of my face you impossible old man. You don't understand anything about anything."

She writes, "I was physically shaking with the anger that I felt but could not safely or appropriately express, and my body understood that I had to expel that anger somehow ... so I cried. Bam. In less than two minutes I'd gone from feeling on top of the world to feeling like pond scum -- and worse, a specific subspecies, crying female scum."

Kreamer was humiliated. She couldn't have known that nine years later Redstone's tirade would become the opening scene in her book, "It's Always Personal: Emotion In The New Work Place."

Kreamer writes, "How many times have we heard 'It's nothing against you, it's not personal -- it's just business.' But in fact, at work, it's never just business, it's always personal."

Combining brain science, candid interviews (FYI -- Kreamer isn't the only one who has cried at work, so have a lot of men) and the surprising results of two national surveys, "It's Always Personal" explodes long-held myths about emotion at work and provides new tools to flourish in an emotionally charged workplace. Kreamer's research revealed:

* Suppressing emotions can actually have a negative effect on the bottom line.

* 88 percent of all people, men and women alike, want greater emotional expression in the workplace.

We've been taught to squelch our emotions, but the reality, says Kreamer, is "People who lose their emotions, can't make decisions."

As someone who is often accused of being too emotional at work, it's validating to find that research proves what I've always known in my gut to be true: Being emotional about work is normal. It doesn't make you stupid, just human.

Kreamer says, "To be empathetic with other people does not mean you jettison your critical thinking."

Take the Workplace Emotion Evaluation Profile Survey at www.annekreamer.com to learn your workplace personality type, And if someone accuses you of taking things personally, you can safely say, "Of course I do, and so does everybody else. "

Business strategist Lisa Earle McLeod specializes in sales force and leadership development. She is author of "The Triangle of Truth," a Washington Post Top 5 Business Book. Visit her website at www.TriangleofTruth.com.