Kevin Rudd plays the crying game – but when is this okay in business?

Do you still cry at a good movie? How about when you get the boot?

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd has shown a lot of emotion during the past six years, whether it was crying when he was knifed in 2010, shedding tears last night in Parliament while he announced he would quit politics, getting angry at a RAAF flight attendant and making her cry in 2009, or launching into a rage at sloppy script-writing in a video released on YouTube in 2012.

But the emotional landscape of the leader is a strange one. Upon losing the 2013 election he gave a jubilant speech in a tone many commentators perceived as more appropriate for a victory. He didn’t cry as he apologised to the stolen generations in 2008.

There may be a sense in the business management community that a stiff upper lip should be shown whenever addressing the troops. Naseema Sparks has other ideas. She is the chairman of DealsDirect, Melbourne IT and publishers PMP, and was the managing director of M&C Saatchi.

She says there are many emotions, and some are best kept to one’s self under most circumstances. Happiness is desirable, anger not so much but still acceptable under some management styles. Disgust, sadness and being upset “you can never show”.

Of course there are blurred lines. Given Rudd expressed sadness when suffering a blow to his career, Sparks says sometimes that is OK. “If any emotion is genuine people understand that,” she says. “People are very clever at seeing through artifices.”

In a business, receiving bad news such as losing your job can also bring up emotions: “A lot of people do [cry] responding to shock… when they’re looking at their future and it’s quite uncertain.”

But this sort of emotional response can’t apply to all situations, says Sparks.

“It’s not part of business etiquette as we know it.”

So while she believes Rudd was genuinely sad about his career in politics closing, Sparks’ perception was that he shed tears of frustration, rejection and self-pity. On the other hand, in 2013 when Julia Gillard was praised for her conduct by retiring independent MP Rob Oakeshott, when he said “your father would be proud” across the House of Representatives, Gillard misted. “She was grieving,” Sparks says.

While Oakeshott’s comments were positive, Gillard suffered criticisms across the house and in the media which she responded to with an attitude of getting on with business. Only rarely did she lose her cool, famously against then opposition leader Tony Abbott who obliquely referenced the topic of her deceased father when he said the government should die of shame.

“No one in a business workplace would do that, I would always advise to play the ball not the man,” she says.

Her advice for emotional situations, especially those which involve a perception of aggression, is to take a walk.

“Think about it rationally, then go back and ask questions about it,” she says.


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