People toiling in tension-filled workplaces encounter a range of emotions each day, but their careers can be derailed by displaying them at the wrong time and in the wrong fashion.

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Louise Damiani, an oncology nurse at CentraState Healthcare System in Freehold Township, N.J., reaches her breaking point several times a day. It might come when one of her patients is given grim news. Or when trivial office politics creep to the forefront. Or when she nears the end of another 13-hour shift, emotionally drained.

But it isn’t until she gets in her car and makes a 45-minute drive home that she allows her emotions to surface.

“You have to learn how to pick and choose and not bring that emotion up,” said Damiani, 42. “You say, ‘OK, I can deal with this. I can focus on the priority, and the priority is the patient.’ “

People toiling in tension-filled workplaces encounter a range of emotions each day, but their careers can be derailed by displaying them at the wrong time and in the wrong fashion.

The proper display of emotion is difficult to pin down, as two recent high-profile examples demonstrate. Presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton won praise for tearing up during a campaign event in New Hampshire. But Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens was widely ridiculed for making a weepy plea to the media to stop criticizing his quarterback.

Not all tears are given equal treatment, said Stephanie A. Shields, a psychology and women’s-studies professor at Pennsylvania State University. Workers who get teary-eyed because they are sad about a death in the family or fearful about a layoff likely will win sympathy. Workers who cry because they are angry or frustrated likely won’t.

What’s more, workers whose eyes simply well up and voices quiver are more likely to get a pass than workers who bawl uncontrollably, yell in outrage or throw pencils against the wall.

“People’s tears are viewed more positively when the event that elicits tears is serious and one over which they have no direct control,” said Shields, the author of “Speaking from the Heart: Gender and the Social Meaning of Emotion.”

There are reasons for the distinction. Shields said negative emotions often stem from anger, when workers are deprived of something to which they feel entitled — whether it is a promotion, a working computer, or even a boyfriend or girlfriend.

“Anger is a healthy emotion. It allows you to determine what you like and don’t like,” said Barbara Pachter, a Cherry Hill, N.J., workplace consultant and author of “New Rules@Work.”

“[But] people don’t know how to express what they don’t like in healthy ways,” Pachter said. “They end up screaming, yelling or cursing — or nothing at all. And when they don’t do anything at all, they cry.”

In the workplace, where employers are aiming to be as productive as possible, that poses problems. It means employees need to either express their feelings rationally or set them aside until the end of the day. And it means employees saddled with the label of being overly emotional may find it harder to get a promotion or a new job, Pachter said.

It’s an issue even when the day isn’t filled with life-and-death issues. William McNamara, a partner with Cowan, Gunteski & Co., an accounting firm in Toms River, N.J., has encountered his share of stressful moments, particularly when he tells clients they owe the government more taxes than they initially thought.

He tells himself not to take his clients’ responses personally; after all, he didn’t write the tax law. But sometimes he needs to do all he can to keep his emotions in check, whether by taking a walk or mindlessly chatting with a co-worker.

“A calmer atmosphere is a better atmosphere to learn in,” McNamara said. “I didn’t like to work with bosses who were excitable, because then I was tense and I couldn’t learn. I remembered that when I switched sides of the table.”

Of course, displaying no emotions at all isn’t the best strategy either, experts said. Leaders are lauded when they show empathy for workers in distress. And workers are praised for connecting with customers who go through difficult times.