Sometimes you just can’t catch a break. Hillary Clinton knows this better than anyone: She’s publicly lambasted by detractors as being too robotic, too stoic, too strong, too emotionless, too fill-in-the-blank and, when she shows emotion in the form of a near-tear, she’s criticized as being vulnerable. Then, as her handlers looked on in what must have been disbelief, she actually won the New Hampshire caucus because of, as many are hypothesizing, her watershed moment and nothing else. Come again?
The whole ordeal raises a number of questions: Is this a good thing or a bad thing? What will her tears mean for the future of her campaign? And, was her display of emotion a maybe-brilliant PR move?
Surely psychoanalysts could have a field day here, but I’ll tackle the latter question from my own perspective (that of someone who is prone to crying after, among other things, a lack of sleep—something Clinton was surely suffering from). Planned or not (and I’d bet money on “not”), her momentary breakdown spoke louder than words—something communications executives should take note of. I’m not saying that crying should be employed as a PR strategy; rather, I think business people should be more open to expressions of emotions, be they fear, excitement, anxiety or sadness. And why not? Appealing to the human side of things, especially in an employee relations/management context, is a great way to connect with your team and build trust.
Here’s another, non-political anecdote about communicating without words. I just returned from 10 days in Peru, four of which were spent hiking the Incan Trail to Machu Picchu. As an urban junkie who would classify a walk through Central Park as hiking and a college dormitory as camping, this trip was not my idea of a vacation (I blame my boyfriend). Couple this with the fact that we were the only people on the hike who didn’t speak Spanish, and you will be face-to-face my personal version of Hell.
So where does crying—or general expressions of emotion—come into play? Well, when you are standing on a snow-capped mountain summit at 14,000 feet, seeing spots from a lack of oxygen to the brain and thinking that this view (albeit amazing) will be your last, there are a thousand things you want to say to your tour guide: “Help,” “carry me,” “I can’t breathe,” “are we there yet?” and “I need medical assistance” were, in my experience, all returned with a blank stare, a grin and an enthusiastic “Vamos!”
Here’s what didn’t get lost in translation: wide, teary eyes, a rapid heart rate and a look of utter desperation. The vertical drop between me and our next resting place scared the hell out of me. With genuine emotion and nothing else, I conveyed to my guide that divine intervention would be required to get me to the next base camp. Nino (thank you, where ever you are) guided me down the rocky 1,000-meter, near-vertical drop in one piece. Even better, he didn’t act like I was weak or pathetic or helpless. In fact, with the help of a translator over dinner, he said this:
“It’s nice to see that New Yorkers aren’t always as tough as stones.”
I wonder what he’d say about Hillary.
By Courtney Barnes