It’s Her Party, and She’ll Cry If She Wants To

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

  • http://PRNewsonline Dennis Byrne

    It’s Her Party and She’ll Cry If She Wants To

    Dear Courtney:

    From my point of view your article was right on!
    However . . . here is the message I took away . . .

    In this critical time for our nation we need unflinching presidential leadership like Nino’s . . . not Courtney’s . . .nor Hillary’s.

  • Jay Smith

    RE: It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to

    Good piece. I thought it was Hillary’s finest moment on the campaign trail. Very genuine and unplanned.

    Isn’t it ironic that the song was recorded by Leslie Gore. Gore, get it?

  • Lisa Wetherby

    Boy, too bad SNL’s writers are on strike. I can just see the skit now where Clinton is behind in the polls, starts crying, and gets a 10 point jump. Or whatever.

    Now that I’ve got that off my chest – I agree with your main point: that being human is a good thing and that it’s what connects us. But I don’t believe politicians can be human and win. Remember Howard Dean? He got all emotional and it cost him big.

  • cbarnes

    It’s funny that you mention Howard Dean, because I had a comment about that in the blog post that I ended up cutting (I haven’t gotten the hang of “short” blog posts yet!).

    Thanks for all your comments


  • Christine LeCompte

    Hi Courtney. I enjoyed your post and was glad to see a fellow PR practitioner question whether or not Hillary’s show of emotion was planned or not. I’m a PR professional from Portsmouth, NH, where Hillary’s emotional moment took place. I blogged on this topic today (including a mention of your blog in fact):–PR-stunt-or-true-colors.
    The buzz here in Portsmouth is that whether or not it meant her victory, she wasn’t afraid to show a softer side…something I agree with you more business people should embrace.

  • Tim Marklein

    Great post, Courtney. Lots of lessons here for “corporate” types as well. Too often I’ve seen “media training” turn executives into bland, vanilla, cookie-cutter robots who spew the party line but can’t hold a real conversation. Whether Hillary’s moment in NH plays well over the long run, it’s clear that people want more humanity, transparency and genuine-ness in our public and private conversations. The question is: Can we handle it? And how will we adapt?

  • Mike McCarthy

    More often than not, people want results – of their business leaders, spiritual leaders, community leaders and ploitical leaders. Sure a bit of humanity would be nice if it can be shared along the way, but results are what matters. However, when it comes to politics, the managment of our resources for the common good, why do citizens allow themselves to be so eaisly manipulated by the media?

    And for those who think that the Clinton moment was not staged, you should know better. Who among us would ever leave anything, no matter how small, to chance?

    Clinton – both of them – are ambitious, pragmatic, and determined to do what is necessary to achieve their objectives. These are sttrong characteristics to have in a leader and might be appreciated more if Hilary just acknowledged as much.