Last week, the President of the United States came to town.
Donald Trump, politics aside, has brought a sea change to the US and global politics through his communication style with fellow public servants. Before landing Mr Trump intentionally insulted London Mayor Sadiq Khan by calling him a “stone cold loser” on Twitter, only to land and insult other UK politicians.
President Trump’s intention is to be confrontational with his perceived opponent, often demeaning their credibility and intentionally sparking media outrage, only to be followed by smoother words in private to those he offends.
The strategy, it seems, is to talk to his home audience in the US as the tough man on the world stage who is trying to play an early mover advantage to those he may engage with. The ambition may be to unsettle the ‘opponent’, then dismiss them, especially if he’s due to meet them.
Insulting those you may want to influence is an interesting way to seek an agreement in politics, however, it’s not a new influencing style in sport. Boxers have been known to use the same strategy before bouts and even in cricket, ‘sledging’ opponents is a common feature.
What useful lessons can we learn from this communication style?
- Outrage creates noise – Mr Trump knew that mentioning the National Health Service as part of a trade deal would spark media uproar in the UK. Mr Trump is a well-briefed showman and the UK media, unfortunately, was fooled.
- Call out failure – Being direct and telling others they’re failing will spark defensiveness of those you offend. They will either accept or refute the accusation. Whatever their reaction, the outcome is the same – others do respond to protect their reputation.
So what can we learn to help the world of energy and communications?
- Get attention – engaging the boardroom to support best sustainable practices was difficult enough, even before the economic uncertainty of Brexit. If you’re doing an energy talk and need to grasp attention, say something that surprises the audience at the outset to get their attention. Not insulting people but being outrageous when giving the facts you’ve learnt may surprise listeners. A simple ‘did you know’ fact wakes up the audience.
- Call out failure – If you’re seeking backing for an initiative, be honest and tell the audience directly they’ve not done enough to make it happen. Whilst surprising the audience, you will have grasped their attention, allowing you to promote your solution.
Accept the reality
Whilst many abhor his politics, President Trump won an election by being an effective communicator. As a privileged man he is no ‘man of the people’ but he’s been very effective in making others think he is.