There’s a fascinating passage in The Fifth Risk, a new book by best-selling author Michael Lewis which explores one of the less publicised aspects of American politics – the transition from one executive to another.
In this case it’s the handover from the Obama team to the current administration and in the opening chapter there’s a remarkable exchange between Trump and his former advisor Steve Bannon.
To back track a little to the campaign period, federal law required that both presidential nominees (Clinton and Trump) put together a transition team so that when one of them actually came to power, the outgoing administration would help the new kids settle in.
When Trump was informed the team would be funded either from his own pocket or from campaign funds he strongly objected, but grudgingly agreed to put New Jersey governor Chris Christie in charge with the proviso that spending was kept to a minimum.
Some time later, in Trump Tower, the Donald blew his top with Christie when he learned how much had been spent. In an expletive-laden rant he instructed Christie to “Shut it down, shut it down!” Christie tried to explain why that wasn’t possible, but Trump was unmoved.
At that point Steve Bannon entered the room. Seeing Christie was getting nowhere with his boss, Bannon asked Trump, “What do you think Morning Joe will say if you shut down your transition?”
As Lewis explains, Morning Joe is one of the main political TV shows and Bannon was implying that if Trump shut down his transition team it would look like he didn’t expect to win the race to the White House. Apparently, Trump then calmed down and saw the sense in what both his advisors were saying.
To me this illustrates that vital principle of persuasion, popularised by the late Stephen R Covey (7 Habits) – “First seek to understand, then seek to be understood.” Bannon knew that Trump hates weakness.
To be seen as unsure of victory was unacceptable to the billionaire ‘winner’ and thus Banner (temporarily) won the argument.
If you’re in the persuasion business (and I’m sure most of you are) you have to know what’s important to your audience. What values are they driven by? How are they being judged? What would make them look good?
Let me leave you with a quote from Salford-born Sir Simon McDonald, top diplomat at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and a professional ‘persuader’:
Diplomacy is the art of letting other people have your way.