‘Finally, we must think big and dream even bigger. In America, we understand that a nation is only living as long as it is striving. … Do not let anyone tell you it cannot be done.’ As I listened to President Donald Trump concluding his inaugural address last Friday, I recalled that the first time I came upon this exhortation of his to ‘think big’ was when I was appointed Minister of Labour in 1992 and set myself the task of working with social partners to update our labour legislation.
I was reasonably well schooled in labour matters but realised that for the task I had set myself I would have to be able to hold my own with the likes of formidable trade unionists and business people such as the late Joseph Pollydore and David Yankana, and this meant I needed to get a grip on the art of negotiation.
Thus, in 1993, one of the books I acquired was The Outstanding Negotiator by Christian H. Godefroy and Luis Robert, which contained Donald Trump’s Eleven keys to Successful Negotiations, a synopsis of The Art of the Deal. Throughout my sometimes acrimonious encounters with the social partners, Trump’s first, third and ninth keys were particularly uppermost in my mind and contributed to our being able to pass in the 1992-1997 PPP/C regime the most important pieces of labour legislation in Guyana’s post independence era.
Trump has been sued on countless occasions for all manner of reasons, some of which call his ethics severely into question. Notwithstanding this, I agree with Godefroy and Robert that ‘All we can say here is that the principles he espouses are solid and should be used as guidelines (for) planning your own negotiating strategies.’ In this context, I also routinely included Trump’s keys in my university lectures on negotiations.
Indeed, after paying much attention to his behaviour during and after his election to the presidency, I believe the principles he espoused some three decades ago can provide a useful insight into the way he sees, engages with and will act upon the world.
Put another way, Trump’s rise to the presidency of America in spite of his outlandish and disrespectful behaviour has confounded the vast majority of us. And although many social factors may have provided the environment that allowed him to succeed, the question is why Trump specifically? I believe that this question is partly answered by the following eleven negotiating principles which were part of his toolkit long before his run for the presidency.
1.Think big: most people think in small terms because they’re afraid of success; success, like failure, requires making adjustments, effort and adapting your point of view.
- Give it your best shot: you must be able to concentrate and devote yourself entirely to the task at hand.
- Be prepared for the worst: the best will take care of itself.
- Multiply your options: allow yourself as much flexibility as possible and never get too attached to one strategy.
- Know your market: Trump tends to rely on instinct not data but the secret is to always ask lots of questions.
- Use your power: never appear to be desperate and use as any means, including all the trappings and superficial embellishments, to create an impression of power.
- Promote the value of your location: this applies especially to property projects, but in all kinds of deals the right location can be important and the important thing is to buy cheap and sell dear. 8. Promote your project: a single flattering article in a major newspaper is worth a lot and so dare to adopt controversial positions to attract attention.
- Don’t give in: confrontation is sometime inevitable and even if costly it’s best to let people know that you won’t fold under pressure.
- Deliver the goods: sooner or later your clients have to get what you promised them.
- Have fun: if negotiating is what you like doing best, money is only a way of measuring your skill.
During the election campaign, even Tony Schwartz, who co-authored and is said to have written most of the Art of the Deal, joined the establishment contention that Trump was not psychologically fit to be president. According to him ‘One of the chief things I’m concerned about is the limits of his attention span, which are as severe as any person I think I’ve ever met … The idea of a president in an incredibly complex and threatening world who can’t pay attention is itself frightening’ (http://www.npr.org/2016/07/21/486924253/art-of-the-deal-ghostwriter-on-why-trump-should-not-be-president).
Yet against all the odds, Trump went for the big prize, gave it is best shot, prepared for the worst by claiming that if he lost the election would have been rigged, but took the presidency.
Distinguished professors in negotiations, who claim that they would have welcomed ‘a great negotiator as president’ have said that had Trump been a good negotiator he would have been now worth about US$8 billion rather than only US$4.1 billion. ‘The evidence is clear. If Trump still somehow manages to prevail in November, he will not be the first charlatan or confidence man to have profited from the long con. The art of illusion he knows well. The art of the deal he does not’ (http://fortune.com/2016/07/19/donald-trump-negotiating-the-art-of-the-deal/ ).
Understanding his market, Trump easily dismissed such critics by associating them with the establishment elite who considered many of his supporters ‘despicables’, ‘misogynistic,’ etc. part of the swamp that needs to drained!
We have seen from his principles that Donald Trump is the most literal and important political expression that we exist in a post-truth society in which feelings and instincts, not data, have a premium.
Thus, in fact-checking what she referred to as, ‘Donald Trump’s Dystopian Inauguration Speech’, Abigail Tracy showed that Trump was true to form. He portrayed America as a country lacking in self-confidence and poor; where crime, gangs and drugs ‘bleed the nation’s children of their unrealized potential.’ Yet with a gross domestic product of US18 trillion, America is the wealthiest country in the world; U.S. treasury bonds are among the safest assets one could own; at 5% the unemployment rate is the lowest level in a decade; the crime rate is near a 20-year low, and drug use among American teens dropped to an all-time low in 2016 (http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/01/donald-trump-inauguration-speech).
As we look to the future, Donald Trump has set himself the task of building a wall between Mexico and America at Mexican expense; repealing Obama Care; fixing America’s supposedly crumbling infrastructure; significantly reducing taxes; placing sanctions on large companies that sell but do not invest in the US; renegotiating/exiting political and trade agreements with all and sundry and expanding the economy to sufficiently improve the standard of living of the dissociated American middle class to make them to believe that prosperity has returned and that the government belongs to them in an America that is ‘great again.’
He is already going back on important aspects of his signature promises to build the wall and repeal Obama Care. And notwithstanding that his party now controls both houses of congress, his agenda will severely test his approach to negotiations. If it were anyone else but Trump I would confidently predict failure.