Oswald Letter

President Trump’s communication style offers valuable lessons for managers

My Fence is Going to be Hugeby Dan Oswald

Love him or hate him, it’s hard to deny that Donald Trump has communicated differently than any other U.S. presidential candidate, president-elect, and now president. And his communication style has been analyzed, criticized, and commended. Everyone seems to have an opinion about his approach to communication, but there certainly isn’t agreement on its effectiveness.

Back on August 13, 2015, when Trump was a Republican candidate, Politico writer Jack Shafer penned a piece titled “Donald Trump Talks Like a Third-Grader.” The lead sentence: “Donald Trump isn’t a simpleton, he just talks like one.”

A year later, on September 27, 2016, the day after a debate between Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, an article by Mike Pesca titled “This Is How Poorly Trump Communicates” appeared on Slate. At one point in the article, Pesca states flatly, “He is a poor communicator.”

Less than two weeks later, on October 5, The New York Times ran an article written by Michael Barbaro titled “Pithy, Mean and Powerful: How Donald Trump Mastered Twitter for 2016.” Barbaro wrote, “Mr. Trump has mastered Twitter in a way no candidate for president ever has, unleashing and redefining its power as a tool of political promotion, distraction, score-settling and attack.”

And finally, after Trump became president-elect, Gerald Seib wrote an article in The Wall Street Journal titled “The Method in Donald Trump’s Maddening Communications Habits.” Seib stated, “There seem to be specific objectives behind many of Mr. Trump’s seemingly scattershot missives and comments.”

Like I said, a lot has been made of President Trump’s communication style, content, and effectiveness. Many thought he never would be elected based solely on his combative, seemingly shoot-from-the-hip communication style, but he was. What can we, as managers, learn from the president when it comes to communication?

I’m a big believer in HOT communication—that’s honest, open, and two-way.

Honest communication. Many question the president’s honesty in his communication, and frankly, that’s a problem. If people don’t know whether they can believe what you’re saying, then the effectiveness of your communication is going to be greatly diminished. When those with whom you’re communicating don’t know that they can believe everything that comes out of your mouth, then they tend to believe nothing you say.

As a manager, you need to respect your employees enough to be honest with them. Respect is a two-way street. If you don’t respect your people enough to tell them the truth, they won’t respect you. It’s that plain and simple. Honesty is the best policy because with consistent, honest communication comes trust—the bedrock of effective communication.

Open communication. It’s hard to argue that President Trump isn’t open in his communication. He seems to communicate, often via Twitter, everything that comes to mind. He doesn’t hide how he feels or what he is thinking. If anything, he has been criticized for being too open in his communication.

Despite the criticism of the president in this regard, there’s a lesson we can learn when it comes to open communication. You need to treat your employees like the adults they are and share information openly with them. Trying to hide information from the people who work for you will only undermine your credibility. Openly sharing what is happening in the business helps people understand why certain decisions are being made and, more important, allows them to contribute ideas and opinions that could have a positive impact on the company.

Two-way communication. Many question whether President Trump is talking (and Tweeting) so much that he doesn’t take time to listen. However, whether you like him or not, he was able to identify with a segment of our population enough that it carried him to the White House. You don’t get elected president unless a large segment of the American people believe you understand their issues.

As a manager, you have a lot to say that your people want to hear. But they also have messages that you need to hear. Remember, to communicate effectively, you need to listen more than you speak. Many executives lose sight of that. They grow accustomed to making proclamations and being in control.

You need to listen to your people so you can understand their concerns and respect their ideas, opinions, and contributions. Talk too much, and you’ll fail to make a connection with the people you’re trying to lead. Make sure you hear what people are saying—make communication two-way.

There certainly are things we can learn about communication by studying President Trump’s communication style. In my book, he gets high marks in some areas and pretty low ones in others. It’s up to us to learn from what he does well and avoid the areas where he struggles. He certainly understands that frequent, open communication helps drive home a message. That’s a good place for all of us to start.

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