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Communication and my visit to Trump’s USA

“The next time you’re back in the States,”

began Mark, my driver to Pittsburgh Airport,

“would you please teach some communication skills to our new President?

The way he represents the United States to the world is a disgrace.”

Mark neatly summed up the mood I witnessed this week during a visit Stateside.

I was there on business, during which I spoke at three leading clubs in the Pittsburgh area of Pennsylvania on the art of communicating.

In some ways, America was just the way I’ve found it on every trip there over the last 30 years.

The people I dealt with were relentlessly polite and considerate.

The standard of service in all of these great clubs and beyond was high.

People went about their business with self-belief and a solid work ethic.

But behind the veneer of “business as usual”, I sensed an atmosphere of unease.

The five pillars of communication

communication skills training scotland five pillars.

  1. Disagree with the argument rather than the person.
  2. Be open and honest in your media communications.
  3. Answer the question directly when you communicate.
  4. Speak positively to people and about people.
  5. Listen first to understand.

It reminded me of the atmosphere in Scotland leading up to the Independence Referendum in 2014.

People were afraid to express their views.

Some were vocal in their criticism of President Trump’s Executive Orders on immigration, Mexican walls and anything else he’s been pursuing.

communication skills training scotland women on barbed wire wall.

Those who had supported the radical alternative to years of frustration with successive administrations had gone quiet.

Perhaps their new leader was starting to embarrass them.

“He just sets out to destroy anybody who disagrees with him,” said Mark the driver.

“It seems he’s fallen out with every political leader he’s talked to so far, except Putin in Russia!”

My talks were with the positive and energetic staff of Allegheny Country Club and Oakmont Golf Club.

The communication techniques of President Donald J Trump continue to be exactly the opposite of what I was sharing with these three hotel groups.

Let’s take a look at the five pillars of communication one by one:

Disagree with the argument rather than the person

communication skills training scotland meryl streep.

Mr Trump is calling on judges to be sacked when they take a different view from his.

He brands the greatest actress of my generation (in my view), Meryl Streep, “over-rated” because she disagrees with him.

He wants to ban entire nationalities, rather than curb the behaviour of some dangerous people.

Our advice: make your argument so compelling when you communicate that people are persuaded by it.

They’re seldom convinced by just rubbishing or silencing your opponent.

Be open and honest in your media communications

communication skills training scotland open honest Dan Rather.

I’m told President Trump wants the media physically distanced from him, by moving them out of the White House.

He’s put much focus on attacking news organisations and reporters who serve up different versions of stories from his.

As a counter-balance, Dan Rather, the much-respected former CBS news anchor, has set up a Facebook page.

The page aims to galvanise journalistic integrity and stay vocal rather than silent.

Rather’s belief is that the media will be emboldened rather than cowed by the President’s frequent attacks.

In addition, Reuter’s Editor-in-Chief Steve Adler has called on his reporters to be “ever more resourceful” in establishing the facts.

This is due to more obstacles being placed in their way by the Trump inner circle.

In our media training courses, run mainly from our Glasgow-based studios, we urge clients to get as much information out to the media as possible.

You need to accurately describe what’s happened through your communication, whether it’s good or bad.

That builds trust with the media, much–needed when something’s gone wrong.

The enemy is misinformation, rather than the media.

Answer the question directly when you communicate

communication skills training scotland Theresa may Trident.

We saw how much trouble followed Prime Minister Theresa May’s dodging of the BBC’s Andrew Marr’s four unanswered questions about an unarmed, misfiring Trident weapon.

President Trump characterises any awkward question as having its roots in “fake news”.

He refuses to answer, dismissing it or ignoring it completely.

In time, even his closest supporters will find that route untenable.

Speak positively to people and about people

communication skills training scotland Rafael Nadal Roger Federer character.

It takes strength of character to congratulate your opponent when you’ve lost.

In a hard-fought three-and-a-half-hour Australian Open tennis final Rafael Nadal did just that.

Within minutes of losing to the swashbuckling Roger Federer in Melbourne late last month, he congratulated his opposition.

By contrast, President Trump derides his opponents.

Only his supporters receive kind words.

A major theme I witnessed at the Oakmont Golf Club, home to a record nine US Open Championships, was the relentless positivity, with which each speaker described their colleagues.

They spontaneously applauded promotions and handed out pins (badges) recognising 5, 10, 15 and 25 years of service.

But when I returned to my room that night, the news brought me relentless criticism from the Leader of the Free World.

It was a stark and dispiriting contrast.

Listen first to understand

communication skills training scotland donald trump listen.

Such is his enthusiasm for quickly signing Executive Orders, it would seem there’s been little time for the new president to consult with those around him.

Those who’ve served previous presidents and been able to steer them through their first 100 days.

So decisions are made quickly, and almost as quickly, a flaw is pointed out in the plan.

Such as “what you’re doing is illegal”.

The consequence is that the Presidency appears set to face a series of embarrassing U-turns.

All of it because of a failure to listen first to understand.

“The best outcome would be that Trump is impeached,”

offered Mark the driver in conclusion.

He is creating fresh enemies with every passing day.

A growing number of people would take any opportunity that arose to jump on any wrongdoing that could see his presidency end in impeachment.

We all make mistakes.

But when in the wrong, it’s best to sort it out quickly and apologetically.

Groundhog Day and Trump’s communication

communication skills training scotland bill murray groundhog day.

Finally, as I board a plane for home from Newark, I reflect on a geographical coincidence.

My work this week was close to the Pennsylvanian town of Punxsutawney, home to the 90s film classic Groundhog Day.

In it, cynical TV weatherman Bill Murray becomes trapped in the same 24 hours which endlessly repeat themselves, regardless of what he says or does.

Having tried all the sneaky, short-cutting lazy ways of moulding events in his favour, he learns to start putting others first.

Taking their needs into consideration, helping the local inhabitants live better lives.

Until, now having grown into a better person, Groundhog Day ends and we imagine he lives happily ever after.

Is there any lesson this film could teach the new President in how he chooses to communicate and therefore govern the United States?


Bill McFarlan is Executive Chairman of  Pink Elephant Communications in Glasgow.

You can view his full profile here.

Photo credit: Giuseppe BognannicelebrityabcscriptingnewsusembassylondonBrett Marlow Melbourne AustraliaGage Skidmore7th Street Theatre via / CC BY

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