Way back in 2012, my wife and I traveled by Amtrak train to Chicago to visit some friends. Between card games in the bar car and beautiful scenery out the window, I read a book about Negotiation.
I was interested in making more money. I wasn’t sure how to ask or even if I was in the right profession. (Turns out, there’s far more money in sales than in service, but I’ve not made that career change — I was able to negotiate a higher salary in the job I loved.)
One of the lessons I learned from the book is that everything is negotiable.
The author discussed closing deals by appealing to the emotions of the other side of the table.
One story mentioned basketball tickets as leverage — the possibility of attending the games excited the others. Another story discussed building personal rapport with individuals during breaks in the meeting.
(I wish I could remember the title of the book. I can’t find my notes from it. I’ll keep looking.)
Fast forward to 2014 (promoted in the same job.) Sitting in my office one evening, reading the Dilbert comic strip online, I noticed the author Scott Adams had a blog. I clicked the link.
Scott’s most recent post (at the time) was a crazy idea about building giant pyramids for energy production. I was intrigued. I read a dozen posts that night.
From then on, when I would check the Dilbert comic, I would also catch up on Scott’s blog. It was full of interesting ideas and new ways of thinking about problems.
In July of 2017 (new job, same company), Scott Adams started writing about Donald Trump, quickly connecting Trump’s powers of Persuasion with emotional payoffs — just like the Negotiation book I had read!
Scott painted himself as a Master Persuader. He pointed out to his readers the techniques that Trump was using during the campaign.
I wasn’t a Trump supporter. It didn’t matter. This was fascinating.
I picked up a copy of Robert Cialdini’s Influence to bolster my understanding of what makes people tick.
The more I read from Adams and Cialdini, the more I understood that Trump had a real shot at winning the presidency.
Scott labeled Trump as a Master Persuader. I soon agreed.
My social circle runs pretty liberal. Any time I mentioned the possibility of a Trump having techniques, my closest friends and family advised me to stop reading Scott’s blog.
Literally, people told me to stop, as if the blog (and my new knowledge) was putting me in danger.
Friends and family didn’t want to hear the science. They didn’t want to hear a possibility that countered the accepted narrative that came from the media.
Trump’s possible skills triggered cognitive dissonance beyond anything I had seen before.
I was astounded. Where was the intellectual curiosity? Where was the open thought I believed other people had?
(I’ve since learned most everyone sticks to their Identity and the ideas of their Tribe).
It was as if understanding Trump’s methods might suddenly humanize him and take away his Monster status, while at the same time exposing our own flaws and weaknesses to being influenced.
I kept reading, and I kept my mouth shut.
I started PersuasionReadingList.com with the intention to learn, understand, and share the incredible tools of Persuasion and Influence.
When Trump won the Presidency, my jaw dropped. My heart raced.
Scott Adams had accurately predicted a dozen or more events leading up to the election.
My friends were physically hurting, expecting the worst because war and concentration camps and mass deportations was the official narrative being pushed from every direction.
No one I had spoken with wanted anything to do with this insight that could possibly change the outcome if they chose to understand it. The cognitive dissonance was too great to bear.
In October of 2017, Scott Adams released his book about Trump’s persuasion skills. Titled Win Bigly, it covers the tactics that Trump used to persuade our electorate to vote him into office. (Trump himself wrote about many of these ideas in The Art of the Deal.)
Here are 10 things I’ve learned from Scott Adams, as covered on his Blog as well as in Win Bigly.
- Humans think there is a single, objective view of reality that we all share. The truth is, we all connect different dots of our experiences and put different weight and meaning behind those connections. We all experience different realities.
- Human focus is limited. Bland things don’t stand out. Much of Trump’s behavior, including his tweets and provocative statements, are designed to draw our attention and change the conversation. Trump directs our energy by being ‘wrong’ in a ‘how dare he!‘ sense, or even with his punctuation. Everyone then feels the need to dissect and discuss Trump’s behavior or punctuation, ensuring the conversation remains on that topic.
- Once Trump is able to direct our energy, and because human focus is limited, any new ‘scandal’ can easily move us past the previous small scandals. We love a good scandal. No need to worry about the old ones if the new ones will make us salivate. They don’t even need to be true.
- Humans tell ourselves stories to make sense of our random world. Cognitive Dissonance is when people cannot easily mesh a new idea with the story in their head. They’ll either outright deny the new idea or rewrite their story to accept the new, unsettling idea. (You can see this when people get angry at something they don’t understand).
- Humans are led by emotions far more than we want to believe. We all think we’re rational people. The negotiation book taught me otherwise. Trump knows how to negotiate and he understands peoples’ emotions well.
- Writing is a method to tell a story and get the authors thoughts into the reader’s brain. At it’s best, it’s a hypnotizing effect that paces the reader to a point where they agree, and then leads them to a new understanding.
- The Founding Fathers of the United States were Master Persuaders. They inspired the colonists to join in a united identity with their words, We the People, in order to form a more Perfect Union…
- People are visual creatures. Put a sign in front of us and we cannot help but read it. Describe a beautiful sunset at the beach and we can’t help but picture it. (I have since learned more about this from Kahneman.) Trump knows this too, and used it to great effect in his campaign. His concept of the Wall along the US-Mexico border, for example, was always very vague. Vague, but a physical object. The vague idea allowed everyone to visualize it how they preferred. He never once tried to clarify the idea, even to defend it from detractors.
- Contrast of ideas has amazing power. Ideas don’t exist in a vacuum. Any one idea is contrasted with another idea. Proper framing the ideas is essential to getting that contrast right.
- If you’re able to identify and cover your downsides to a situation and set up Two Ways to Win, and no way to lose, the outcome of any given scenario is far less risky. Trump wrote about this in The Art of the Deal, he used it during his campaign, and he’s used it since becoming president. For example, he lets the Republican-led congress write a bill that may or may not pass. If it passes, Trump can sign it and claim a victory. If it fails, he can claim they tried and now everyone’s a bit more willing to negotiate for the next attempt at legislation. A lot of the Two Ways to Win strategy lies in the framing of the outcomes.
There is much more to learn in Scott Adam’s book, Win Bigly. Even though I was familiar with the blog posts, it is excellent to get a succinct take on the information.
If you’re interested in learning a new take on how Trump won the presidency or interested in Persuasion, I cannot recommend this book enough.
I didn’t vote for Donald Trump, but I was impressed by his Persuasion skills.
Throughout the last two years, my support for Donald Trump has grown. I am appalled by the #Resist movement’s attempt to portray him as a racist war monger, or whatever outrage they can come up with today.
Emerson wrote, “The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions.” That’s where I am now, as I learn more about the psychological and biological mechanisms that drive humans.
This new-found understanding has cost me friends and created a lot of tension in my life. I also understand the cognitive dissonance in the people close to me, and that it’s not something under anyone’s control.
We all experience cognitive dissonance. It’s good to be aware that there is much we don’t know in this world. I invite you to learn and explore with me.
Have you read Win Bigly? What was your takeaway, what did I miss? Please respond on the blog and share your thoughts!