Todd vs. Trump: A Lesson in Die-hard Negotiating

December 7th, 2011   •   no comments   

Donald Trump is so well-practiced at being a hard-nosed real-estate investor that he can’t seem to break himself out of the role — even if it is on national television.

However, what made him look like a total jerk on the national stage has made him what he is today: a successful business man who is wealthy beyond the imagination of most people.

While being interviewed on MSNBC on December 5, 2011 by Chuck Todd, Trump immediately took issue with whether MSNBC producers called Trump or whether Trump (or “Trump’s people”) called into the show for the interview. Todd, trying to placate an aggressive Trump and move on to the topic at hand (Trump’s debate), admitted that MSNBC had called him. Trump refused to let go. Trump went a step further, saying something to the line of, and I’m paraphrasing here because quoting word for word isn’t worth it:  ‘I didn’t call in to respond to accusations that (the Trump moderated Republican) debate is a joke, you called me. . .’ Without allowing Todd to respond, Trump then went personal: ‘You know if you were accurate and told the truth and didn’t misrepresent the facts, you’d be a lot more successful. . .  you’re ratings would be higher. . .’

And, so goes the master negotiating businessman in Trump.

I understand that there may be some history between Todd and Trump. I understand that Trump thinks of himself as an Obama-hating Republican and that MSNBC is a Democratic Party soap box. And, I understand that Trump has a role and an image to portray in the public eye. But above all of this, in his interview with Todd, Trump employed negotiation tactics that browbeat, intimidate and psyche out the person (or people) seated on the other side of the table — the same tactics he’s used a million times to win a real-estate deal or, more likely, to move a price to the price point most favorable to Trump.

This is the tough-nosed real-estate tactic that Trump uses:

1. Enters the conversation/interview by being asked to respond to something specific. In this case, Todd gave the standard introduction for Trump providing some background for an audience that only needs vague details about why the guest is being interviewed. Who called who and whether Trump was chomping at the bit to respond to poll numbers was irrelevant to the audience. Todd assumed that Trump would gloss over his providing a lack of details that Todd knew the audience didn’t care about. However, for Trump this presented an opportunity to attack Todd and gain the upper-hand in the conversation.

2. Starts with “Let me start by saying. . .” and addresses something that has nothing to do with the topic at hand, but focuses on a point that the interviewer/other participants KNOW is weak. In the case of Todd, you can tell there was some sort of a problem with how the interview was set up because Todd says something like “Sorry we weren’t able to speak earlier. . .” This was something that was clearly on the mind of a news personality with a high net worth and famous guest on the phone. Trump knew this was his “in” to question the credibility of Todd, put him on the defensive, intimidate him, and make it clear that Trump controlled the conversation.

3. Presents his own perspective as facts and loosely paraphrases what was said to preface Trump’s involvement in the conversation. This is presented in such a large quantity that it would be impossible for the other party to respond to every aspect adequately. This is done in rapid succession, using a higher-than necessary volume with a tinge of irritation. (Note: Todd takes a sip of water to calm his nerves. The better approach would be a non-emotional stare at the camera or to stare at the camera with a smile on his face that said something to the effect of “Your ranting doesn’t bother me”.)

4. As the authority, veteran and person with credibility and control, provide a piece of advice and a “tip” for success for the inferior opponent. “You know what I wish you would do Chuck? I wish you would say it like it is,” Trump said to Todd. This is a form of Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) where Trump is guiding Todd to act in such a way as Trump desires. Here’s the catch: it would be impossible for Todd NOT to do what Trump says at this point. Psychologically, Trump has doubted Todd’s credibility as a reporter. Whether Todd internalizes this doubt or not, Todd cares about his credibility as a reporter more than anything else. Therefore, under pressure and without time to consider what has been asked, Todd will do anything as recommended to maintain that credibility. Trump provides Todd a way to re-establish his credibility. Mentally, because of the way Trump phrased his recommendation to Todd, Todd HAS to mentally visualize his “saying it like it is” and, as a result, will. Even more compelling, though, is that because the advice was so general and that Todd always “tells it like it is”, he will be complying with Trumps request. And, as Robert Cialdini writes in his book Influence, where one complies to a request once, they are more likely to comply to an ever more involved and complex request next time. Todd is now on Trump’s hook. (Incidentally, Trump wished that Todd was “straight” later in the interview, “I wish you were straight, Chuck. . .” — phraseology that I thought was interesting because of its allusion to the male interviewers’ sexual preference. Just sayin’.)

5. As a question of clarification to which you know the answer and to which the response makes you seem right. “Is it a correct statement that I did not call you and you called me?” Trump asks Todd. Look specifically at the phrasing of Trump’s question. The only answer that Trump will accept is “yes”. This is an age-old sales technique and an NLP patterning technique where the sales person asks a series of questions where only “yes” can be the answer. This primes the pump where when the time comes for the opponent to answer the question, “Will you take $10,000,000 for this building that’s worth $20,000,000?” the opponent cannot help but to answer “yes!” Any answer that Todd provides that’s not a “yes” to his question, Trump then argues with.

6. Revisit the weak point of your opponent throughout the interaction. No matter what Trump said, he kept going back to the topic of who called who. “But at the beginning of the program, you didn’t say that,” Trump fell back on. “You said. . .” Then, when Trump decided that he had adequately shaken up Todd and confused the audience, he decided to answer the question posed by Todd. . .  sorta. Trump actually reframed the question in a way that was favorable to Trump and answered THAT question.  Masterful.

7. Always Build Credibility. . . in the eyes of your opponent and in the eyes of the audience. Trump repeatedly attempted to establish his credibility with Todd by saying thins like: “I’m doing NBC a favor by coming on your show. . .” and, after settling down, “I know a lot about polls. . .  I studied polls at the Wharton School of Finance. . .”

8. Don’t answer the question, argue the question. Trump never let Todd finish a single question unfettered by interruption. Instead, Trump attacked the preamble leading up to every question. “Get the facts straight, Chuck,” Trump interjected. This is another great tactic to keep the interviewer and opponent on the defensive and for Trump to maintain control of the interview. Knowing where Todd was going with the question, Trump would reframe the question in a way that was favorable to Trump and answer that question. Todd, sensing that what Trump said was in the right ballpark of the question he wanted to ask, had to move on. If Todd asked his question again, Trump would have pulled the next negotiating tactic (number 9).

9. If a questioner asks a question again in the way they want to ask it, tell them you already answered it and question their capability. This is my favorite negotiating and interviewing tactic. Media people don’t want to be seen as ineffective interviewers, but when Trump pulls this one on Todd it’s downright intimidating. You hear Trump say all the time, “I already answered that” and “Were you paying attention to everything I’ve been saying?” and then move on to make their point.

Only once the mention of Karl Rove comes up does Trump find someone to take his New York aggression out other than Todd. Finally, Todd can breathe a short-lived sigh of relief. . .  until the question of Rove criticizing Trump came up and Trump distorts what Todd said about Rove’s distancing himself from Trump (despite the fact that Trump watched his show for “only about two minutes before coming on”).

10. To close the deal, paint a vision of success that says, “If you’re willing to comply with what I want then you will be successful, too. . .” And, this is where Trump’s automatic negotiating tactics get confused with an on-air interview. Trump isn’t woo-ing Todd into a high-value real-estate deal. Todd just wants to get Trump off the phone. Instead, Trump says “I love what I’m doing. I’m having a great time. . . you can see from my statement I’m doing very nice-ly. Very few people in this country have a statement like that with low debt and TREMENDOUS cash. . .” Todd responds with an unenthusiastic “right. . .”.

Once in a while I feel compelled to buy books like The Art of the Deal authored by Trump in the hope of finding die-hard tactics of negotiating a deal. I find now that I never had to. All I ever needed was to watch Trump in a seven minute interview with Chuck Todd on MSNBC.

When I write my book on “Trump Tactics of Negotiating”, you can be sure that I’m dedicating it to Chuck Todd for being gracious under fire.

I wouldn’t have been that cool.