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Listening lessons from Trump victory

The responses I’ve heard most frequently to Donald Trump’s US presidential victory are:trump

  • I did not see that coming (me neither!)


  • This is not the outcome we wanted (me neither)

What is interesting to me is that, in hindsight, the clues were there to anyone who listened closely to the opinions that were being expressed on our airwaves night after night, day after day.

People wanted change, their lives had not improved in the past number of years, they would vote for a woman, just not this particular woman.

We heard the words they used but we fell down at the second part of listening – to interpret what was being said.

We heard what was being said but, depending on our own sensibilities, still thought that, when push came to shove, people would vote the way we wanted them to (for a woman, for the first female president, not for him in particular).

On the radio, I heard an American man say that, because he travelled across the States for work, he was aware of many silent Trump voters. I heard it, was momentarily worried, but did not take fully on board the import of what that meant.

I stayed up until 1am (GMT) on election night to watch the results and saw the red wave inching its way across the American map on CNN. Still, I went to sleep thinking the tide would turn, everyone being on the same page as me surely. Well, that didn’t happen!

So what does this say?

Nobody saw this result coming, least of all the Clinton camp, the media outlets that I watch, rtrump-3ead and listen to, the people with whom I interact regularly.

We are selective in what we pay attention to – we like people and media outlets who reflect back our values and thoughts. We tune out voices we don’t like and whose values and beliefs we don’t share.

The media is the same – commentators, opinion writers, pollsters, analysts – all mix with people who have the same education and life experiences as them.

We heard what Donald Trump had to say about women, minorities, and immigrants – we didn’t like it (rightly) and we sought out sources that validated our reactions. We assumed that everyone was on the same page. Even when we listened to white Americans in poor rural outlying towns in so-called swing states say they were voting for Trump because he represented change, or they wanted a businessman to have a go, we assumed they were the anomaly and we were the norm. We saw the trump-2‘Women for Trump’ banners and tuned them out because we could not understand their perspective. I saw one woman say that, yes, Trump was rude and crude but, still, she was going to vote for him.

And the lesson is …

For me, there is a lesson here about listening – to become aware of our own biases, to listen more deeply to views that do not match my own and to see how widely they are shared. I do not need to change my own views but being aware of the traction of other viewpoints might lead to a greater understanding of what way the wind is actually blowing.

And I’m going to add this question to my lexicon: What if they’re right? When the guy highlighted the number of silent Trump voters, a discussion around ‘What if he’s right’ would have led me to listen to, rather than just hear, the words of Trump voters on TV and radio and speculate on just how many agreed with them.

A number of years ago, I was involved in an election campaign in a PR capacity. As the campaign went on, we were convinced of our chances – others weren’t. But I couldn’t see that. Partly because I was so passionate about our endeavours that I was too close to the action to see the wood for the trees. But, also, partly, because that view did not jibe with ours and the views that were being reflected back to us by like-minded people. If we had asked, ‘What if the naysayers are right?’, who knows, we may have looked at the statistics a different way and changed tactics.

Ban the biaslistening

I learned – and subsequently forgot – the same lesson then as now. Active listening, questioning our bias and comfort zone, is vital if we’re to accurately read the tea leaves and not wake up, one morning, so shocked that we are out of step with others.

This has the same application in business as it does in politics. Surround yourself only with like-minded people – and beware the outcome! And, if you are going to surround yourself with like-minded people, at least be aware of it and know that you are not getting the 360 degree picture …

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