Donald Trump’s gaffe of the day yesterday was his statement that “there has to be some form of punishment” for women who have abortions in the event that abortion is made illegal. The immediate global uproar forced his campaign to issue a statement making clear that what Trump actually meant was the opposite of what he said; “the doctor… would be held legally responsible, not the woman,” the statement said. As with so many Trump remarks that have had to be hurriedly reversed, this one makes many non-supporters wonder how anyone could possibly support a candidate who apparently has no thought-through policy positions and instead makes them up as he speaks. Part of the explanation is in a new Scientific American article, with implications for anyone who hopes to influence others and rally followers.
The article, called “The Idiolect of Donald Trump,” is by linguist Jennifer Sclafani. No, she isn’t calling Trump an idiot; the term comes from the Greek root meaning separate or distinct. She asks, “How does half of the population come away from the same event thinking Donald Trump sounded like a bumbling idiot, while the other half praises his performance as authentic and indicative of a strong leader?”
Much of the answer, she says, is his idiolect, his distinctive way of speaking. For example, he’s a heavy user of so-called “discourse markers,” such as “so,” “you know,” and “anyway.” That style gives “the impression that he is having an intimate conversation with individual voters rather than giving a prepared speech to a mass audience.” To some listeners, that shows that he’s authentic and trustworthy, not reading a scriptwriter’s words. To others, that same style shows that he’s unreflective, unprepared, and reckless.
The larger point is that while many people objected to Trump’s words yesterday, people generally are forming their opinions of Trump – and of pretty much everyone else – based on factors in addition to the substance of what is said. Research after televised political debates, even immediately after, consistently finds that most viewers remember very little about which candidate said what. But viewers remember quite clearly which candidates they liked and which they didn’t like. It’s their body language, their tone of voice, their manner, their idiolect.
If you’re in that majority of people who find Trump’s rise baffling, ask yourself what it is, really, that you dislike about him. Don’t flatter yourself that it’s purely his policy positions or lack of them. The truth is that there’s also something about him that you just don’t like. What is it? And then ask how that same something might strike someone else as a positive. Because it does, crazy as that may seem.
All of us need to confront the reality that in our communications, words are important but get us only so far. Harvard Business School researcher Francesca Gino reports that we take only about one tenth of a second “to form judgments of others on all sorts of dimensions, including likability, trustworthiness, competence, and aggressiveness.” What are you really communicating—quite apart from whatever you may say?
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What We’re Reading Today
Donald Trump walks back abortion statements
In a town hall interview, Trump said that women who get abortions should be punished if abortions were outlawed. The comments sparked a quick and powerful bipartisan backlash. The Trump campaign reversed hours later, saying the doctor but not the woman should be punished if abortions were outlawed. NBC News
Pepsi may have a successor to Nooyi
The company announced yesterday that the CEO of the North American beverage division, Al Carey, has been promoted to CEO of North America, reporting to CEO Indra Nooyi. She has run the company for almost a decade, and analysts say Carey looks like the heir apparent if she steps down in the near future. But PepsiCo has a long history as a talent academy from which many executives move on to roles in other companies’ C-suites. Fortune
MetLife is no longer ‘too big to fail’
A federal judge ruled that MetLife isn’t a “systemically important financial institution,” freeing the company from some stringent reserve requirements mandated by Dodd-Frank. Steven Kandarian‘s company had been planning to break up the business because of the restrictions. While the government will likely appeal, the decision could imperil Dodd-Frank’s power to regulate companies that aren’t traditional large banks. NYT
U.S. women soccer stars file wage discrimination claim…
…with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the U.S. Soccer Federation. Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, Hope Solo, Megan Rapinoe, and Becky Sauerbrunn argue that the women’s team is paid nearly four times less than the men despite pulling in almost $20 million in revenues. U.S. Soccer and its president, Sunil Gulati, believe they’re operating under a collective bargaining agreement that runs through 2016. The players contend the agreement has expired; that disagreement is being heard in a separate case. The issue could stop the team from playing as it heads into the Olympics. Sports Illustrated
Building a Better Leader
Target under fire for not paying overtime
A suit claims that Target misclassified workers with low-level management duties as “operations group leaders” to avoid overtime pay. Target denies any wrongdoing. Fiscal Times
Macy’s struggles impact its CEO’s bonus
CEO Terry Lundgren‘s pay fell 29% last year; he didn’t receive any award payments. The board also nixed raises for the company’s top leaders this year. Fortune
Johnson & Johnson CEO credits Army Ranger School…
…with developing his problem solving skills. “No matter how high the wall, how wide, how deep the water, whatever it was, you would figure out a way to make it through successfully,” said Alex Gorsky. The Street
Ideas for the Future
Chipotle’s next big thing
The burrito brand has filed to trademark the term “Better Burger,” which would not be a menu item but a restaurant concept. Co-CEO Steve Ells‘s company has also launched pizza and Asian food concepts. The move comes as Chipotle continues to struggle from the fallout of the E. Coli outbreak last year. Fortune
Microsoft bets on bots
At its annual developer conference, CEO Satya Nadella declared that “bots are the new apps.” Presentations included examples of how digital assistants were conducting conversations with phones and humans, for example. Nadella acknowledged mistakes with Tay, a bot on Twitter that hackers tapped to make anti-semitic and racist remarks. The conference showed how Nadella and Microsoft are planning for the future. USA Today
Fiat Chrysler CEO says he has many conversations…
…with companies outside the car industry. Sergio Marchionne says they increase his understanding of new technologies with an eye toward potential partnerships. The broad trend is partnering to improve vehicles; GM’s Mary Barra and others are relying on it as they race to develop autonomous vehicles. Reuters
Up or Out
Las Vegas Sands has named Patrick Dumont its new CFO. Hotel News Resource
Fortune Reads and Videos
Pentagon wants to turn aging F-16s…
…into autonomous flying jets. The first ones could take off before you can buy your first self-driving car. Fortune
Even the biggest CEOs have good friends
And sometimes those good friends are other CEOs, like Elon Musk and Larry Page. Fortune
The FBI is already set to unlock another iPhone
This time it’s for a murder case in Arkansas. Fortune
Former Cisco CEO John Chambers…
…just invested in a drone software startup. He’ll also take a board seat, his first since exiting Cisco. Fortune
Al Gore turns 68 today. Biography
Former U.S. Representative Barney Frank turns 76 today. Biography
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