Scott “Dilbert” Adams on Trump’s Sales Techniques

Cartoonist Scott Adams blogs at about what he’s learned from Donald Trump’s 1987 memoir/advice book Trump: The Art of the Deal:

As I said in my How to Fail book, if you are not familiar with the dozens of methods of persuasion that are science-tested, there’s a good chance someone is using those techniques against you.

For example, when Trump says he is worth $10 billion, which causes his critics to say he is worth far less (but still billions) he is making all of us “think past the sale.” The sale he wants to make is “Remember that Donald Trump is a successful business person managing a vast empire mostly of his own making.” The exact amount of his wealth is irrelevant.

When a car salesperson trained in persuasion asks if you prefer the red Honda Civic or the Blue one, that is a trick called making you “think past the sale” and the idea is to make you engage on the question of color as if you have already decided to buy the car. That is Persuasion 101 and I have seen no one in the media point it out when Trump does it.

Debunking Trump’s claim to be worth $10 billion when Forbes lists him as worth only $4.1 billion just reminds everybody that Trump is now very much a billionaire (which he often hasn’t been during downturns in the past).

It’s like how Richard Nixon out campaigning for GOP candidates in 1966 used to take speeches drafted for him by the young Pat Buchanan and subtly inflate the numbers in them (from, say, 94% to 98%) in order to get the local newspaper to run two stories about his speech, the first reporting Nixon’s claim that, say, in a recent survey 98% of actuaries recommended the method endorsed in the Republican plank on worker’s comp reform (or whatever), and then another article the next day in which the reporter proudly reports that he caught Nixon in a lie: in reality, it was only 94% of experts who were on the GOP side!

The $10 billion estimate Trump uses for his own net worth is also an “anchor” in your mind. That’s another classic negotiation/persuasion method. I remember the $10 billion estimate because it is big and round and a bit outrageous. And he keeps repeating it because repetition is persuasion too.

I don’t remember the smaller estimates of Trump’s wealth that critics provided. But I certainly remember the $10 billion estimate from Trump himself. Thanks to this disparity in my memory, my mind automatically floats toward Trump’s anchor of $10 billion being my reality. That is classic persuasion. And I would be amazed if any of this is an accident. Remember, Trump literally wrote the book on this stuff. …

And what did you think of Trump’s famous “Rosie O’Donnell” quip at the first debate when asked about his comments on women? The interviewer’s questions were intended to paint Trump forever as a sexist pig. But Trump quickly and cleverly set the “anchor” as Rosie O’Donnell, a name he could be sure was not popular with his core Republican crowd. And then he casually admitted, without hesitation, that he was sure he had said other bad things about other people as well.

Now do you see how the anchor works? If the idea of “Trump insults women” had been allowed to pair in your mind with the nice women you know and love, you would hate Trump. That jerk is insulting my sister, my mother, and my wife! But Trump never let that happen. At the first moment (and you have to admit he thinks fast) he inserted the Rosie O’Donnell anchor and owned the conversation from that point on. Now he’s not the sexist who sometimes insults women; he’s the straight-talker who won’t hesitate to insult someone who has it coming (in his view).

But it gets better. You probably cringed when Trump kept saying his appearance gave FOX its biggest audience rating. That seemed totally off point for a politician, right? But see what happened.

Apparently FOX chief Roger Ailes called Trump and made peace. And by that I mean Trump owns FOX for the rest of the campaign because his willingness to appear on their network will determine their financial fate. BAM, Trump owns FOX and paid no money for it. See how this works? That’s what a strong brand gives you.

You probably also cringed when you heard Trump say Mexico was sending us their rapists and bad people. But if you have read this far, you now recognize that intentional exaggeration as an anchor, and a standard method of persuasion.

Trump also said he thinks Mexico should pay for the fence, which made most people scoff. But if your neighbor’s pit bull keeps escaping and eating your rosebushes, you tell the neighbor to pay for his own fence or you will shoot his dog next time you see it. Telling a neighbor to build his own wall for your benefit is not crazy talk. And I actually think Trump could pull it off.

On a recent TV interview, the host (I forget who) tried to label Trump a “whiner.” But instead of denying the label, Trump embraced it and said was the best whiner of all time, and the country needs just that. That’s a psychological trick I call “taking the high ground” and I wrote about it in a recent blog post. The low ground in this case is the unimportant question of whether “whiner” is a fair label for Trump. But Trump cleverly took the high ground, embraced the label, and used it to set an anchor in your mind that he is the loudest voice for change. That’s some clown genius for you. …

If you’re keeping score, in the past month Trump has bitch-slapped the entire Republican Party, redefined our expectations of politics, focused the national discussion on immigration, proposed the only new idea for handling ISIS, and taken functional control of FOX News. And I don’t think he put much effort into it. Imagine what he could do if he gave up golf.

As far as I can tell, Trump’s “crazy talk” is always in the correct direction for a skilled persuader. When Trump sets an “anchor” in your mind, it is never random. And it seems to work every time.

Well, I’ve seen Trump up and Trump down over the decades, so “every time” is an exaggeration. But he’s lasted a remarkably long time.

And I’ve never heard much to suggest he is manic-depressive, in the manner of Ross Perot, who disappeared into seclusion during the summer of 1992, only to come out a ball of fire again in the fall. Trump appears to be steadily hypomanic, like Teddy Roosevelt, which is a pretty fun thing to be.

To compare two pretty similar-seeming personalities, Winston Churchill suffered occasional crippling depressions and other times when things were going good started to get out of control with his global strategizing. In contrast, Teddy Roosevelt seemed to be pretty steadily super-energetic, in between the two major depressive moments of his life — the day both his mother and his first wife died, and the death of his son and most likely political heir in WWI.

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