14 September 2019

Beyond Win-Win or Win-Lose into the Strange Mind of Donald Trump

Stephen Covey's 4th habit is the building block to relationships. It also gives us a way to better understand the danger of Trump.

Think Win-Win is how we approach others. It's a belief that relationships make things better for us and them, for you and me, whether the you is a romantic or business partner or simply a friend.

Covey's 5th habit is Seek first to understand and then to be understood. You have to understand their perspective and their win and then communicate your own. His 6th habit is Synergize which could be stated more clumsily as, Create a solution that will not just give you your win and them theirs but might actually result in something extra that neither of you could have anticipated, a solution that encompasses both of your wins in a manner that might actually create wins you hadn't anticipated - whether for you or people outside the relationship.

Back to the 4th habit of Think win-win, the approach to take into a relationship or even a quick encounter.

To get to win-win, one needs both courage and consideration. You need courage enough to articulate and fight for your own win. You need consideration enough to listen and fight for the other's win. 

If you have only courage but no consideration, you'll likely become either a win-lose person who must beat the other while getting your own win or simply a win person who doesn't care at all whether the other person gets a win or a loss as long as you get your win.

If you have only consideration but no courage, you'll likely become a lose-win person who takes on the role of martyr, simply swallowing your own needs and dreams and deferring to the needs and dreams of others.

I think one obstacle to win-win is that it isn't natural to both be willing for combat for our own win and willing for empathy to understand the other's win. We tend to toggle into either courage or consideration rather than try to encompass both.

Trump introduces a new variable in this model that I hadn't really considered before: the role of comparison or status. It takes him to a new and odd place.

Trump's trade wars seem to have played a factor in the fact that Germany and China's economies are now stuttering. Automobile production has fallen dramatically in Germany. China's growth has slowed. In response to these sorts of issues, bond markets suggest there is a higher probability of a global recession. None of this seems to deter Trump from his trade war.

Part of Trump's bulldoggery of course is related to the fact that Trump has never once admitted to a mistake of any kind. I suspect, though, that it actually points to something else that is so defining of Trump: his quest for status above all else. In the wake of the 9-11 tragedy he called in to announce that with the collapse of the World Trade Center, his building was now New York's tallest. There was a tragedy but it gave him more status and that was what he wanted to talk about. Trump cares less about living in time of antibiotics and internet than being the top dog and if he had to choose between being Attila to the Huns or middle-class guy in a wildly affluent future, he'd choose to be Attila. What matters most is to be at the top.

China's economy has grown more rapidly than ours for the last 20+ years. This makes perfect sense given their relative stage of economic development. (It takes the average Chinese all week to make as much as the average American makes by the end of the day Monday.) This contrast outrages Trump who wants to be better.

I get the very real sense that given the choice between winning less than China wins (for instance, our economy grows 3% and theirs grows 6%) or losing less than China loses (our economy contracts only 1% while China's economy contracts 3%), he would choose losing less. It doesn't matter nearly as much that we're winning as it does that our position is better than our rivals.

Trump's little graph is not about win-win or win-lose quadrants. It is simply this: we're doing better or worse than the other guy. Better can include a loss in real terms as long as our loss is not as bad as the other guy's loss.

The probability that the US economy tips into recession goes up every time Trump's Twitter Tourettes drives him to spew out trade war nonsense. Remarkably, the probability of recession still seems considerably less than 50%; recession within the year is unlikely. In any case, our economy will likely be doing worse in 2020 than it was in 2016 but China and Germany's economies will likely be doing even worse even than ours. The global economy doesn't matter to him. Our relative position does. I'm not even sure what to call Trump's mindset. (Who cares about winning as long as we're doing better than than the other guy?)

Trump's 2020 campaign slogan could simply be, "You should see the other guy."  

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