Trump vs May

Do opposites really attract?

By Mark Erskine, Director of Seller Performance & LIFO® Master Trainer

With Theresa May set to be the first world leader to meet with the new President of the United States, Donald Trump, later today, there are a set of fascinating questions we must ask ourselves.  How will they get on? Will they be able to work together?  Could we be looking at the death or new dawn of the special relationship between the US and Great Britain?

If you have seen my previous interpretation of Trump and May you will be familiar with the Life Orientations (LIFO®) Circumplex diagram which shows the four orientations and their  descriptors and the differing styles of each. Remember we are all a blend of these but we normally favour one or more and potentially neglect some too.  They all yield strengths and conversely can cause problems if we use them to excess. Previewing today’s meeting, The Guardian ran with the headline this morning ‘Opposites Attract’  but will that really pan out? Will two people with unique behavioural profiles engage and connect easily? Lets take a look…

behavioural-profile-wheel-diagram-1Donald Trump

It is very clear that Trump is high “Controlling”, being quick to act, confident, a risk taker, certainly seeking change with all the new policies he has proposed. In fact many people believe his first presidential acts will be doing away with status quo policies that haven’t worked and making radical change. This is his appeal to many blue-collar Americans. He has tried to demonstrate his competence and business acumen in being able to make better trade deals than ever before. His slogan of “making America Great Again” is all about change. His self-confidence is there for everyone to see and lets not forget he has inspired millions of voters which is why we are debating this meeting today. He clearly enjoys the feeling of power and being in control.

Trump’s excesses of “Controlling” can be seen in sacrificing thought for action, being dismissive of others, overbearing and over confident, even aggressive.

He does winning at all costs – could we say at any cost? The nation is still hugely divided as we witnessed during his inauguration with riots and protest marches on the streets. This is because  he has alienated so many through his excesses. Like his reasoning behind a 1,000 mile wall being built on the Mexcian border, a large proportion of the nation and countries across the world are struggling to resonate with his values, attitudes and beliefs.

Trump is unquestionably charismatic showing some of the “Adapting” descriptors in terms of being enthusiastic and inspirational. He employs larger than life facial expressions and body language – again typical of Adapting behaviour, although many would argue he is not agreeable or socially intelligent. It is the descriptors nearer “Controlling” that are more typical of Trump.

Like all those favouring “Adapting and Controlling” orientations he is very much “big picture” – short on detail in his policies, lacking in facts and data to support any proposals.  He certainly neglects “Conserving”. He also shows very few of the “Supporting” behaviours – the exit polls showed the lack of faith in Trump, with  61% still distrusting him and many of his policies were designed to win votes at the expense of being ethical and principled.  His rants about Muslims and Hispanics hardly showed these qualities.

So Trump is very much right hand side of the Circumplex. Neglecting the left hand side.  So how does that fit with Theresa May?

Theresa May

Here we have a completely different profile.  She has already shown a cautious methodical approach to issues – “Conserving” behaviour. Remember the Hinckley deal with China she put on hold while she considered the deal in detail? And there have been other examples too of that analytical, cautious style.

Her colleagues also talk of her huge team focus and that fairness, trust principles and ethics are hugely important to her. “Brexit will mean Brexit” so she says and she has taken her time to put the process underway and will not reveal her detailed plan to anyone. Is that because as many believe she is still systematically working through the detail and planning everything methodically to achieve the best result?

Interestingly she has unhooked from some of Cameron policies, setting her own direction on things showing “Controlling” characteristics to take action – but was always seen, whilst in Cameron’s cabinet, to tow the line and show loyalty. These things are clearly important to her. But now freed of the shackles of collective responsibility she charts her own way forward.

Theresa’s faith in teamwork, principles, trust, loyalty and ethics also show a strong favoured “Supporting” orientation, which combined with her “Conserving” style is very much the left hand side of the Circumplex.

A Major Clash of styles

Where individuals show orientations diametrically opposite of each other on the Circumplex they will struggle to “connect”. Their beliefs, values, attitudes and behaviours are completely different.

La Ratonda

This photograph of La Rotonda in Italy shows a building completely symmetrical on all four sides.  If Trump and May were meeting there tomorrow on neutral ground to define the “Special Relationship”, the truth is they would be looking out of a different window to each other – seeing the world from a completely different perspective.

These two will naturally struggle to find a common approach.  They will either need to work very hard to “bridge” to the others orientation, or use a differing and legitimate strategy of “supplementing” by using others in their teams to broker any deal.


If they do neither, could we be seeing the death of that Special Relationship – caused by opposing behavioural orientations?  Relationships make the world turn, we are wired to connect with each other but sometimes it doesn’t work – I am sure we have all been there.  Is this fall-out the next big event? Or will we have a new dawn, a new prosperous relationship, which all catches us by surprise?

We never thought that Brexit would happen or Trump becoming the next President – they say things come in three’s don’t they?

Mark Erskine
Director of Seller Performance & LIFO® Master Trainer

Mark ErskineDo opposites really attract?