The presidential election process in the U.S. is fascinating, especially for a first generation American coming from a dysfunctional country. Seldom has that been truer than this year. The biggest surprise has been the surging popularity of two candidates: Donald Trump in the Republican Party and Bernie Sanders for the Democrats. These two candidates have added an element of unpredictability to the entire race that is captivating the nation and giving all politicians (and any of us wanting to learn) a good lesson in effective communications.
Many of the establishment favorites have either dropped out (Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Chris Christie) or have struggled to take a dominant position (Hillary Clinton, Marco Rubio). How have Mr. Trump and Mr. Sanders, two unlikely candidates, managed to garner so much support?
Mr. Trump and Mr. Sanders might be polar opposites when it comes to their ideologies, but they have captured the imaginations of voters with a shared common communication strategy: the four pillars of influence. These can be quite helpful to remember for anyone trying to influence others.
1. Authenticity beats polish. Being true to yourself helps people understand you and connect with you. The vast majority of politicians "act" like a candidate should, but people respond to those who simply "are" themselves. Mr. Sanders is blunt and candid, and Mr. Trump makes some outrageous comments. Compare them to any of the other candidates and they win the most points for authenticity and directness. They are straightforward and share their opinions in an unfiltered way. Because of this, people feel like they are getting the real deal. In a world of politicians being far too polished, and delicately saying the right thing, authenticity is at a premium. Think about how that applies to how you communicate as an adviser or as a leader. Increasingly, people want to connect with you as a genuine person first, and then with the role you play second. That's true whether you are an adviser meeting a client, or a CEO running a company. In order for people to believe in you they have to know you first.
2. Passion beats content. What we stand for matters, but showing that we care deeply moves people. It's clear Mr. Trump and Mr. Sanders carry their feelings on their sleeves and show they care deeply about what they are saying. That has cost many of the other candidates dearly, even those with more generally accepted positions. Both candidates show they care in different ways, but they seem to have deep conviction in what they are discussing. People connect with feelings. Passion changes minds and moves people. It might be divisive at times, but demonstrating deep conviction is imperative if you want to build feelings and create movement in people. This is true whether you are a politician or an adviser.
3. Talking about what people care about beats telling them what they should care about. Both Mr. Sanders and Mr. Trump understand that voters are frustrated with the government and have lost faith in politics. They are both building their surprisingly strong campaigns around this understanding. No matter whether you agree or not with the specifics of their philosophies, the two candidates have clearly tapped into their constituents' major concerns in ways that others are not. This is an important lesson for anyone working with others. It's hard to make people care about things they aren't concerned with. Understanding what matters most to the folks you talk to can make a critical difference when communicating. Perhaps that's why so many individuals don't look forward to seeing their adviser. We aren't talking about what they really care about.
4. Fighting against something specific beats fighting for something vague. We all know Mr. Trump is against illegal immigration and America losing and we know Mr. Sanders is against college student debt and income inequality. But what are the other candidates against? If you want your office to stand out, you need to be very clear about what you are fighting against. Too often, advisers sound similar to every other adviser and don't talk specifically about what they stand for and how they will improve their clients' lives. Can your clients tell their friends what you stand for and are fighting against on their behalf?
Financial advisers do not have the same luxury as politicians of making promises to people they will never see again along the campaign trail. However, we can apply these pillars of influence in ways that make us better communicators with our fellow workers and clients. We might not have the Donald's hair, or his billions, we might not ever want to be as abrasive as he and Bernie can be, but we can use some of their methods to be more effective communicators. Like many others, I will be transfixed with this election and have complete faith that our great country will end up in the right place. God Bless America!
Joe Duran is chief executive of United Capital. Follow him @DuranMoney.