- Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images
- At the 2019 G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan, President Donald Trump will meet with the heads of the world’s largest economies.
- Trump is impelled to come to an agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping over trade, but the two must navigate their complicated relationship to do so.
- Communication experts and leadership consultants helped offer a strategy that Trump needs to have going into the G20 Summit to reach the best agreement.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Stock market stability, the price of common goods, and the state of the world’s economy are all in play as President Donald Trump once again meets Chinese leader Xi Jinping at the G20 Summit starting Friday.
The G20 summit will bring together the heads of 19 countries and the European Union to discuss issues impacting international markets. The US and China’s ongoing trade war makes this year’s G20 summit especially high stakes, as Trump may decide to raise tariffs on Chinese imports
Despite the back and forth for over a year, US and China both have incentives to make peace. China has said it does not want a trade war, as its economy cannot function at its current level without exports to the US. Trump’s choice to raise tariffs, meanwhile, drew ire from hundreds of US companies and the majority of economists.
According to top business strategy professors and leadership consultants, if Trump is going to reach a consensus on the trade agreement, he needs to have a communication strategy ahead of his meetings with Xi and other world leaders. More than that, the president must understand how his actions will be perceived by his fellow heads of state – and the public.
What he does (and doesn’t) do will be a lesson to leaders across politics and business.
“No matter what happens, you have to figure out ahead of time what are you going to do,” Harry Kraemer, professor of management and strategy at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, said. “In a crisis, in a negotiation, I know what I’m gonna do.”
Trump needs to know exactly what he wants out of the agreement. So far, China reportedly has a list of demands to hit Trump with at the summit. The White House has yet to release what they want out of the agreement, though Trump has said he will raise tariffs if Xi doesn’t meet his terms. Having clear expectations in place and attempting to meet Xi in the middle would be good leadership practice, Kraemer said.
Aside from preparing for the terms of the negotiation, Maurice Schweitzer, a professor at the Wharton School and author of “Friend & Foe: When to Cooperate, When to Compete, and How to Succeed at Both,” recommends Trump have a “non-task communication” strategy in place. Non-task communication literally means topics of discussion unrelated to the negotiation, ranging from sports, the weather, and family members.
Preparing to talk about the weather may appear silly, but this communication is “nonetheless essential for preserving and building relationships,” Schweitzer says. In short, having a good relationship with your negotiation partner will lead to a better outcome.
Time the proposals
Trump can get on Xi’s good side by asking questions instead of proposing a solution without listening. Susan Stehlik, the director of NYU Stern Business School’s management communication program, said Western leaders can fall into the trap of presenting a proposal right at the top of the meeting.
East Asian business leaders respect Western leaders that come with a desire to understand their perspective, mainly through asking questions, said Stehlik, who spent decades in international banking. She says that she had more success asking questions and attempting to understand her East Asian business partners than she did when walking in with a list of demands. “I learned to really listen and start asking questions and trust the process, and they trusted me more,” she said. “There was a real respect that you develop.”
Limiting the amount of time you’re interacting with a business partner or peer also helps keep the relationship civil, Schweitzer says. When leaders interact with people who they have complicated relationships with, they often need to express emotions they do not actually feel, adding an “emotional labor” cost.
Emotional labor, as the phrase suggests, can be exhausting. Research finds this kind of emotional labor takes a toll on the body physically, and can hurt job performance. Trump should therefore limit his exposure to Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin if he wants to be at the best capacity to find a successful agreement. “Space between them may reduce conflict,” Schweitzer said.
Identify shared goals
Trump and Xi need to set aside differences in their personal relationship before coming to an agreement.
“Trump and Xi want a prosperous world economy and they want peace and stability in the Middle East and the China Sea,” Schweitzer said. “We all have conflict with our peers, but we also have higher-level common goals.”
Priorities that everybody shares are called “superordinate goals” in the psychology literature, and they’re a reliable way of getting people who consider themselves members of opposing groups to cooperate.
As the former CEO of Baxter, a Fortune 500 healthcare company, Kraemer always sought to find a middle-ground, even with parties that may not have had his best interest.
“Particularly when you have two strong-willed people, if neither of them is really listening and they are both trying to completely win, you never get anywhere,” Kraemer said.
Eye the optics
Aside from individual meetings, the G20 Summit reliably turns into a photo op. World leaders embody their country; putting all of them together can signal not just the relationship with the individual people, but their countries as a whole.
For instance, a photo from last year’s G-7 summit depicting Angela Merkel looming over Trump as he sat with his arms crossed went viral. The image, pundits said, embodied the tense relationship between the US and Germany.
“Trump’s body positioning frequently is not helping his image,” Stehlik said.
To keep public opinion at bay, Stehlik suggests world leaders work with consultants to find their most photogenic angles when needing to stand for a picture. Leaning forward when the other party is talking, standing up, keeping your arms unfolded, shaking hands, and smiling are also good non-verbal cues that photograph well, Kraemer said.
Trump, and other leaders, can use this kind of body language to convey feelings of positivity in uncomfortable situations – a key strategy to get what you want.
“I would try to keep balanced,” Kraemer said, recalling his experiences as CEO. “I would try to stay focused on how can I accomplish something – but I’m not going to let you intimidate me.”