As a twenty-eight year veteran teacher (PreK through undergraduate and adult school levels), I needed to understand, to recognize, and to address different thinking and speaking–learning–styles, including my own. Now, as a teacher in retirement, I can apply those same skills to commenting on the thinking/ speaking styles of the Republican President and Vice-President nominees in this 2016 election.
In particular, I’d like to share my psychology-training insights with respect to the ad nauseum media criticism that Mr. Trump’s speaking style “meanders” and “rambles,” often illogically, and that often he doesn’t know ahead of time what he is going to say.
Might I suggest that those criticisms come from Convergent–Linear–Thinkers? Reporter types who cut to the chase in pursuit of identifying and articulating a truth (even if it’s sometimes their rather loose self-serving version of the truth). Convergent Thinkers tend to be more single-track, and so, not surprisingly, their speech (the articulation of their thoughts) strikes the listener as razor sharp, crisp and clear. (Consider, too, the print space and air-time constraints these reporter types face. No wonder their messages are so carefully crafted and funneled.)
Consider, on the other hand, Divergent Thinkers–the entrepreneurial, innovative, creative types, often the subjects of the stories or interviews given by the Convergent Thinkers. Inasmuch as their thinking is out-of-the-box, their speech, when it reflects their real-time thinking, reflects the complexities, interrelationships, and interconnectednesses they perceive.
My appraisal is that Mr. Trump is a Divergent Thinker. What helped to crystallize that appraisal for me was hearing a comment made by his daughter Ivanka during her introduction of him on the last night of the Convention. As I recall, she recounted how her father taught her that as long as she was going to think, she might as well think BIG!
Thinking expansively–thinking BIG–is the purview of builders, of visionaries–of Divergent Thinkers.
In light of what it means to be a Divergent Thinker, then, what sounds to some (Convergent Thinkers) as Mr. Trump’s meandering, rambling, and nonsensical thinking is actually a revelation of a mind that is making new associations, that is exploring new possibilities–brainstorming, if you will.
Even further, criticisms and derisions that Mr. Trump doesn’t always know what he is going to say–what is going to come out of his mouth–is actually another hallmark of Divergent Thinking. For sure, Divergent Thinkers characteristically, purposely don’t know everything that they are going to say, because their thinking is formulated in the very process of thinking aloud–of hearing themselves expressing different possibilities, whether or not those thoughts are given immediate verbal and non-verbal feedback.
In Mr. Trump’s case, I suspect that what endears him to his supporters–that he honors and entrusts them with entering into his real-time thinking, giving them a sense of a personal relationship with him–is both an asset and a liability. As an asset, supporters feel that he shares his thinking with them as one would share behind closed doors with family or trusted friends. As a liability, the media pounces (as well it should) on some stream of consciousness that should not reflect a Presidents’ final (Convergent) thoughts on an issue. (Going forward, Mr. Trump might do his Divergent Thinking outside the earshot of the public, presenting only his Convergent Thinking for public consumption. This change, I think, will have the effect of making Mr. Trump seem “more Presidential.”)
Criticisms of the amount of talking that Mr. Trump does as a sign of his arrogance and self-importance can be explained by his thinking style, as well. Divergent Thinkers typically have more to say because they think more expansively, and they like to put what they think into a deep and broad context. Rather than necessarily being a sign of pride and self-importance, one could argue that Divergent Thinkers need to be humble enough to reveal their unedited thoughts, leaving themselves vulnerable to criticism. Divergent thinkers are generous with thoughts willing to share–to self-disclose. To the definite dismay of Convergent Thinkers, they tend to say more than their opposite style thinkers want to hear or think that the Divergents need to say.
Personally, I feel simultaneously comfortable with Mr. Trump’s so-called “meandering, rambling” style, as well as offended by its stylistic criticism, because I confess that I, too, am a Divergent (“big picture”/contextual) Thinker. And I, too, talk too much. A lawyer recently summarized–he said that I was the kind of person who, when asked the time, would first tell the story of who gave me the watch and how the watch was made. Yes! I “get” the reasons for the criticism from those who have no patience for listening to the back story when all they want is to know the time. I, on the other hand, believe I am gifting the listener with more than the factual time by acknowledging and celebrating the clock maker who makes time-telling possible.
Unlike those who mocked Mr. Trump for predominately talking about himself rather than talking about Mr. Pence at the VP roll-out, I heard him talk about himself, yes!, but I also heard him talk about Mrs. Clinton/Democrats, putting Mr. Pence’s strengths into a comparative context. Everything I heard was relevant to me in his introducing Mr. Pence. Yes, it is fair to say that Mr. Trump spoke longer than Mr. Pence, but his remarks were definitely not all about himself. Likewise in the post RNC Convention thank you speech to volunteers, concerning the criticism that the VP got to speak for just 2 minutes: I suspect that Mr. Pence was free to speak as long as he wished. I suspect that Mr. Pence is a Convergent Thinker.
As an oversimplification, Convergent Thinkers typically have less to say because they think more specifically in an analytical, problem-solving way, and they keep their thoughts to themselves until they have come to a conclusion that they are willing to verbalize. Thus their thinking appears more disciplined.
Admittedly, between the two styles, there is an ideal time and place for each. Although each of us has a preferred style, there are occasions when each of us needs to use our less-preferred style. Both styles have advantages and disadvantages. strengths and limitations.
Presidencies have been marred when Cabinet and Advisory members pursue just one Convergent style; that is when “group think” takes over. The country benefits from having leaders whose preferred styles include both problem-solving , change-and-opportunities oriented Divergent Thinkers and solutions-oriented Convergent Thinkers.
From the point of view of thinking/speaking styles, the Trump-Pence ticket is balanced, indeed! And Praise God for their complementary preferred thinking/speaking styles.