You know how it is… You’re only just starting to get on top of things when out of the blue comes a message to say that an old colleague is in town and would like to get together. On most occasions you would say ‘great’ and life carries on as normal, but every now and again such a call raises a flag that says ‘awkward’.
So it is that in recent days Theresa May has received that message. Having survived a torrid few weeks and with absolutely no guarantee of putting away that box marked ‘cleared desk contents’ into storage any time soon, she got the call she must have dreaded receiving – the one saying that her old pal Donald Trump may be coming to town.
Of course the arrival of The Donald™ for his first Presidential visit to the UK was always going to be a difficult one. However, post UK election, his mooted ‘informal visit’ ahead of joining the French for Bastille celebrations on July 14th must be causing the same sort of anxiety as getting an affirmative wedding day RSVP from that bawdy old relative with the Bernard Manning patter whose wandering hands need to be kept off the bridesmaids…
The last time Mrs May met with The Donald™ things were oh so different. As the first major leader to enter the White House in January, she was convinced that some special relationship magic would produce a civilising influence on the firebrand showman. However, the Ronny + Maggie show v2.1 hasn’t really materialised and right now the two leaders look like damaged goods on the shelf marked world stage.
So it will be with some trepidation that Number 10 anticipates a call, at 24 hours notice (thereby avoiding any fake news media opportunities such as shots of noisy street demonstrations), to let them know what time the President’s plane gets in. Ahead of this potentially awkward meeting, here are a couple of bits of advice for the PM:
1) Avoid the Grapple: Currently doing the rounds is Trump wrestling a CNN logo. Mrs May would do well to take heed (and maybe a couple of self defence lessons) of Donald’s penchant for throwing his weight around with all the postulating of an alpha ape to avoid being yanked by the hand, unceremoniously shoved or just plain old man-handled in a way that would make many a woman testify…
2) Keep it Positive: The Donald™ thrives on negativity and conflict. Why? Because this makes for bigger headlines than being Mr Nice. Theresa May has discovered, to her great cost, that going on the attack is not the way to endear yourself to the British public at this moment in history. If he starts barking, she needs to resist joining in the chorus.
3) Keep it Informal: When Donny and Terry first met there was talk of a snap state visit with all the pomp and pageantry that us Brexit Brits could muster. That did not go down well with the public (nor, one suspects, the Queen). Much like an old colleague ‘popping in’ to say hi, Mrs May would do well to keep this stopover as informal as possible.
4) Do the Small Talk: Leading on from the last point, from what we know about the two leaders, Mrs May is happy with silences while Mr Trump likes to fill them. The PM needs to learn to small talk more about nothing in particular to stop her filling in the gaps with empty rhetoric that will return to bite her. I suggest she takes notes from the Queen, who does this exceptionally well.
5) Hope the meeting gets cancelled: Yes, it’s not very professional, but sometimes awkward meetings are best avoided altogether. Mrs May really doesn’t need this one right now and there are probably many in her team hoping for a major incident that would see this meeting rescheduled for a more convenient time… like 2020.
Luan de Burgh
Luan de Burgh is a speaker, writer and founder of The de Burgh Group – a specialist business communication training provider dedicated to helping people perform at their highest potential.