I believe that many Americans are puzzled or put-off by Donald Trump’s communication style. Hillary Clinton and the press surely make much of it, everything from laughing to taking him literally when he says things like Obama created ISIS.

Having analyzed Trump’s rhetoric (my PhD is in Intercultural Communications), I would like to offer a few hints to help you understand the Donald:

  1. Trump seems to be non-linear, while Hillary and most Americans are more linear
  2. Trump seems more contextual and Hillary more content-oriented
  3. He seems more Essentialist, while Hillary is focused more on details
  4. He uses Scottish/Tory common-sense (American businessman), while Hillary uses politesse
  5. He is an optimist; Hillary is probably an idealist
  6. Trump seems to be an in-fighter and will not let a comment go without a rejoinder

Many Americans use Trump’s style of thinking and rhetoric. They, of course, do not think him strange at all. Additionally, his is the predominant style in many cultures around the world. So, he is not a lunatic. It is important to understand his context. He should not be ridiculed in the media and by Democrats. So much for PC embracing differences! See article for more.

  1. Non-linear. Most Americans are linear thinkers. Their thought process is step-by-step, one thought leading to the next. Think of an arrow traveling directly to the target. Trump, on the other hand, is like an arrow that zigs and zags on its flight. He can begin at any of several related entry points to a topic and can expand to all relevant directions the topic touches on. He is also more interactive, interpreted by some as “interruptive.” Many cultures around the world are non-linear: Spanish and Hispanic, Arabic, most Mediterranean cultures.

2. Contextual:                                                                                         Content-oriented:

-may seem vague/ambiguous                                                           -literalness, highly explicit

-relationship, social appropriateness, degree of trust             -overly direct / blunt

-emotional/excitable                                                                           -calm/cool

-more touching, embracing, etc.                                                     -standoffish


3. “Essentialist”:  people who speak in terms of the essential element and ultimate consequences of a topic without regard to literalness / precision. This may be used to indicate the importance or interest of the topic. It is not intended to be taken literally; some may be misinterpret as hyperbole.

 4. Scottish/Tory common-sensical: in Trump’s case his is the classic American businessman’s view of Washington D.C. and politics. Hillary is the quintessential politician.

5. Optimist: Trump uses the classic American language of ‘monumentalism’ taken from our frontier roots: everything is great, huge, terrifying, etc. Again, not intended to be taken literally.

6.  In-fighter: Trump is used to rough and tumble verbal sparring, to give as good as he gets. He would not be the first statesman on the international scene to use this approach.


Kaplan, 1967. From Elliott, C. E. 1999. Cross-Cultural Communication Styles, pre-pub thesis.

Cano Morn 2004

Do we think differently?

deBono, Edward. 1970. 1990


Omar & Khalaf. 2009. A sociolinguistic study of hyperbole. Journal of Anbar Univ. for lang. & lit.

Petersens. Latin America: Not as European as Europeans think it is.

Rick Hills. 2008. The French vs Scottish-English styles in American writing.

Wederspahn, Gary. Cross-cultural communication between Latin American and U.S. managers. based on Hofstede.

1. non-linear/lateral/circular 

Romance rhetorical style N. American rhetorical style

arrow with sharp turns and twists                         sharp arrow direct to the target

valued experience                                                        directly stating point, purpose & conclusion

may seem disorganized                                              may seem overly flat, prosaic, only facts

(Kaplan, 1967. From Elliott, C. E. 1999. Cross-Cultural Communication Styles, pre-pub thesis.

non-linear: characterized by multiple (related)        linear: a process of thought following starting points and expansion in multiple (all           step-by-step progression (e.g. if a=b, relevant) directions                                                             and b=c, then   a=c)

(Do we think differently?; deBono, Edward. 1970. 1990)

Column One  – Circular                                           Column Two – Linear

a Gather and welcome everyone affected            a. Define the goal

b. Think about the questions to be asked            b. Develop a strategy

c. Interactively share information                         c. Make a plan

d. Recognize a pattern, get an idea                        d. Set time lines, costs, tasks

e. Create a prototype and try it                                e. Activate the plan

f. Respond to the information and redesign       f. Measure progress





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