Manhattan voted nearly 9:1 for Hillary Clinton--lower Manhattan, where I live and work, probably more so. New York University, where I teach leadership, entrepreneurship, and sales, probably yet more still.

Wednesday after the election, the neighborhood was eerily quiet, like someone had died. Soon after, students demonstrated, chanting, "Not my president."

To this day, mentioning Donald Trump's name in conversation around here tends to lead to words like "narcissist," "misogynist," "racist," "sexist," and phrases like "they voted against their own interests... why would they do that?"

This last phrase is asked rhetorically. I've never heard someone ask to hear an answer that would enlighten them to motivations of people they disagree with.

Leaders listen: it's hard to influence if you don't understand

Teaching fields based in influence, persuasion, and motivation, I teach the importance of understanding others if you want to influence them. Understanding comes from listening.

Prior to listening, I teach behaving and communicating to make others feel comfortable sharing their emotions and motivations, which tend to be their vulnerabilities. In class and in conversation with professionals, everyone agrees.

In practice, people make others comfortable and listen effectively when they want to sell something.

Talking politics, not so much. People seem to want to vent and talk over listening and understanding.

Practicing what I teach

Since no one who lives or works near me told me they voted for Trump, I went online to find those whose voices I hadn't heard.

I found a few Trump supporters. They're people I never would have met and live across the country. We scheduled some calls.

My surprising results

First, speaking after the election meant no one could influence each other's vote, which I suspect lowered the emotional intensity of the conversation.

The first thing I noticed was their appreciation of my initiating such conversations. They told me they felt uncomfortable sharing their opinions publicly, before and after the election.

Next, we disagreed on several issues, principally related to the environment and health care. But since my goal was to listen to understand, not talk to convince, these disagreements weren't the topic.

I found them nothing like how my local community characterized Trump supporters. I heard no hint of racism, misogyny, sexism, lack of education, or lack of awareness.

On the contrary, they expressed concern at things Trump said that invited those characterizations, but felt he also said many things that they felt needed to be said but they feared being tarred with those labels.

One woman expressed this concern eloquently with two questions:

What does someone have in their heart to call someone racist and sexist that they never met?

and

How does someone who espouses peace and tolerance get to be so mean?

They told me Trump supporters, speaking among themselves, knew how much support he had. They were surprised so many in the media missed their voices. They felt like outsiders to the media and Washington DC, which fueled their wishing to feel represented.

They were forgiving of Trump's flaws and were more aware of Clinton's. Speaking to them revealed to me how forgiving of Clinton's flaws and how much more aware of Trump's flaws her supporters were.

The different candidates' supporters were like mirror images in this regard. Clinton supporters called Trump supporters intolerant. Well, the Trump supporters I spoke to didn't feel tolerated at all on their issues.

They described the left as intolerant. That it was easier to be Muslim in the United States than Christian. Taking pains to point out support for people of all sexualities, they didn't appreciate the difference in forcing the military to fund transgender issues versus veterans' issues.

They were fed up with labels. They felt most leaders were saying too little and Trump was saying what needed to be said--to be able to talk about race or gender without fear of being labeled.

They cared about the environment, but didn't feel the government was effective with it. Similarly with health care.

My reflection

As much as I disagreed with them on these last two issues, I could see where they came from, far more than I did from listening to my neighbors. In retrospect, my neighbors didn't understand the people they disparaged.

For someone called narcissistic, Trump gave people tremendous feelings of support and feeling understood.

This article isn't about politics. It's about leadership, influence, persuasion, and motivation.

I don't claim the few people I spoke to represent Trump voters, but these conversations told me that the communication and behavior of Clinton supporters influenced people away from voting for her.

At least from the perspective of the Trump supporters I spoke to, her strengths played to Trump's strengths because of their behavior. The more her supporters felt right, the more justified they felt in expressing that they felt right, which seemed to drive people away from them.

Speaking to listen and understand leads to very different conversations than speaking to vent and convince.

Published on: Dec 19, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.