Here's the best way to change Donald Trump's mind

Story highlights

  • Trump's background is as an old-school businessman
  • He is using his gut to guide American foreign policy at the moment

Washington (CNN)On Thursday morning, reports began to circulate that President Donald Trump was leaning toward voiding the North American Free Trade Agreement.

By Thursday afternoon, Trump had changed his mind -- the US would stay in NAFTA.
    What changed? He talked to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.
    "I was all set to terminate," Trump told The Washington Post. "I looked forward to terminating. I was going to do it." But then Peña Nieto and Trudeau called him -- that's important -- and asked very nicely if a renegotiation might be possible.
    Here's how Trump recounted those calls to Reuters during an interview Thursday:
    "I get a call from Mexico yesterday, 'We hear you're going to terminate NAFTA.' I said that's right. They said, 'Is there any way we can do something without you -- without termination?' I said, 'What do you want to do?' He said, 'Well, we'd like to negotiate.' I said we'll think about it. Then I get a call, and they call me, I get a call from Justin Trudeau and he said, 'We'd like to see if we can work something out,' and I said that's fine.'"
    What's important here: By Trump's account, two leaders of foreign countries came as supplicants to him. They called him, asked him not to do it. He, as a flexible negotiator, said OK. Because he believed them when they told him, personally, that they would renegotiate the deal in ways more favorable to the United States.
    It should be noted that Mexico had already agreed, shortly after the election, to renegotiate and modernize the trade deal.
    The NAFTA phone calls are far from an isolated incident when it comes to just how much power Trump invests in relationships with people. If he talks to you, if you are nice to him, if he feels as though you connected on some level, he is much, much more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt.
    Another recent example of this phenomenon comes in regard Chinese President Xi Jinping, with whom Trump spent two days at Mar-a-Lago earlier this month. Going into that meeting, relations between Trump and China seemed likely to be dicey; after all, he had said China was "raping" the US at a May 2016 campaign rally.
    Coming out of it, Trump makes it sound as though he and Xi may be co-starring in a buddy comedy sometime soon.
    "Look, my problem is I have established a very good personal relationship with President Xi. I really feel that he is doing everything in his power to help us with a big situation," Trump told Reuters regarding North Korea's ongoing pursuit of a nuclear weapon.
    Added Trump: "He's a good man. He's a very good man and I got to know him very well." (Related: Trump has cited the duo's relationship as one of the reasons he isn't labeling China a currency manipulator any more.)
    Reminder: Trump spent roughly 48 hours with Xi. They had not met each other previously. Could the meetings possibly have gone so well that Trump is now convinced China is going to help the US on North Korean containment and is going to stop manipulating their own currency?
    Trump's background is as an old-school businessman -- he likes to look people in the eye or talk to them on the phone, not shoot emails back and forth. And he believes very strongly in his gut reactions to these meetings. In fact, he is using that gut to guide American foreign policy at the moment.
    So, if you don't like the way Trump appears to be heading on an issue, call him up. Meet with him. Tell him how reasonable you are and how powerful he and the United States are. You might just get a change of heart.