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Conquerors, let’s continue the conversation with the final part of the two-part series featuring Kwame Christian, who is a best-selling author, business lawyer, and CEO of the American Negotiation Institute (ANI).
Following the viral success of his TedxDayton talk, Kwame released his best-seller Finding Confidence in Conflict: How to Negotiate Anything and Live Your Best Life in 2018. He also recently released his latest book, How to Have Difficult Conversations About Race in September 2022, and is a regular Contributor for Forbes and the host of the number one negotiation podcast in the world, Negotiate Anything – which currently has over 5 million downloads worldwide. Under Kwame’s leadership, ANI has coached and trained several Fortune 500 companies in applying the fundamentals of negotiation to corporate success.
Kwame was the recipient of the John Glenn College of Public Affairs Young Alumni Achievement Award in 2020 and the Moritz College of Law Outstanding Recent Alumnus Award in 2021. He is the only person in the history of The Ohio State University to win alumni awards in consecutive years from Law school and the Masters of Public Affairs program.
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Finding Confidence in Conflict
George: This is the Conquer Local podcast, a show about billion-dollar sales leaders, marketers leading local economic growth, and entrepreneurs that have created their dream organizations. They want to share their secrets, giving you the distilled version of their extraordinary feats. Our hope is with the tangible takeaways from each episode, you can rewire, rework, and reimagine your business. I’m George Leith. And on this episode, we welcome Kwame Christian. Kwame is a bestselling author and business lawyer and the CEO of the American Negotiation Institute. After his successful Ted Talk, Kwame released his bestseller, Finding Confidence in Conflict: How to Negotiate Anything and Live Your Best Life. In 2018, that book hit bookshelves. His second book is out now, How to Have Difficult Conversations About Race. His podcast, Negotiate Anything, is the number one negotiation podcast in the world, and he has a new podcast called Negotiate Real Change that you should check out. He’s a regular contributor to Forbes and we invite you to get ready, Conquerors. Kwame Christian coming up next on this week’s episode of the Conquer Local podcast.
George: So the book, Finding Confidence in Conflict: How to Negotiate Anything and Live Your Best Life. Love the title because everybody wants to live their best life. Also, I would believe that everybody wants to figure out how to negotiate anything because as you’ve identified a few times in our conversation, everything is a negotiation. This book has been very, very successful. It’s led you to lots of speaking events and things like that. I want to talk specifically about this book now and how did it come to be and what were some of the cool things that came out of the book after you released it?
Kwame: Yes. Finding Confidence in conflict. The first one?
Kwame: Yes. So this was interesting. I think you’d appreciate the way that I even titled it too because, for me, I am all about negotiation, negotiation, negotiation. Okay, well cool. How come negotiation isn’t in the main title? So I actually surveyed the audience and just did a word frequency search. And the two things that came up the most were conflict and confidence. They’re afraid of conflict, and they don’t have the confidence to have these conversations. And so what I realized is that I needed to pick a different starting point for these books because it doesn’t make sense to give recipes to people who are afraid to get in the kitchen. If I’m giving you all of these tools and tactics, but you don’t have the confidence to use them, you’re not going to use them. And if you do, you’re going to use them ineffectively. And for me, it was actually really refreshing because I’m a recovering people pleaser, believe it or not, so I really struggled to stand up for myself and have difficult conversations. I learned how to negotiate in law school by taking those classes and competing in really fun competitions that I had this realization like, “This is a skill, not a talent. I can actually learn. I can improve.” And so for me, I wanted to make sure that I approach this in a way that allowed people to have that same life-changing revelation. Because like I said, I believe the best things in life are on the other side of difficult conversations, so I wanted to make sure that I built people up so they had the right foundation of confidence and they could overcome those barriers. The first 70% is just helping people to overcome those barriers. And then the last part of the book is really going deep into the methodology. I didn’t want to give people too many tactics or strategies. I forced myself to just focus on that one.
George: So we’re not going to be successful in negotiating anything and living our best life if we don’t first build the skills to have confidence to walk into difficult conversations because I don’t think I’ve ever been in an interview, whether I’m the interviewee or the interviewer going, “So how do you having difficult conversations?” “Oh, I love them. Let me tell you all the reasons.” That’s not something that you just talk about over a beer.
Kwame: Yeah, and that’s the thing. It’s one of those things where it’s so ubiquitous that we can miss it. It’s like the graduation speech that went viral where the person said there were two fish swimming and one fish came up to the other one and said, “How’s the water?” and the other one said, “What’s water?” It’s like a question that’s almost too obvious to ask. And when it comes down to it, our success and failure in life is to a large extent, it’s going to be contingent upon how well or how poorly we have these conversations. Of course, for sales professionals, this is your life. But even for engineers, your calculations might be right, but if you can’t talk the other person into believing that you’re right, then you’re still going to struggle too.
George: So if we were to break down the confidence… By the way, I completely agree with everything that you’re saying here. What would be your tips to our audience on maybe three or four things that you could hone as a skill you’ve identified, it’s a skill that you can learn, three or four things you could hone as a skill to improve your confidence going into difficult situations?
Kwame: Yes. So one is rejection therapy. This is taken from the TED Talk 100 Days of Rejection.
George: One second. Before we go there, is this like my entire teenage years of rejection because I got rejected a lot in the early years? You’re going back into George’s…
Kwame: George, that’s what makes you such a good salesperson. You’ve gotten over that at this point.
George: I just expect it.
Kwame: Oh, good. But yes, there was this great Ted Talk, 100 Days of Rejection, and it was a guy who realized that his fear of rejection was holding him back. So he said, “Listen, every day I’m going to try to get rejected from something. I’m going to ask for something,” and then he was really shocked at just how many yeses he got along the way. And so it made him a lot stronger, but also realized just how powerful persuasion can be. So I would challenge people to start asking for more things. Not in a greedy type of sense, but if you start to feel that little fear like, “Mm, I don’t want to say something.” Nope, now you have to say something. “I don’t want to ask for that.” Well, now you have to. And it’s just really training that, getting that muscle memory down. So that’s one thing, actually engaging in intentional attempts to get rejected. The next thing is using some of-
George: I’m sorry.
Kwame: Oh, go ahead.
George: My brain is going a little slower because I was thinking about all the times I’ve been rejected. But I think that what you’re saying there is if you get better at asking, you’ll realize that there isn’t as many rejections as you expected there to be.
Kwame: Bingo. Yeah. And let me give you an example just to put it in context. I remember one time I was getting a coffee, and I was getting a pastry because it was my birthday. They said, “Hey Kwame, happy birthday, you get a free pastry.” I said, “Hey, that’s fantastic. I’m here mentoring my friend, can he get a free pastry too?” And she said, “Oh, well I don’t know, I’d probably have to ask the manager.” Then I said, “Well, can you please ask the manager?” She came back and she’s like, “Yeah, your friend can have one. No problem.” I was like, “I didn’t think that was possible.” And so what ends up happening is that the asks have to be bigger because you’re more persuasive than you realize. And then when you actually start seeking it out, it starts to give you that… It desensitizes you in the best of ways because a lot of times we won’t shoot our shot simply because we’re afraid of asking.
George: To bring it back to our audience in sales, I think this is why role-playing is so important in sales because you have all these preconceived notions about what’s going to happen because you haven’t articulated and ran through the various scenarios. So it’s building up that muscle memory that, oh yeah, nobody die… We had a saying here that, I don’t know if it’s official in our company, it’s like, “If we change, what’s the worst that could happen? Nobody’s going to die.”
Kwame: Oh, I love that. I love that.
George: I know that that’s a very binary thing, like, “Did people die or did they not”? It’s not really all that healthy, but part of it is just getting over that internal whatever it is that keeps you from asking the question.
Kwame: 100%. And yeah, I am so glad you said this because I’m big on that exercise. And so when I have my clients do role plays, first what I have them do is role play as the person they’re going to talk to. And so they have the opportunity to really experience it from their perspective, from the other perspective, and they find themselves coming up with these arguments and points that they never would’ve thought about. And then we flip it and I try to, I’m on the other side. I have them tell me about their greatest fear in the conversation. And then for me as a coach, I get to become that. And we actually put some of these episodes up as sparring sessions where I have the guests come on and then we do a sparring session where it’s an unscripted negotiation because I want the audience to understand just how imperfect these conversations can be with the stutters, ums, pauses, the silences, all of that. No, I want that imperfection so you can actually feel it. And so once you get more of those reps in, role-playing in both of those ways, you feel like you’ve been in the conversation before. It’s one of the best ways to improve your confidence going into these conversations.
George: Oh, I love that. I love role-playing. And I remember in the early days when I started to coach and teach, I found that I was really bad at it, by the way. So if you’re going to coach and teach something, you better get good at role-playing and thinking on your feet because that’s not going to go well for you. In the notes on Amazon when I read about the best seller, there was something that really jumped out at me. I wish I would’ve had this yesterday, by the way, at home with my wife, how to diffuse potentially explosive conflicts before the conversation breaks down and you got to buy flowers.
Kwame: It sounds like you’re coming from a place of pain. I have been there before. So let’s talk about it.
George: In the last 24 hours I might add.
Kwame: Yes. And to this point, actually, this might be an aside that’s helpful for the listeners too. Whenever I have experts on the podcast, they always say the same thing. They struggle with these conversations with family members and it’s because the relationship is closer, the stakes are higher, there’s that emotional tie. And usually, when we’re having these conversations, it’s toward the end of the day and we’ve given our best to other people and so we don’t have the… It’s called ego depletion in the psychological world. We’ve made so many decisions, our brain is tired, we’re quick to become emotional, and we lose our form, and that’s what happens at home a lot of times.
George: You know, Kwame, you just triggered something. Can we talk about the lizard brain?
Kwame: Let’s do it.
George: Because I know if you were to talk to an individual, whether it be in a sales negotiation, a personal negotiation. I love the fact you called out that family is one of the harder negotiations. In your opinion, if the lizard brain is triggered and they’re just not hearing anything now, is it better just to walk away and come back to fight another day or how would you coach us on handling that?
Kwame: Well, speaking about biases and stereotypes, let me walk right into one right now and give the answer of, “It depends,” as a lawyer of course. And so if the level of emotionality is too great, then we recruit the power of sleep. And what people don’t realize about sleep is that there is a component of emotional regulation that happens at night during the REM cycle, so usually people are not as triggered the next day, so giving that time to sleep is really powerful. Now, if we realize that the conversation is still in play, “I can manage this, I can bring them back down. How do I do this?” We have to remember this really important point. It doesn’t make sense to send a message to a person who is not psychologically ready to receive it. It’s like trying to discipline a child who’s having a tantrum in the middle of a tantrum. Their brains literally cannot compute. And so a lot of times we have these really beautifully crafted, rational arguments that are data-based objective, grounded in reality, and then we find ourselves in this really tricky situation where we don’t know what to do because our facts don’t work. What do we do? And so that’s why with the Compassionate Curiosity Framework, we put the emotional side first, so we’re going to acknowledge and validate the emotion. And the reason we do this is because in psychology, what they say is you have to name it to tame it. So you label the emotion, it takes you out of that lizard brain, amygdala type of limbic response, and then it triggers the frontal lobe, which calms you down. So let’s say last night, I’m going to be George and I’ll play this role play with your spouse here. And so I’ll say, “Honey, it sounds like you’re a little bit frustrated with the situation.” “Yeah, George, I’m frustrated because of X, Y, Z.” Now, the temptation that you might have is to jump in and defend yourself at that point, but I’m still hearing some emotion, so I’m going to validate it. “Honey, that makes a lot of sense. I can completely understand why you feel this way given what happened. Can you tell me a little bit more?” and so I’m going to give her space to decompress. And then as I realize that level of emotionality starts to drop down, that’s when I transition into getting curious with compassion, and I’ll start to ask open-ended questions. “Okay, so I want to try to be with you as we work together to solve this problem. What do you think we could have done differently to avoid this situation?” Cool. So I’m going to ask questions with a compassionate tone, give them the opportunity to speak and share and I’m empathizing, and then we transition to joint problem solving toward the end, but we have to really focus on the emotional side first.
George: Oh, I wish we would’ve recorded this day before yesterday because I broke all those rules. I just went right to solution. Probably should have listened a little bit more, but no, I’m kind of joking, but I’m not because I think that that’s why the role play is so important going into it is to practice how you’re going to deal with the various situations. I love the term Compassionate Curiosity Framework because to come to common ground, you have to approach it with empathy and on that curiosity, but the compassionate piece is important. And now we go back to you can’t bleed them all out, take everything off the table. If you’re truly being compassionate, you’re actually trying to get to a win-win. How important is win-win in negotiation?
Kwame: It’s critical to have that mentality, but we also have to recognize what that is because in order to have a true win-win, there needs to be a mutuality of that goal, so that other person needs to believe that. Because what ends up happening is if we become a little bit too dogmatic and ideological in our win-win mentality when we’re confronted with somebody who is clearly win-lose, and those do exist, then they’re going to take your lunch and you are going to feel compelled to bear the weight of being reasonable. And so you’re going to be offering concessions and not getting those concessions in return. And so for me, we have to be really flexible. Win-win is always my go-to first approach, but then if I start to realize and start to get those senses that, “Hey, you know what, this person might not be playing the same playbook here,” then I need to be a little bit more assertive in my approach, but I definitely want to give people that opportunity to prove me wrong.
George: Well, I love that you said that because I think that, especially in sales, we can have a tendency to think that if I just get a bunch of yeses, everything’s going to work out for me, but the art of being able to say, “No, we don’t do that. No, I’m not going to be able to get that done for you,” might be a way to keep from not having anything left to give down the road. And I just wanted to validate that with you.
Kwame: Absolutely. You’re right. And also, when you stand up for yourself, when you set boundaries, it helps people to respect you more, your product, your service, and your company. Because if you just keep on giving and giving, then they say, “This person’s a pushover. I’m going to keep on pushing.” And so one of the things that I tell people, especially in transactional negotiations, is that we, number one, we want to concede according to plan. I’m not going to make a concession off the fly that I wasn’t planning on making. And if somebody makes a good offer, I’m not going to feel compelled to accept on the call. I’m going to think it through because there is still the possibility that that little people pleaser inside of me is still there and I’m responding to that pressure to please rather than making a good decision. So number one is concede according to plan. The next thing is when we think about compromise, the word compromise can’t exist by itself. It needs to be either a strategic compromise where I’m making this move in order to advance my strategic objectives and I’m thinking in that way, or it’s a reciprocal compromise where it’s an if/then proposition. If I give you this, then you give me that, so that helps to guarantee that we’re not giving up too much ground in the negotiation without getting something in return.
George: Now, Kwame, I’ll tell you, we could probably talk for hours and I feel a hell of a lot smarter now than I did when we first started communicating because I just am captivated by the methodology that you have around this negotiation structure that you put in place. It’s just phenomenal. And we really appreciate you coming on this show and sharing this information with us. I’m pretty sure we’re going to be able to put this into two episodes and that happens from time to time over our six years with the show. We get a great thought leader like yourself, and we just want to milk as much information out of you… But I hope I left some juice in the orange. Is there still a little bit left there?
Kwame: I like that you came full circle. So yes, man, I appreciate it.
George: I can be taught. I can be taught.
Kwame: That is great. No, I appreciate this. This was a lot of fun, man.
George: Kwame Christian is the founder and CEO of the American Negotiation Institute, two amazing books, Finding Confidence in Conflict: How to Negotiate Anything, and Live Your Best Life. And I want you to say it because it’s now out on bookshelves and on Amazon, the title of your second book.
Kwame: Yes, it is titled How to Have Difficult Conversations About Race, and I named it that because I couldn’t think of anything cooler.
George: Well, it’s a pretty cool title. And what about the podcast? Because this podcast, I’ll tell you, producer Suliman says we’re just going to take Kwame’s metrics and we’re going to try and do that because that’s what good looks like. A million and a half listens. You’ve got folks listening to you in 50 different countries. Congratulations on that because we all know how hard it is to build a podcast.
Kwame: I appreciate it. It’s been a grind. It’s been a grind, but we’re at six years, over 600 episodes, which sounds crazy to say, but we’ve been moving. So we have three shows now. We have Negotiate Anything, which is five days a week. And then we have Negotiate Real Change where people can take these negotiation and conflict resolution principles and help to create better environments within their workplaces. And then lastly, Negociación desde Cero. That is our Spanish language negotiation podcast as well.
George: Ah, just amazing. Well, thank you very much for joining us on the show. We really appreciate all the knowledge bombs that have been dropped here over the past two episodes. Kwame Christian, our guest this week on the Conquer Local podcast.
Kwame: I appreciate it. Thanks for having me.
George: What a great episode from Kwame, part of our two-episode series, the Mindset and the Skillset Can be Developed. What we have to do is get ready for the conversation when it comes out. You heard Kwame talk a lot about role-playing and planning, how you’re going to have the conversation, and he talks about giving you the skills to have that conversation competently, accept the reality that there’s always more to learn and we just have to manage our biases. They’re there, there’s nothing we could do about it, but becoming knowledgeable that they’re there and understanding how to navigate and manage those biases will help us be more effective when it comes to our conflict resolution and negotiation.
If you liked Kwame’s episode discussing conflict resolution and negotiation, let’s continue the conversation. Don’t forget about episode 538 from Kwame on finding confidence in conflict, and episode 520, Body Language on Zoom with Mark Bowden, and episode 528 Mastering Your Meetings with Caroline Goyder. Please subscribe and leave us a review, and thanks for joining us this week on the Conquer Local podcast. My name is George Leith. I’ll see you when I see you.