366: Mastering Conversations through Compassionate Curiosity with Kwame Christian

By November 5, 2018Podcasts



Kwame Christian says: "It doesn't matter how good of a point you make if they're not in a cognitive state where they can accept it."

Negotiate Anything podcast host Kwame Christian lays out the compassionate curiosity framework and how to apply it to negotiations with others and with yourself for any aspect of your life.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How and why to deal with our “inner toddler” in high-stakes conversations
  2. How being persuadable makes you persuasive
  3. Two key phrases for when you don’t know what to say

About Kwame

Kwame is a corporate attorney with a passion for using negotiation and the psychology of persuasion to help clients get the best deals possible. HisTEDx Talk, Finding Confidence in Conflict, was viewed over 24,000 times in 24 hours and Kwame also hosts the top negotiation podcast in the country, Negotiate Anything. The show has been downloaded over 250,000 times and is a resource for business professionals in over 140 different countries.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Kwame Christian Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Kwame, welcome back to the How to Be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Kwame Christian
Pete, thank you for having me. It’s good to be back.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m thrilled to be talking about your new book, but first I want to get a little bit oriented. You are a master expert at negotiation. I understand many of your lessons have come from negotiating with your three-year-old son. Can you give us a tale behind this?

Kwame Christian
Absolutely. Pete, you will be following in my footsteps shortly because you have a ten-month-old, so I know that you’re taking notes.

Pete Mockaitis

Kwame Christian
This question is for you more than the audience. But, yeah, it’s been really fascinating. So, about me, I’m an attorney, but my background is in psych. I always wanted to be a psychologist, clinical psychologist. When we had Kai, my son, he’s three now, for me I was thinking to myself, this is a perfect opportunity to have a human to experiment on, so let’s play.

One of the things that I like about Kai when it comes to conflict management and my hostile negotiations with him every morning trying to get him to school is that, three-year-olds and toddlers, they are essentially unrefined humans. You are speaking to the most primitive parts of the human brain when you’re trying to break through a toddler’s tantrum.

For me as a mediator and an attorney, when I’m negotiating and mediating, I found that a lot of times, I’m dealing with a person’s inner toddler. They dress it up in professional language and professional dress and everything, but when it comes down to it, they’re not making decisions with the most evolved part of their brain. They are still responding with their base human responses that come from the limbic system.

And once I’m able to recognize that in other people, it makes it a lot easier and a lot less frustrating. I take my mornings with Kai as practice sessions. I use techniques with him, try it out with him, then I say, “Well, I wonder if I could do something similar with the people in these difficult conversations in my profession,” and shockingly, it works really effectively.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. So you say limbic system and raw human, so we’re talking just sort of about emotion, impulse, reflex stuff.

Kwame Christian
Exactly, exactly because the thing is when it comes to these difficult conversations, the brain structures I like to focus on are the amygdala, within the limbic system, and the prefrontal cortex within the frontal lobe. The limbic and the amygdala, that houses the base emotional responses, positive and negative emotions, but predominantly negative emotions.

That’s where your fight and flight response is and where the stress response is as well, the thing that leads to the pumping of adrenaline, the elevation of the heart rate, deeper breathing and trembling of the voice, all of that is controlled by the limbic system and the stress response.

Now the interesting thing about the prefrontal cortex, that’s where we have logical reasoning, executive function and those higher level thinking mechanisms in the brain, the interesting thing about that is that, that part of the brain doesn’t fully develop until you’re about 25, early to mid-20s. It develops fully in females faster than in males. I think the difference is 22 to 25.

But it takes a while for that part of the brain to be fully developed, so when you are talking to a toddler, you are dealing with somebody who does not have the cognitive capacity to truly reign in the limbic system, to really think at that higher level consistently because their prefrontal cortex and frontal lobe isn’t fully developed yet.

It’s an interesting cognitive challenge when you look at it that way versus “This is really frustrating. Why won’t this kid stop crying?” but if you think about it and put on a scientist hat and think about it from a psychological perspective, it becomes a fascinating challenge because you recognize which brain structure is active at what time. Then it allows you to walk that baby from irrational to rational.

You’re essentially doing the same thing in your difficult conversations because people respond emotionally and so your goal is to recognize, “Okay, they’re not thinking rationally right now, let me speak to that emotional side and then I’m going to start introducing more higher level arguments and speak to the logical part of their brain once I recognize that they’ve settled down.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. You unpack a number of these things in your book. You’ve been a little bit mysterious with the title, but I understand you’re going to speak it aloud on the show here.

Kwame Christian
Yes, so the title of the book and what’s funny is I think your listeners might find out before my listeners podcast.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s how we roll here. It’s a scoop.

Kwame Christian
That’s right. This is a scoop. This is a big deal, people, big deal. The name of the book is Nobody Will Play With Me: How to Use the Compassionate Curiosity Framework to Find Confidence in Conflict.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, you say “nobody will play with me,” tell us, where does this come from?

Kwame Christian
Yeah, it’s an odd title for a negotiation and conflict management book. But with this book, my goal is to not just inundate you with a laundry list of psychological techniques and persuasive techniques. I think that’s been done and it’s already been done well.

What I’ve recognized through meeting my listeners and doing the TED talk and doing these workshops around the country is that the first barrier that people face is emotional, within themselves. What I recognize is that for years I’ve been giving recipes to people who are afraid to get in the kitchen. They don’t care so much about what to do if they’re too afraid to do it.

I looked back on my life and I recognized the same thing was true for me. I was a people pleaser. I found it very difficult to stand up for myself in difficult conversations. When I went through a bit of an introspective process to figure out where that came from. I recognized that the genesis was an incident on the playground in first grade.

Some background on me. I’m a first-generation Caribbean-American. I grew up in a small rural town in Ohio called Tiffin. Not surprisingly, there was not very much diversity in Tiffin. We looked different and because of our strong accent, we sounded very different. It was hard to fit in.

I remember one day in particular on the playground, it was during recess. I would go to a group of friends and say, “Hey, can I play with you?” and they said no. Then I went to another group of friends, same thing and another group, same thing. Then the recess bell rang and I just burst into tears. I felt so lonely.

I made a vow that day that this would never, ever, ever happen again. People are going to like me. I’m going to have friends. I’m going to be popular. By the end of school I accomplished my goal, I was one of the most popular kids in school, but what I recognized is that oftentimes, our greatest strengths are hiding our greatest weaknesses.

That incident made me a people pleaser. When I was confronted with opportunities to engage in conflict, I would turn away because I said I worked too hard to get all these friends, I’m not going to risk it. I’m not going to jeopardize these relationships.

The book chronicles really how I was able to get over this fear of difficult conversations through the fundamentals of cognitive behavioral therapy that I did on myself. I guess I never made it to be that clinical psychologist that I always wanted to be, but I was my only patient. I was my one and only patient.

I walk the readers through how they can find confidence in conflict even if they are conflict-averse. Then at the end of the book, I share a single powerful technique that you can use in any negotiation from the kitchen table to the boardroom.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, of course, I can’t let that one just go. What is it? What is this powerful technique?

Kwame Christian
Yes. This technique is called compassionate curiosity. It’s a generally applicable approach. Like I said, the reason I wanted to do this is because when you inundate somebody with a bunch of different techniques, it might make sense logically to them, but when they’re in the heat of the moment, they’re not going to go through this laundry list of options to figure out which would be most persuasive in this moment.

I wanted to create something that could be used on the fly no matter what the conversation is, if you’re at work, or you’re having a difficult conversation with your wife, you can use it in that situation. The technique is, first, you acknowledge emotions. Second, you get curious with compassion. Third, you engage in joint problem solving.

What makes this unique is the fact that this same framework can be utilized in the external negotiation that we’re all familiar with, the conflict that’s on the outside with the other person, but also, before you engage in the conflict internally, where you acknowledge your own emotions, where you get curious about what you believe, why you believe it, why you want what you want, and then joint problem solving.

This begs the question, joint problem solving, who are the parties here because I’m in my own head.

Pete Mockaitis
I thought you were talking about marijuana. This begs the question, joint problem solving, like “Where’s he going with this? Where’s he going? Okay.”

Kwame Christian
I’m in Ohio, so that’s not happening here. Maybe in Cali, but not here.

But um, with that third step, internally, what that looks like is you’re negotiating with yourself and you’re bringing your heart and mind together to figure out a solution that works for you. Because a lot of times there might be a solution that makes sense economically, but then you look in the mirror and you hate yourself for making that deal, you don’t feel like you should have conceded.

A good deal will have something that it works for you substantively. It serves your needs, but also it’s something that you can live with emotionally. If you make a deal that makes sense logically, but really breaks you inside, it’s not a good deal. I want people to think through that thoroughly before they engage in the external negotiation.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. Could you give us an example of how that might unfold in practice?

Kwame Christian
Absolutely. And so I think about this as a mediator. I see this all the time. As a mediator, it gives me an opportunity to put myself in the unique position where I’m right in the middle of a conflict. I have a really good idea of what’s going on one side and a really good idea of what’s going on on the other side. They’re honest with me. They tell me what’s going on and what they need.

Sometimes they might get an offer and their attorney might say, “This is a really good deal. Given the likelihood of success in litigation, I think we should accept this offer.” Now, essentially that is the logical part of their brain talking. The attorney in this situation represents the logical part of their brain. He or she is saying this works, financially this works, legally this works.

Speaking as an attorney, attorneys are very risk averse. If there’s a way to get a quick win and avoid a loss, then they’ll do that. Settlement is typically the best option.

But then, if you take a moment and look at the party, you can see that it’s breaking them up inside. It doesn’t work for them. Even though it makes sense and they cognitively, logically understand that this is the best deal, they know that if they go home and they take that deal, one month later, six months later, two months later, they’ll look in the mirror and lose a little bit of respect for themselves because they feel like they capitulated.

And so, that’s a situation where the person should take a step, think about it, and then push a little bit harder because if it’s a situation where it won’t bankrupt you, you’ll survive if you roll that dice and lose in litigation, I think when it comes down to the way you look at yourself and your level of respect, you don’t want to capitulate when it’s a situation where you care about it or it means more to you than just the money and the legal exposure.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. Okay, so then, you’re sort of highlighting the different areas there. The curiosity then is when you’re kind of asking those questions in terms of what’s underneath it, what’s behind it, sort of what’s going on deep down there. So that’s intriguing.

Then I guess if you’re the mediator there, you’re going to need to come about that understanding of where the other person is coming from as well so that you can find a new deal that is workable for everyone.

Kwame Christian
Exactly. Exactly. For me as a mediator, it’s tough to skirt that line. If there’s an attorney representing the party, then I would kind of step back and let those two have the discussion. But oftentimes when the party is unrepresented and they’re trying to handle it themselves, I’d have them think through it, so even if they say yes, I’ll test it.

I say to them, “Okay, now I understand that this is a deal that makes sense for you and you’re thinking about accepting this deal, but let me ask you a question, let me have you think about it from this angle. Now, if you take this home to your spouse and you let your spouse know about the outcome, what would they think about it? How would they feel? Okay. Why would they feel that way?”

Now after you get that reaction from their spouse. Now imagine they say “Oh the spouse would be really upset. They would be frustrated. They’d feel like I gave away the farm.” Then I said, “Okay, after you get that response from your spouse, how would you feel about that deal six months from now? Would you feel good about yourself?” Then they’d say, “No, I wouldn’t feel good about myself at all.”

Then I say, “Well, do you think this is a good deal still?” They would say, “No.” Then I say, “All right, let’s consider your financial situation, what you’re looking for, your interests and the legal exposure we’re dealing with. What is the counter proposal that will work for you?” They’ll come back with something a little bit more aggressive and that jives with what’s happening inside of them.

Because one of the things we need to recognize is that emotions are valid. So we can’t just try to turn ourselves into automatons and just make cold callous calculations. That’s simply not the way we operate. Those emotions are going to be there festering under the surface whether we want them to or not.

I say when it comes to the decision making process before and during the conversation, we need to constantly have that internal negotiation to make sure that the outcomes or the solutions that we consider and propose are really in line with our substantive and emotional interests.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s good stuff. So that’s in the lawyer world. Are there other instances in the course of just sort of natural thinking, decision making, sort of life planning and executing where you see some real common mismatches between the logical and the emotional?

Kwame Christian
Absolutely. You see it at home at the time, all the time. It might be a situation where you’re trying to decide where to live. You and your spouse might be deciding where to live. You have an option of living in a densely populated urban area. You’re in Chicago, so let’s say Chicago. Or you could move out to the suburbs and give yourself a little bit more space, reduce stress, reduce workload, etcetera, etcetera.

There are going to be a number of competing interests. If you were somebody who grew up in Chicago and maybe you grew up in a rougher side of Chicago, maybe you say “That upbringing made me tough, made me strong. I learned a lot. I didn’t just have book smarts, but I had street smarts. I would prefer – because of that I want to raise my child in more of a densely populated area.”

And so then, you have to a serious conversation to see within yourself before you have the conversation with your spouse to make the decision and really dig deeply into it because sometimes the emotions are legitimate and they would be long-lasting, but sometimes you recognize within yourself, “Oh, now I see why I feel this way. It’s not legitimate. It’s purely emotional in a way where I’m willing to let it go.”

For instance, I was talking to one of my friends. I did an episode where we had a sparring session, like a mock negotiation. It was me and my guest. I was playing the role of a parent and she was trying to – she was my spouse and she was trying to convince me not to spank the children. I said, “Well, I’m a Caribbean-American. I was spanked and I’m tough. My family was spanked and they did really well, so I want to continue the tradition.”

My friend told me that after he listened to that episode, it hit him that the only reason he wanted to spank his kids was because his family was from Africa and his whole family was spanked growing up. That was just the tradition. But then as an academic, when he looked back and made that determination for himself looking at the literature, he realized it wasn’t something that he wanted to do.

I’m not saying that as an indictment of spanking at all, I’m just saying that as an example of how the introspective process can lead to some unexpected results. Once you recognize the genesis of some of your emotional stances, then it leads you to question it and it could lead to the opposite, you could say, “Oh, this is legitimate. This isn’t going to go away. I need to actually take this into consideration in the decision-making process.”

But what I’m finding, and the reason that I want to include this in the book, is because I found that most people don’t think through things thoroughly before they engage in the difficult conversations. They have this conflict or this negotiation and they are discussing it feverishly when in reality, they don’t have a good understanding of what they really want or why. That leads to really poor outcomes a lot of times in these difficult conversations.

Pete Mockaitis
What I loved about the spanking example is that it really does have some emotion as well as data. I haven’t looked at all the data on spanking in great detail, but I’ve browsed a couple studies.

I would have a hard time I think myself just doing it. If the research showed that spanking was the best means of making your child a success, I’d be like, “Okay, this is kind of hard for me to do, but I guess I’ll suck it up.” I think it packs an emotional charge. We talk about your steps there in terms of you know, one, acknowledging the emotions. I think if you go there then it totally makes sense how that gets you onto sort of a level ground for having the conversation.

Because if someone is thinking, “My family spanked me and they were spanked and we are all great,” and then someone comes hard charging, “Well, take a look at these seven peer-reviewed studies and the outcomes associated with children who are spanked,” it’s just like, “Yeah, well that’s just a bunch of academic mumbo jumbo. How applicable is that to the real world?”

Right, so I think you sort of instantly probably catch some resistance as opposed to when you sort of acknowledge the emotions and have that curiosity associated with where it comes from, then it’s like, “That is kind of interesting. I guess that is where it comes from and how we operate. But a lot of families didn’t do that and they worked out fine, so I guess we’ve got a choice to make here.”

That’s really cool how if you take the time to go there, you’ll save time talking until you’re blue in the face about all your awesome data.

Kwame Christian
Exactly. Here’s the thing too. What studies have found is that people come to decisions, come to conclusions and opinions with their emotions first and then subsequently justify that with logic. It’s a reverse process because typically we think that we are well reasoned people and we come to these conclusions because of our reasoning, but it’s the opposite way.

For example, let’s stick on the spanking example because for me, if I were having that conversation with my wife and I didn’t prepare at all, I’d say, “No, I want to spank.” Then she says, “Here are these peer-reviewed studies,” I would be ill-equipped to have that conversation because I didn’t realize before the conversation that the singular reason why I wanted to spank was because of my upbringing, that’s it.

But the thing is as the conversation went, if I would have not taken the time to confront that beforehand, I would have said, “Well, all of my family is successful.” That’s an excuse really. That’s a rationalization that came after I already came to that conclusion. It makes it better for you to operate in these conversation because one of the keys to being persuasive is being persuadable.

In those conversations if you are willing to come to terms with the fact that, “Oh, I might be wrong and maybe the best thing for me, the other person and the situation as a whole is for me to adjust my position,” then that puts you in a better position to persuade this person in another situation too.

One of the things I mention in the book is I want you to consider this like relationship chess. It’s not just a short-term situation where I’m trying to be persuasive in this particular conversation and get this win. It’s over the lifetime of this relationship, how can I put myself in the best position to be as persuasive as possible and maximize value for me and the other person.

When you think about it that way, it broadens your perspective and you can see how coming to terms before the negotiation that, “Oh, I might actually be wrong,” that’s beneficial in the grand scheme of things.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so much good stuff. Thank you. It resonates. It’s funny, when you talk about the emotion and then the rationalization. It’s interesting over the last few days – this just happened to me, so – I’ve taken a fancy lately to the website WireCutter.com, if you’ve ever been there.

Kwame Christian
Ha, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
But I just love is how – I tend to research products super thoroughly myself on Amazon and then I like it that they do that and then take it all the further in terms of “Well, we got the top ten rated things and we played with them all for hours and hours and here are our conclusions.”

I just sort of bumped into them talking about a multi-bit ratcheting screwdriver. They just sort of sang its praises in such great detail and how it’s vastly superior to all these other multi-bit ratcheting screwdrivers.

Even though I already have a screwdriver set, I just wanted it, partially just because I love excellence and the way they spoke of it was so glowing as it being vastly superior to the others and how ratcheting has its advantages. I spent like three or four days – not all day, but in idle moments – just sort of thinking about under what circumstances would I really need ratcheting in a screwdriver.

Then just today I came to the thought, well, I’ve got these blinds that I’ve been kind of dragging my feet on putting up and part of it’s because it’s unpleasant kind of shove your hand in those weird, awkward corners where there’s furniture and stuff in the way. Then you keep slipping out of it. Then you’ve got to get back into the screw.

Versus if I had a ratcheting capability, then that would make it so much easier and remove my resistance and we could get these things up and it could very well save me time if there’s just one screw that I don’t strip and have to take a trip to the store, that time savings is going to pay for itself.

I just bought it today. I did not need to spend $26 when I have screwdriving capability in my life, but I had a desire and then I found a reason. I don’t regret it, but I do see what’s happened to me here. I can be honest and humble about it.

Kwame Christian
This is brilliant. This is a great example. I like your honesty first of all with how you came to the decision because you admitted it was an emotional decision and then you worked hard to find a way to legitimize that decision. Let’s do a little role play. I’m your wife. Now we’re married. I’m gorgeous.

Pete Mockaitis
You sure are.

Kwame Christian
Pete, congratulations.

Pete Mockaitis
And you want to spank my kids.

Kwame Christian
Let’s say my goal here to stop you from buying this thing. Now, thinking about it on the external side we can see how the compassionate curiosity framework is beneficial because if I, as your wife, just focus on the fact, the truth, the reality, the logical conclusion that we do not need this, she’s speaking to the wrong part of the brain because it’s not the logical part of the brain that made that decision.

That’s why when it comes to sequencing the compassionate curiosity framework, it goes from acknowledge emotions to compassionate curiosity to joint problem solving because we recognize that you need to start with the emotions first.

Once the emotional side is addressed, then we can move to curiosity with regard to the substance of it and digging deeply into your motivations and why really you need it. Then we can work together to come up with a solution.

But we don’t start talking about solutions first because that talks about logic and practicality and things like that. And you’re not ready for that. We need to address that emotion, which in this case is actually positive, that desire.

I’ve seen the trend here because you said you admire excellence. The name of your podcast is How to be Awesome at Your Job. For me, as your wife, I would say, “All right, I understand that you have a need for higher level things and the best things in life.” Maybe what I would try to do is give you that same emotional satisfaction in another way that still protects us from that expense, but still at the same time gives you that validation that you need to find a win-win in that case.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that you’re kind of working with the same emotional pathway, you might kind of work with painting a picture of how there is excellence in using simple tools that you’ve already got and paint a picture of how, play some country music and, take your sweet time using the tools you have and enjoy doing an excellent job with what you’ve got.

That in its own way is a form of excellence with fiscal responsibility and resourcefulness. You’re using what you’ve got because you’re so smart at doing that and being creative. You’re like MacGyver.

I dig that. I think that’s intriguing too if you think about all the little decisions we make all the time with regard to our logic versus our animalistic or limbic desires. I’m thinking about it like, “I want pizza.” It’s like, “I want that delicious pizza,” so you’ve got that desire. But you realize, “Well, that pizza probably has twice as many calories as I really need to be satisfied and nourished and I would like to drop some pounds.”

There you have it. Classic. Logically, eating that pizza does not help me attain my goals, but emotionally I want it. Right then and there it seems like we can apply this framework to sort of talk yourself off the pizza ledge. How would that play out?

Kwame Christian
Exactly. It’s fascinating because you’re spot on. The compassionate curiosity framework, especially internally can be used in every single situation because we’re constantly making decisions. What they found is the vast majority of our decisions happen automatically.

In this situation, you might just find yourself with the pizza and you’re done with the pizza and now you’ve reached a level of sanity that came with your satisfaction. It’s like, “Oh, how did I get this pizza?” Well, you made that decision automatically, emotionally.

Walking you through that framework, what it could be is this. I’ll kind of put myself on the spot too. It might be a Friday night and then I say, “All right, I’m getting pizza.” That’s the conclusion I’ve come up with.

Then I stop and I say, “Okay, step one, acknowledge emotions. What is it?” “Well, I’m happy. I’m with my family. I feel good. That’s what I’m feeling right now. That is my emotion.” “Okay, well, why do you feel that way?” “Well, I remember growing up watching TGIF with my family and it feels so good. That’s why at this moment on Friday evening, I feel that good.”

“Okay, so now where does pizza come in?” “Well, every Friday I remember sitting down and my family would order AJ’s Pizza and we would eat this pizza.” “Okay, so what does your heart really want? Your heart wants connection with your family and to enjoy that warmth and accepting caring feeling that comes with spending time with the family.

But substantively, what does your body need right now because you and your wife set a goal to hit a certain body fat percentage by the end of the month and this is antithetical to those goals, so is there another way we can get that same feeling, that same emotional feeling by doing something else?”

Then you say, “You know what, maybe what we can do together as a family instead of eating pizza is sitting down – is coming up with a recipe and as a family creating a healthy dish and then sharing that together.”

Pete Mockaitis
There we go. Certainly. That’s sort of based on a warm family connection kind of emotional vibe. I’m wondering if the desire is even a little bit more simple. It’s like, because pizza is delicious and it’s greasy and crunchy and chewy and flavorful all at the same time. That is what I long to have at this moment.

Kwame Christian
Yeah, and I think a lot of times when we feel emotions as a Western society, we’ve gotten into that almost societal habit of addressing that emotion with food. If I’m sad, I’m going to eat comfort food. If I’m happy, I’m going to eat comfort food. If I’m bored, I guess I could eat something too.

When it comes to the habit structure when you think about Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit, the anatomy of a habit is trigger, behavior and reward. What’s funny is when food especially, there are multiple triggers that could be opposing triggers, happiness and sadness both could lead to pizza in the same way. Like you said, it might not even be something as elevated as oh, warmth and family time. That’s great. It might just be a trigger or a deeply ingrained habit.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, well, fascinating stuff. Well, boy there’s many things I wanted to get into, but we’ve already having so much fun with so much time.

Let’s talk about the fear and confidence dimension associated with going into some conversations with folks. Like you sense that there’s going to be conflict, a difference of opinion on a matter and so you’re feeling fearful. What do you suggest for tapping that fear and boosting the confidence? We got sort of one useful tool to engage in the conversation, but sort of getting your mindset right before you step in. How do you recommend we do that?

Kwame Christian
I’ll answer it two ways. Right before you step in, what I would do is I would focus on your why. What is the purpose of the conversation? When you think about the system of roots beneath a tree, sometimes, depending on the tree, the root system can go down 20 feet into the ground and spread out 40 feet away from the trunk of the tree. That’s why it is so well rooted. It’s not moving.

We have to think about our reasoning, our purpose in the same way. If fear is something that you struggle with, you need to find a reason for the conversation.

An example is I was coaching an executive at a non-profit one time and she was struggling to make the difficult asks when it came to funding for the non-profit. She said “I just don’t feel comfortable in these conversations. I don’t feel like asking. I feel like I’m annoying people.” I said, “All right, can you tell me about why you do this?” She talked about the mission and how important it was to her.

I said, “Can you think of one person, one child that you’ve helped that stands out to you?” She said, “Yeah, I can think of one. His name’s Mark. He had this story,” and she told me the story. I said, “Great. Here’s what I want you to do. Before you make any of these fundraising calls, I want you to take a picture of Mark and I want you to look at it and remember the impact that your mission had on his life, his life and his family’s life. Then I want you to make that call.”

After she did that she was able to push harder without that fear. Let me say it this way, push harder without letting the fear get in her way. The reality is in a lot of these situations, that fear and anxiety, that feeling is still going to be there. But it’s not about, again, muting these emotions and putting them away because that’s often unrealistic.

What it’s really about is finding unique ways to still accomplish what we need to accomplish in spite of those fears. If you have a conversation coming up right now, that’s going to be one of the keys.

Now, going forward what I would suggest doing is finding unique ways to put yourself in positions of difficult conversations because you need to engage in what I call rejection therapy. There was popular TED talk I think by the same title or 100 Days of Rejection was the TED talk.

Essentially it’s exposure therapy, how people get over phobias. You slightly expose yourself to a difficult conversation, like a small one. Then the next day you do another one. You find these opportunities and then as you start to do that, you’re going to find yourself becoming a little bit more comfortable in the difficult conversations.

The last one is reconceptualizing your opinion of the fear that you’re feeling. Essentially this is the cognitive reappraisal thing. What you’re doing is you’re feeling this physical sensation of fear, so maybe for you it’s heart rate and perspiration. That’s what it is for you. That’s how you know you’re afraid. Well, over time what you want to start doing is attaching that physical response to another positive emotion.

For me, even though now with these workshops I travel the country doing the negotiation and conflict management trainings, the reality is I’ve been terrified of public speaking, just absolutely terrified. To this day when I speak in public, I still have that fear response, but through the process of cognitive reappraisal I feel the exact same thing but I label it as excitement. I see this as an opportunity, so now I’m going to move toward it.

Psychologically we’re always thinking about things in terms of approach or avoid. Most likely with the fear and anxiety that people feel with difficult conversations, they are avoiding the difficult conversations. So by figuring out your why in that specific conversation and then recognizing conflict as an opportunity, those two things in conjunction will make it more likely for you to approach the conversation with more confidence.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Thank you. Now I want to get your take on when it comes to the actual word choice that you’re using, do you have any favorite scripts or phrases or things you find yourself saying again and again that are just super handy tools in your back pocket.

Kwame Christian
Absolutely. It’s funny you say that because one of the things that my listeners said was an issue was that sometimes in the conversations they don’t know what to say. “I just don’t know what to say. Can you help me there?”

What I recognized is that a lot of times when you don’t know what to say, it’s a signal that you probably shouldn’t be saying something. You shouldn’t be saying anything. You should be asking a question because you don’t know what to say because you don’t know enough. Your goal at that moment is to learn something. In those moments what I do is I ask questions.

My favorite kinds of questions start with what or how. These are open ended questions that are designed to solicit information and get them talking. I also like to use ‘tell me more about blank’ or ‘help me to understand blank.’ Those two open-ended statements are thing that I go to a lot of times when I just simply don’t know what to say.

They’re really simple and they get the other person talking, which gives you more information and as we know, knowledge is power. It gives you more power and confidence in the negotiation. It also gives you time to regroup because while they’re talking, you’re listening, but you’re also gathering yourself and figuring out what’s next. I would say the two go-to phrases that I use would be ‘tell me more about this, blah, blah, blah,’ or ‘help me to understand this.’

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely, thank you. Tell me Kwame, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Kwame Christian
Absolutely. Well, yes, the book this week is going to be on sale for 99 cents just for this week. If you’re interested in getting the book and figuring out conflict-wise what you can do better and how you can get more confident, this would be the week to do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Very cool. All right. Got it. Now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Kwame Christian
Yes. There’s a difference between what people often think about negotiation and what negotiation really is. My quote is “Negotiation is not the art of deal making. It’s the art of deal discovery.” You’re going together to come and have a conversation to see if a deal exists, not try to force one if it doesn’t.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, thank you. And how about a favorite study, or experiment or bit of research?

Kwame Christian
Yes, I will go to Stanley Milgram’s experiment on authority. This was a classic psychological experiment, back in the good old day before ethics.

Pete Mockaitis
Ethics. When you could spank your kids and no one would judge you for it.

Kwame Christian
Exactly It was the Wild, Wild West. It was terrible. But we learned a lot from it. We learned a lot from this study. For those of you who don’t know, with the Milgram experiment it was on obedience to authority.

He had somebody come into a laboratory and what the person saw was this contraption that had different levels of voltage assigned to these switches. Then you had a man in a lab coat looking very authoritative and then a person on the other side of a curtain. You were to ask the person questions. If they got it wrong, then you shocked them. The level of shock was just increasing to dangerous levels.

I think it was a full 63% of the people who went through that study took it all the way to the end, where they thought the person was actually dead.

And so this is terrifying. You just come into a lab and some man in a lab coat says, “Shock this person,” and you’re hearing the voice of what you think is a person suffering. It was really a tape recorder. But 63% went all the way and shocked this person to the point where he stopped responding and they kept shocking.

That, no pun intended, is shocking. But it tells you just how powerful deference to authority is when it comes to persuasion. That’s why confidence for me is the thing that I focus on most in this book, how you can get confidence, because the simple act of carrying yourself with confidence is by itself persuasive.

If you can carry yourself in a way that lets people know that you are an authority, somebody to be respected, they are going to respond in kind. Even if you don’t know any substantive negotiation technique, if you were to just increase your ability to demonstrate confidence and be confident in yourself, it’s going to increase your negotiation outcomes.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Kwame Christian
Shameless plug. I guess it would have to be my book right now, since I’m promoting it. But I think the best negotiation book on the market right now is Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss.

Pete Mockaitis
That keeps coming up. We had him on the show. Voss was awesome. The book was awesome. Why do you love it?

Kwame Christian
I love it because it’s so practical. He took it from the ivory tower and brought it to the real world. I love the fact that when I read books written by folks from the CIA, FBI all, everything is just military grade practicality. If it doesn’t work in the field, then they don’t use it. Everything that we learn from him is readily applicable.

I remember in some of my negotiations with opposing counsel representing my clients, I decided there’s no way. It can’t be that easy. It can’t work. And just being shocked, just being shocked.

I think if I’m going to get really nerdy with the reason why I like it, it would be this. He was able to blend an approach that is assertive. Because when I had him on the show, I said aggressive. He said, “I prefer the term assertive,” so I’ll respect that. Assertive, but friendly.

One of the critiques of the collaborative negotiation model is that it’s a little bit too fluffy. In the real world if you go against a buzz saw, you’ll just get destroyed. With Chris’s approach to negotiation, he could take everything you have and make you like him through the process. It’s brilliant.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. You said you work with clients, you’re like, “It can’t be this simple,” what in particular were you doing that you found to be effective but surprisingly simple?

Kwame Christian
Yeah, so I remember with a lot of these negotiations, the simple response of “How am I supposed to do that?” adjusting your position at all, and so them to negotiate themselves is shockingly powerful.

If you can do it with the proper affect, where you’re friendly and not aggressive and not threatening, it’s powerful because there is an assumption that every time somebody counters your proposal or any time there is resistance, you need to then adjust your position, but what he showed is that no, you don’t. You can keep on implementing the same technique over and over and over again. Then eventually they’ll relent.

You’re really testing their resilience throughout the conversation. What amount of what they’re doing is bluster. Are you just saying you can’t do that or are you hoping that I will just believe that.

Then if you just challenge it and just keep challenging it and challenging it, it’s incredible to see even in these incredibly positional high stakes negotiations, like with me and opposing counsel or me sitting as the mediator, it’s incredible to see how effective that is when it comes to these difficult conversations.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, let’s hear how you’d say “How am I supposed to do that?”

Kwame Christian
So just like that. That’s the crazy part about it, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
I always thought it would be a little bit more warm and fun like “Kwame, how am I supposed to do that?”

Kwame Christian
I would say it like this, if I’m talking to opposing counsel, I would say, “Well, first of all, Pete, I definitely understand where you’re coming from, but I represent a client here, so how am I supposed to do that? His interests are this, that and the other. How am I supposed to accept that?” Then silence. Then they start thinking, “Hm, that’s a good point, how is he supposed to do that?” It’s crazy.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Let me figure that out for you.

Kwame Christian
Right. I’m like, “All right, well you get back to me. I’ll be right here.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right, how about a favorite tool?

Kwame Christian
Tool. When we’re talking about tools, I would say honestly, the compassionate curiosity framework because I spent a lot of time trying to figure out and give voice to the technique that I use naturally. This is what it is. I like the flexibility of it. I like the fact when I am feeling that fight, flight or freeze, I have a go-to that I can utilize if I’m not cognitively at my best because the thing is it happens to everybody.

We all get flustered. We all find ourselves in a difficult conversation and we get heated and we feel our amygdala starting to take over and we feel the rush of adrenaline going through. We say, “Oh no, now I’m triggered. I can’t think straight. What am I supposed to do?” I know I can implement that technique in every single situation I find myself in. I use it as my North Star. I can always use it to gather myself.

Whenever I teach, whether it’s a procurement people or people in a leadership class or other attorneys, the compassionate curiosity framework is the basis. And then upon that base, we put on those other persuasive techniques, but in every situation, that’s going to be my foundation.

Pete Mockaitis
Tell me is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks as you’re teaching this stuff?

Kwame Christian
I think it’s the recognition of the importance of psychology. First of all to understand ourselves and what we’re feeling in order to normalize the situation so we know we’re not weird or broken or damaged. Then also when we extrapolate those psychological principles to the other side, it helps you to recognize, “Wow, this is why I’m having so much trouble in these conversations because I’m speaking to their logical side when it’s really their emotional side engaged.”

I think the point that really resonates with people is I say that it doesn’t matter how good of a point you make if they’re not in a cognitive state where they can accept it, where they can actually understand it. Just slow down and hold those points until they’re ready.

I think the biggest takeaway for people is patience. It’s okay to have these conversations about issues that are emotional in the business world because I think a lot of times people think it’s taboo, so they just go straight to substance, but they’re missing out on a lot of value when it comes to their ability to persuade by overlooking the emotional aspect.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. If folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Kwame Christian
Check out the Negotiate Anything podcast. That will be an easy one. I’m assuming your podcast listeners like listening to podcasts so that will be a good start. Then connect with me on LinkedIn as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Kwame Christian
Call to action this week, this time is going to be – it will be two things. First, check out the book on Amazon.

Second, take the opportunity to engage in these difficult conversations because the way I look at it, the best things in our life lie on the other side of a difficult conversation, whether it’s personal or professional, there is going to be a difficult conversation or a difficult person standing in our way.

We need to move toward these conflicts, not move away from them because when you think about it opportunistically, there is a benefit to these conversations, you just need to be creative and find it. Then once you do, utilize the compassionate curiosity framework to get the most out of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Kwame, this has been fun. I wish you tons of luck with the book and the podcast and all the stuff you’re doing.

Kwame Christian
Thank you. Likewise. And thanks for having me back on, Pete. I appreciate it.

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