Kwame Christian – Negotiation & Conflict Resolution Training at American Negotiation Institute

Kwame talks about his book, Finding Confidence in Conflict. He goes on to explain: · What is compassionate curiosity · Why people avoid difficult conversations · Why conflict is an opportunity · Why have the license to fail was the key to his success 

Nick Glimsdahl 0:05 

Welcome to the Press 1for Nick podcast. My name is Nick Glimsdahl. And my guest this week is Kwame Christian Kwame is the director of the American negotiation Institute business lawyer at Carlyle, Patrick Murphy, LinkedIn teaching instructor and he’s also the host of the world’s most popular negotiation podcast negotiate anything. Kwame, welcome to the press one for Nick’s podcast.

Kwame Christian 0:28 

Nick. Thanks for having me.

Nick Glimsdahl 0:29 

Yeah, so one question that I asked every buddy and just to know a little bit about who you are, and maybe even some of your friends might not know. But what’s one thing people might not know about? Kwame?

Kwame Christian 0:43 

So one thing is my favorite mispronunciation of my name is Kwame. Yeah, it’s hilarious. So I got it so much. When I first started college that my close friends that was that became my nickname. Kwame became my nickname for my close friends. So it’s so it’s like, only people who don’t know me at all call me Kwame and people who really, really, really, really know me

Nick Glimsdahl 1:08 

Well. But the people in the middle, the people in the middle actually enunciate your name correctly.

Kwame Christian 1:15 

Kwame. Yeah,

Nick Glimsdahl 1:19 

That’s funny. So I read your book, man confidence, or finding confidence and conflict? And I don’t know, we’re on video now. And you can see me but there may or may not be I think that the book itself is maybe 40% thicker due to the dog years that I got on this thing. So I learned a lot. And I have a ton of questions. But I’m obviously not going to be able to get through all of those questions, or else it’s just going to be this 2724 hour bender that we’re going to go on. So let me let me start with a few and see where it goes. Perfect. The first question I have is what compassionate curiosity is.

Kwame Christian 2:00 

So this is a framework I developed for having these difficult conversations. And it’s designed to be flexible, so you can use it at work and at home. So the framework is first you acknowledge and validate emotions. Second, you get curious with compassion, and third joint problem solving. And the beauty of it is that it helps you to know what to say and when to say it. So if there’s an emotional challenge, or you know that you need to acknowledge and validate emotions, if you’ve, if you’re past that curiosity is the next step, you need to learn more ask open ended questions, but with a compassionate tone. And then once you have all that information, there’s no emotional challenge at hand at that moment, then you can go to joint problem solving where we’re trying to solve the problems together.

Nick Glimsdahl 2:42 

And so when it comes to having conflict, why are so many people trying to avoid it? And why do they struggle with it?

Kwame Christian 2:53 

Because it’s uncomfortable. It’s very uncomfortable. And different people have different fears, right. And so some people have the fear of rejection, they don’t want to put themselves out there, because they’re afraid of being rejected. Some people are people pleasers. And so they value the relationship and they’re afraid of losing the relationship. That’s the genesis of their fear. Some people it’s trauma in the past that they’ve had, they’ve had conversations that have gone so poorly that they say I’m not, I’m not going to risk it. But as you know, in the book, what I do is I help people explore what their unique barriers are. Because it doesn’t make sense to give recipes to people who are ready to get in the kitchen, I can give you all the negotiating techniques under the sun. But if you’re not confident enough to use it, then you won’t use it. So that’s why we have to start with the confidence piece. But I think those are the real reasons why people are afraid.

Nick Glimsdahl 3:41 

And when you were younger, before you were this world class expert, what was your struggle.

Kwame Christian 3:50 

So I was a people pleaser. And I say I’m in recovery. Now I’m a recovering people pleaser, and goes up. Because of my childhood, I was always afraid of losing the friends that I had. And that carried that stayed with me through my early adulthood. And then it was through my love of psychology, my undergrad degrees in psychology, and then my discovery of negotiation that I learned that you can learn this skill, and you can use it to improve your life. And so my motto is the best things in life are on the other side of difficult conversations. And so what I tried to do now is help people to make these difficult conversations easier.

Nick Glimsdahl 4:26 

And so he kind of touched on a little bit, but why should people engage in those difficult conversations?

Kwame Christian 4:31 

Well, Nick, if you think about it, think about like the most impactful things that have happened in your life, most likely, somewhere in the vicinity of that, that occurrence. There was a difficult conversation. And so what we’re recognizing is that our quality of life, the quality of our career, to a large extent, is going to be dictated by how well or how poorly we do in these difficult conversations. And so it’s really one of those hidden tools that can How to elevate your life. If you just lean into it and learn how to have these conversations,

Nick Glimsdahl 5:05 

it’s interesting because and I want to ask this next question, but every time that there’s a big time or a big conversation, if it’s, hey, I’m asking for a raise, or, hey, I’m going to go to a new, I’m deciding to take my, my job, and I’m going to go to a to different company. It’s a difficult conversation, even though you’re excited about that next opportunity. But how can my listeners take action, despite feeling that they’re going to fail?

Kwame Christian 5:31 

What we have to do is we need to start to use the framework. And so one of the things that I talked about is developing a series of unnatural responses to these natural systems. Because it’s not natural for you to be afraid and say, Oh, let me talk about that thing, right. That’s not a normal human thing to do. And so what we need to do is recognize that in our everyday lives, we’re going to be presented with opportunities to have these conversations. And so we have to develop that habit of engagement. All right, here’s an opportunity to have a difficult conversation, I’m going to have it, I’m going to have it, I’m going to have it, then when the big ones come up, you’re battle tested, you’re ready, it feels more natural to you, because you’ve been doing it over and over again. And so I think what we can do is turn these everyday conversations into practice opportunities, because they really are. And I have a five year old son, I’m married, I practice the framework with them, practicing with my clients opposing counsel, and of course, in the negotiation trainings we do with the American negotiation Institute. So I think the we have to do is make it a way of life. There’s no way around it. If you want to get better you have to practice.

Nick Glimsdahl 6:39 

How often does your son or your wife use it back on you?

Kwame Christian 6:44 

Ah, it’s funny. Pretty often, chi is now he is. He is a natural negotiator. Unlike me, he is a natural edit. So I just need to keep that going. With Whitney. Whitney uses her leverage. Example is, I was content with one son Whitney did not want one, she said when at least two maybe three. And so I held out for a while. But her negotiation skills rends reign supreme. And yeah, so now we have another one. So yeah, we’re all negotiating all the time. But some people have some built in advantages that they that they will lead on to get what they want.

Nick Glimsdahl 7:27 

That’s funny, and congratulations.

Kwame Christian 7:29 

Thank you. Appreciate it.

Nick Glimsdahl 7:31 

So back to that last question. In the book, you talked about the question, when you get to a moment and you feel very uncomfortable. The question that you ask yourself, or the you recommend is will I regret it? If I don’t take this opportunity? Why is that important?

Kwame Christian 7:49 

What happens when you ask yourself that regret question is this, you can’t determine regret in the present, right? Because we’re too surrounded with what’s happening, we don’t have the appropriate perspective. But you can assess regret, retroactively. And so it’s a mental exercise that helps you to see things from a different perspective. And so if we think about it from 10 years, 15 years, 20 years, something like that, we will look back, now we’re looking at this incident a little bit differently, we’re seeing that it’s relatively small in the context of the rest of our life. And I’m not saying small in that it is unimportant. It’s small in that the consequences for failure or success will not sink you completely. Right. When in a moment, it feels like my life is going to end here by point at this job right now. Right? And so then it gives you that perspective, and then you say, Alright, what is the decision that I will respect the most, at this later stage in my life? That’s really how we determine the quality of our life, right? Because when you look back and you say, how, how was my day? You think about it from that present perspective, looking backwards? And yes, we might have had difficulties during the day, but it’s always the backward looking perspective that reigns supreme, right? And think about it for parents, parents have, it’s tough. Raising kids is really tough. And you know, when a baby’s you know, throwing up crying and all that stuff. They’re not happy at that moment. But then if you ask a parent, hey, what do you think about those early years? Hey, it will stop. But it was worth it. I’m glad I was happy. Right? And so what I want people to do is take a more nuanced approach to the evaluation of these conversations. When you think about it from 10 years down the road, you’re incorporating a more a wiser perspective, and you can make better decisions in the moment when you can take a step back.

Nick Glimsdahl 9:48 

It’s interesting. I see a parallel because in college, and athletics just in general, there’s a lot of people that try to visualize the event. Prior to it happening, which it seems like it’s similar that that it is today because or that you’re just talking about because if you can visualize where you’re at in the race or where you’re at halfway during halftime, or what the field looks like and smells like and interacts with, you can, when you get to game time, it feels familiar. So it seems like its very similar system that you’re kind of going through.

Kwame Christian 10:24 

Absolutely remember my basis psychology. And so I remember in my sports psych class, they talked about the importance of visualization, I incorporated that with my TED talk, and I would visualize that every night. And it really, really helps. And so I think about ourselves as professionals in our careers, just the way professional athletes think about themselves. But what’s really interesting is that I recognize that professional athletes take their development a lot more seriously, than professionals in other realms, professional lawyers, professional doctors, all those things, hey, I graduated from school, passing my big test. Now I’m just going to be a doctor and I will incrementally get better every single year until I die. But a professional athlete, they’re trying to make massive gains in their skills every single day. And so think about it with your negotiation. You if it’s a big conversation, like you said, take the time to visualize it, that’s great. Even better, take the time to actually prepare by going back and forth in a role-play with another person. First, you play the role of the other person, right? So Nick, if I’m, if I have a big negotiation with you, I’m going to talk to let’s say, winning, I’m going to say, Okay, here’s the negotiation, here’s the situation, I’m going to play the role of Nick, you be me, Whitney. And so then it helps me to empathize with you better during the conversation, because I’ve actually had a rep, from your perspective than the second role-play. I do it from my own perspective. So that gives me another Rep. And then I visualize that night. So by the time I actually have the conversation, I’m there. And then after the conversation, replay the tape, just like an athlete, we’re going to review the tape. What did I do? Well, what did I do poorly, and then we’re going to improve incrementally every interaction from there on.

Nick Glimsdahl 12:04 

Fascinating. You mentioned that elite athletes do the visualization, they try to make massive gains. Why is that not the same in a professional setting of business?

Kwame Christian 12:20 

I think a couple things. First, it’s expectation. You’re expected as an athlete to work hard in that specific way. So there’s not that same expectation. Also, there’s a status symbol today. Business? Oh, how busy are you? Oh, man, I’m so busy. Okay, how’s your day going? I’m even busier than that, right? They want up each other in terms of how busy we are. Right? I just don’t have time. And we convince ourselves so often that we don’t have time for these fundamental aspects of our roles. And when you think about negotiation, I think about it as any conversation where somebody in the conversation wants something. So we’re negotiating every day. And we’re recognizing that negotiation is one of the most important aspects of all of our careers, no matter what it is, we’re have to have these conversations, but we don’t practice this skill. We don’t practice this skill. We don’t practice other fundamental skills the same way. So I just encourage people to think of themselves more in that athletic type of way. What can I do every day to sharpen the sword so I can be better for the next one?

Nick Glimsdahl 13:23 

I love it. So back to conflict is the goal of conflict agreement?

Kwame Christian 13:29 

Nope. So the goal of conflict is progress. I would say, you know, I think conflict is an opportunity, above all else, conflict is an opportunity. And why is that? We because there’s an opportunity for change, it’s a signal, something is potentially wrong. So we’re going to investigate to see whether or not there is in fact, a problem. There might not be, there might not be so okay, well, that’s fine. At least I took this opportunity to learn and probably through that prospect for that, during that process, the person I was talking to felt respected, like, oh, wow, Nick actually cares enough to check in to see if I’m okay. In this situation. I appreciate that. So it was an opportunity to strengthen the relationship. Sometimes we can have this conversation and it doesn’t go the way we want. I mean, we can’t win them all, as they say the same thing here. But we can still learn through the process. And so it’s an opportunity to learn. And then let’s say we don’t even learn anything new. It’s still an opportunity to practice. It’s a practice session, right? And if you’re creative about it, you can see that opportunity. And it’s critical for us to see the opportunity because it’ll lead us to actually engage in the conversations.

Nick Glimsdahl 14:37 

Is that more like muscle memory, then?

Kwame Christian 14:39 

Yeah, I would say exactly, exactly. Because you don’t want to rely on your discipline all the time to do the right decision. So you think about it just in terms of productivity and success. They it’s not necessarily a choice for those incredible athletes or people in business or whatever. They have created a system of habits where they don’t need to decide any more, it just happens automatically. Greatness happens automatically for them because they’ve taken the time to create these habits. And so when it comes to our difficult conversations, you don’t want to have to decide the right thing to do the right thing to say, the more you do it, you start to create these habits. And it just happens automatically no matter what the situation is.

Nick Glimsdahl 15:23 

When the people look at, I don’t know, a Tom Brady, for an example. Big, big w again, for what the seven times 17th time, who knows. But everybody kind of looks at him and says, Man, he is the greatest. But what took him to get to the greatest was repetition, muscle memory, and then consistent improvements over time. And it wasn’t just consistent. Provident right. It’s doing the right things, eating the right things, exercising in the right way. I don’t know why I keep bringing it back to athletics. But I just think there’s such a similarity running parallel, that I really enjoy.

Kwame Christian 16:01 

Yeah, and I think we can think about it more broadly in terms of competition, too. I’m a chess nerd, right. I love playing chess. And think about those the people who are chess with it. That doesn’t happen by accident. I played 13,000 games on chess and I’m in the 90th percentile in And I lose the 10 year olds all the time. I’ve taken a lot more time practicing in a diligent way with a coach and they know things that I do not know. Right?

Nick Glimsdahl 16:31 

How does that make you feel Kwame? Humble?

Kwame Christian 16:34 

Endlessly? Oh, yeah,

Nick Glimsdahl 16:36 

I believe in the book, you may or may not have called out a 10 year old.

Kwame Christian 16:39 

I did it was. It was humiliating. But I tell you, it just goes to show they’ve taken so much more time to practice in a different way. I don’t, you know, I have a profession that this is their profession. And so it would be it’s not surprising that they end up where they are? And is there going to be the same with what we do that just the more time we spend doing these things, the better we’re going to be. And I think this also speaks to the benefit of specialization, too. What are the things within our craft that are the most important, one of the things that are going to give us the biggest payoff? We think about it strategically from like the Pareto principle, the 8020 rule? What is the 20%? That’s going to give me an 80%, right, the disproportionate returns, and focus on those aspects of our lives, those aspects of our careers, and we want to focus intently on making those better, because we’re going to get a better payoff.

Nick Glimsdahl 17:35 

Cool. So why does failing to put yourself in those difficult situations make you actually weaker?

Kwame Christian 17:43 

Yeah, it’s we’re not taking advantage of these growth opportunities. Let’s go back to what you said about muscle memory, right? Because we’re missing out on the opportunity to strengthen our habits, this habit of engagement that we’ve been working to build. And then if you think about it from like, an actual muscle, right, the more you exercise the muscle, as long as you’re not, you know, breaking it down, the stronger it will get. And so if you don’t exercise that muscle, it’ll be gone. It’ll begin to atrophy.

Nick Glimsdahl 18:13 

So you, but you actually have to, you have to break it down to build a backup. Right?

Kwame Christian 18:19 

Exactly. So you have to break it down and just not tear it. Yeah, that’s what I mean. Except,

Nick Glimsdahl 18:26 

But that is uncomfortable. I mean, just kind of going back to you have to be uncomfortable. Productively uncomfortable. In the right spot.

Kwame Christian 18:36 

Exactly, exactly. And that’s the thing, Nick, because a lot of people make the mistake of feeling that discomfort and taking it as a signal that they’re on the wrong path. You think about it in life. Think about it in the gym. Oh, that burns. I’m going to stop. Wait, that’s where you want it to be?

Nick Glimsdahl 18:54 

T timeout Kwame. I’ve done the 15 pounders I’m done, man. Exactly.

Kwame Christian 18:59 

So yeah, those are the things it’s going to be uncomfortable. But there’s no easy way around it. The more reps you get, though, that the better you’ll be.

Nick Glimsdahl 19:08 

So what is the importance of replacing condemnation with curiosity? Well, here’s

Kwame Christian 19:13 

The thing. Condemnation, shame, those type of things. They are rarely persuasive. Think about the times where you somebody has shamed you. And you said, Wow, I guess I’m on your side now. Right? No, it’s

Nick Glimsdahl 19:28 

Never happened.

Kwame Christian 19:30 

Never happens, right? Because when it creates a rift between you and the other, it’s a barrier to persuasion. And so remember, there’s a big difference between being right and being persuasive. If you shame somebody, you condemn them, call them out aggressively, those type of things. It doesn’t matter, even if you are correct, if you have all the facts, data logic, reasoning, all that stuff, to prove the fact that you’re correct. If you approach it that way, they still won’t give you what you want. Just not right, you know, and so we have to recognize that and recognize there’s a better way. And that’s why I want to really promote the compassionate curiosity framework.

Nick Glimsdahl 20:07 

So why was having the license to fail the key to your success?

Kwame Christian 20:13 

Yeah, and one thing we have to recognize when we talk about the license to fail, that’s a license you have to give yourself. Because a lot of times, especially when we, as we get older, we’re navigating our own lives, it might be our own desire for perfection or safety that prevents us from embracing failure. And so we brought up for example, we have a new guy who’s joining the team doing business development. And I, one of the things I told them, I said, We You’re doing a great job, and you’re, we’re winning right now. But I need you to get more else, I need to get more losses, because I want you to try new things. And not all those things are going to be successful. But when I recognize that they’re not working, and I know that you’re taking that data in order to improve. And that’s what I did in order to get here too. So you have to be able to take bigger risks. So you can collect that data, and then improve through the process.

Nick Glimsdahl 21:07 

I actually heard a really interesting story of Kobe Bryant, and he was 10 years old and didn’t score a single point in the entire season. And his dad came up to him and he just said, no matter if you score zero points in a game, or 60, I still love you. And he’s like, that gave me the license to fail. Like, I don’t know if he actually said that. But he goes, I knew that if I failed, it was still okay. Yeah. And I love that because then obviously, he went on to be the one of the greatest basketball players ever. But he it changed his mind and his perspective on failing.

Kwame Christian 21:47 

Yeah, it’s powerful. It’s powerful. And we when we look at Colby, we all we think about is winning, right? But what we’re seeing is that it’s those failures that led to the man we saw on the court getting those championships.

Nick Glimsdahl 22:02 

Yeah, he would never been into Mamba mode, if it wasn’t for his failure.

Kwame Christian 22:06 


Nick Glimsdahl 22:08 

So I wrap up every podcast with two questions. And the first question is, is what book or person has influenced you the most in the past year? So I’ll put parameters around it. And then if you can leave a note to all the customer service or customer experience professionals, it’s going to hit everybody’s desk now Monday at 8am? I would say,

Kwame Christian 22:29 

Okay, so I’m going to take, I’m going to, I’m going to tweak the first one just slightly just because I think I think you’ll like I think you’d like it. So I’m assuming when you say this, it’s going to be your assuming is going to be somebody else or another book or something like that. The person is going to sound arrogant, but just stay with me here. Okay, got it. Yeah, the person who influenced me the most was myself because I set a very aggressive goal. So I remember when COVID hit in 2020. For me, my, almost 100% of my income was based on me getting on planes, doing speaking engagements, and I was on a plane, like almost every week, and I remember in February, I say to myself, man, things are going great. I see my calendar booked out to July, what could possibly go wrong, you know, like a cartoon, right? And so the whole calendar was cleared, like from March to July, and I had to figure things out. My wife’s a doctor, her job is objectively more important than mine. So I had to be home with Kai and rely 100% on my team to make things happen, even though no income was coming in. So I had to make sure they were getting paid. While I take care of chi and I can’t get anything done. Yeah, I remember a very specific conversation with one of my best friends holding Chi. Very unproductive. I mean, I guess, you know, being a father is productive, but for business purposes. Now I understand. I remember holding, having this conversation and saying, Paul, I don’t know how I don’t know what it’s going to look like. But I know for sure, this situation will be the best thing that ever happened to my business. I don’t know how I don’t have any ideas right now, Paul, but I guarantee you want to figure this thing out. And so I think just saying that and saying it publicly held myself to a higher standard. And if I didn’t, then I don’t know if I would have performed as well because the company grew during the pandemic, after you know, we recovered, we pivoted, we just changed strategies. So that was really influential for me that year because I felt like I had to live up to that promise.

Nick Glimsdahl 24:43 

I love that and it wasn’t as arrogant as I thought it was going to be. Know, but in all seriousness, you know, the, the, the word of the year in 2020 was pivot right but if you needed to find Way to adapt in the moment and change how you’re going to market and the value that you’re going to provide. It was a different way, in the I sent this in a message the other day to a friend, but I said, how you let your reactions define you today, because he was struggling with something. And he was kind of throwing himself a little pity party. And he’s like, man, I just need to get out of this. And I sent him a text and have been consistently sending them a text that now and he’s like, I needed that. And I think it’s not just him. I think a lot of us need that. Like, how will that how will the way that we react today to find us today and not just today but into the future?

Kwame Christian 25:44 

Right? Oh, that’s brilliant. That’s brilliant. I think about who you are what you do, the fact that you are what you do, and right? Because you can say whatever you want about yourself, but your responses will dictate who you really are. And even more specifically, we are what we do regularly. Right? So we have to recognize that our actions matter. And through the process of taking action we are creating ourselves, life is about creating yourself not discovering yourself.

Nick Glimsdahl 26:13 

Absolutely. So do you remember, remember the second question, are you going to repeat, repeat it?

Kwame Christian 26:17 

So the thing that I would give customer service professionals right now? Simple note. Listen more, speak less.

Nick Glimsdahl 26:27 

Boom, Mic drop right there. So call me Let my listeners know about your podcast and how they can get in touch with you.

Kwame Christian 26:38 

Yeah, so negotiate anything is the name of the podcast, the American negotiation Institute is the company so if you’re interested in a negotiation, or conflict resolution training, check that out. And then always on LinkedIn, sharing, hopefully helpful tips and, and tricks and all that stuff. I had an I used to have a promise for everybody. I said, Hey, listen, everybody that I connect with, I will send you a message. We can even chat and all that stuff, I promise. And that will keep their promises as long as I can. I can no longer keep that promise. But we can comment. I tried my best.

Nick Glimsdahl 27:17 

That’s all you can do man is try your best. I really appreciate your time. It’s been a blast.

Kwame Christian 27:22 

Thank you. Thanks for having me.


The Press 1 For Nick podcast is both educational and engaging, and each episode offers listeners a dynamic blend of insightful stories, best practices, and invaluable lessons.

Nick’s guests – each with a unique wealth of knowledge – include leaders from a variety of backgrounds and industries. Some of his guests include:

  • Customer service & customer experience leaders
  • A hostage negotiator
  • Award-winning authors
  • Home Depot’s Senior Director of Customer Care
  • Former VP of Disney’s Magic Kingdom
  • Lyft’s Head of Partner and Customer Engagement
  • Deputy Chief Veteran Experience Officer from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs

On every episode Nick asks his guest two questions:

  1. What book or person has influenced you the most in the past year?
  2. If you could leave a note to all the Customer Service and CX professionals, what would it say?

You can find all the podcast guests’ answers under their episodes below.

If all you want is the guests’ book recommendations, you can go here.

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