Kwame Christian, Director of the American Negotiation Institute, joins me to talk about salespeople, negotiation skills, and your obligation to use confrontation when persuading others.
Some gems from Part 1:
“The easiest thing you can do is look at it as an opportunity (confrontation).”
“…it’s basically your duty at that point.”
“There is gold on the other side of that tension”
Connect with Kwame on LinkedIn
Kwame Christian, Esq., M.A. is the Director of the American Negotiation Institute where he conducts negotiation and conflict management workshops around the country. As an attorney and mediator with a bachelors of arts in Psychology, a Master of Public Policy, and a law degree, Kwame brings a unique multidisciplinary approach to making difficult conversations easier. In addition to his role with the American Negotiation Institute, Kwame also serves as a professor at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, the top ranked dispute resolution program in the country, and Otterbein University’s MBA program.
He is the author of the best selling book Nobody Will Play With Me: How to Use Compassionate Curiosity to Find Confidence in Conflict and his TEDx Talk, Finding Confidence in Conflict, was the most popular TED Talk on the topic of conflict of 2017. Kwame also hosts the top negotiation podcast in the world, Negotiate Anything. The show has been downloaded over 1,000,000 times and has listeners in 183 different countries.
E204 – Transcript
Jason: Welcome to the sales experience podcast. On today’s episode I have Kwame Christian, he is the director of the American negotiation Institute. He wrote a book titled: nobody will play with me, How do you use compassionate curiosity to find confidence in conflict and has a podcast called: negotiate anything. Kwame, welcome to the sales experience podcast.
Kwame: Hey Jason, thanks for having me.
Jason: So I say this about all my guests and I truly mean it. I am excited to chat with you. I think this is going to be super fun. I mean, at least for me, I think you and I are going to have fun. Hopefully the listeners will as well. I mean your background is a degree in psychology and then being an attorney and a leading mediator in legal field and people with the mediation needs, and then you’ve kind of turn to this focus on negotiation and the book and the podcast and the Ted talk.
Jason: So, obviously from a sales background, I see all of that as an intersection, both the psychology and the negotiation side with sales. Let’s start there.
Kwame: Perfect. Yeah, you’re absolutely right. And when it comes down to it, I think the easiest way to understand my narrative and the course that I’m on is the fact that I love psychology. I love psychology. And the reason I was attracted to negotiation was in law school. I took a negotiation course and it was the first time I saw psychology being utilized for a business or legal purpose. So I was hooked at that point. And then as I started to dig deeper into it, I realized that it was a little bit more for me because I personally was not good at having difficult conversations. And when I was able to go through the negotiation class at the law school, I realized that the ability to be good in negotiations and difficult conversations, conflict, it’s not a talent, it’s a skill and you can actually take the time to learn it and improve it.
Kwame: And so blending the psychology to make my persuasive endeavors more effective was one thing, but also using the psychology to overcome my personal fears was I think the bigger thing. And I just want to share that with as many people as I can.
Jason: And what’s interesting about that is watching your Ted talk and reading, some of the stuff that you’ve done is, there is negotiation, which of course is a sales podcast. And so there’s okay negotiation and sales, maybe it is a negotiation or not. The conflict side is the part that really struck me when you’re talking about it, right? So there’s the conflict side and the the fear of conflict. And I see that a lot of times in salespeople where they’re afraid of let’s say pushing for the sale. A lot of people have more on the order taker end of the spectrum and they’re afraid of it.
Jason: You know when you get into that psychological kind of fight or flight lizard brain part that we both talk about in our own respective things and where that fits in and avoiding conflict, but instead looking at it where conflict that you could use and that you need to overcome and for the right reasons. I mean that’s the big key, right? Is the right reasons for overcoming that conflict.
Kwame: Absolutely. And it really comes down to mindset when we really think about it. So psychologically we are always evaluating situations, am I going to approach this situation or avoid it?
Kwame: And a lot of times if you have a negative orientation toward conflict, what’s going to happen is you’re going to avoid the situation. Either you avoid having the conversation entirely or you are forced to or whatever circumstance they actually have the conversation. And because you still have that avoid mentality, you’re not going to be your best self in the conversation. So it really comes down to mindset when it’s all said and done.
Jason: And what is some of the suggestions that you have for people? Because mindset is usually a factor of things that happen as a child or growing up or a conflict in the house or the way that things were done growing up in your experiences and a lot of times that carries with you and you just have this thing you’re carrying around as your set point for what you view as conflict, how you handle it, like for you, how do you help people get past that? What’s some of the stuff that you tell salespeople to do or anybody to do if they’re shying away from conflict or you know, needing to get past that.
Kwame: The easiest thing you can do is look at it as an opportunity. So the challenge I have for everybody is this is an opportunity to blank, your goal is to fill in the blank right there before the conversation that you’re struggling with. And if you’re creative enough, you can find the answer to that question. It’s an opportunity to learn. It’s an opportunity to rebuild the relationship. It’s an opportunity to advance my career. It’s an opportunity to help this person with the problem that I know they’re having. And so think about it. For instance, as a salesperson, the reason that we do what we do is because we genuinely believe that our product or service can solve the problem that people are facing, right? And so we want to be able to have the conversation, even if the person might be reticent or a little bit shy or whatever the issue might be, we still want to have the conversation because we genuinely believe that what we have could be beneficial for them. And so just adjusting your mentality, and thinking about every conversation as an opportunity is going to be very significant when it comes to improving your ability in the conversations.
Jason: And I think that’s huge because when I think about salespeople who are hesitating from conflict and conflict in a sales interaction is pushing somebody, pushing the prospect towards where they could be, right? Like if you have a friend who’s got, let’s say an addiction problem and you know that they should be doing something different or you could offer advice or you want to support them, you’re afraid of bringing it up because you’re afraid of the conflict and what may happen. And the drama in a sales role, you have your prospect, like you said, you believe in your product or service and you know that it could help the right people, right? So you have a qualified prospect and now you want to move them forward, then that conflict is not something that’s going to cause drama. And if the other person reacts negatively to it, you still have to go forward because you know that’s what you’ve got to do and it’s basically your duty.
Jason: At that point it’s your obligation to confront that person who’s not moving forward with your product or service because you know that it could help them. And I think that’s one of the biggest shifts I’ve seen with salespeople who realize like, wait a second, this is really helpful. Like there’s a lot of people in sales who, they’re selling something but they don’t really understand the impact like to the other person in their life, whether it’s a business or it’s a consumer. Like if you’re helping a business, let’s say with marketing, I mean that could be make it or break it for that business. I mean that could people’s jobs at that company if the company expands or contracts. And so once you realize that and put it in perspective, then the conflict side is negligible. Right?
Kwame: Exactly. Because you’re seeing the bigger picture. Just like you said, it’s perspective and one of the things that we need to consider is the concept of productive tension. And so I am a, I’m a chess nerd. I love playing chess. I’m reading a book right now by Gary Kasparov, one of the greatest chess players of all time. And he said one of the things that novice chess players do is when there is a situation where there are multiple pieces that could attack or kill another piece, what they want to do is they jump the gun and attack the piece very quickly because sitting with that tension where multiple moves might go past where one piece could kill another piece and both players clearly know it, it’s uncomfortable, and it really has an impact on their cognitive process. That pressure causes them to make a mistake and what they’re trying to do is alleviate that pressure by creating chaos essentially.
Kwame: And what we ended up doing oftentimes as salespeople or people who are negotiating, we’re having difficult conversations in general is that our orientation is toward seeing the pressure that we feel as a negative, the tension that we feel as a negative thing, and sometimes that tension is a necessary part of the process. These conversations are by design, difficult and if you’re having it in a way that avoids tension, it’s likely that you’re not pushing hard enough or challenging people in to the core where you need to in order to move them in the right direction.
Jason: That’s so wild because I’m listening to you think and then I’ll translate it in my brain into, you know, the sales experiences that I’ve seen, the reps that I’ve worked with, even myself in sales situations. And you’re right, I mean that’s why I use the phrase order taker. Like if you’re not pushing things forward into some kind of conflict, then you’re just taking orders because then it’s a function of either somebody who wants to buy or not. I mean you might as well be working like the register somewhere in a retail store because you’re basically taking orders, right? But if you are a salesperson and you’re tasked with the responsibility of closing deals, then you’re going to have to push people outside of their comfort zone. It’s going to create conflict. There’s going to be that tension. And it’s interesting because once you get comfortable with that tension, then you’ll ask questions that will push people to where they don’t want to go. And then also when they push back and fight back or come up with objections, you just don’t even deal with it or you just kind of ignore it or you’re okay with silence, right? Like it’s that silence that a lot of sales reps, new sales reps, underperforming reps will just kind of jump on because they want to fill in that gap and they’re afraid of that tension and what’s building kind of like their chest example. Right?
Kwame: Exactly. And the thing is there is gold on the other side of that tension because let’s use silence as an example. What does that mean? It means a lot of things. And so we have to have the curiosity necessary to explore what it is that this particular silence means. So let’s explore some of those things. So silence could mean that they’re thinking, let’s say they’re an introvert, they process slower and deeper. And so it’s not that there is nothing there, it’s that they’re creating it and you need to give them time to respond. And if you jump in too quickly and rescue them from that silence, now that gold that they’re mining in their brain, you don’t have the option to harvest it, you can’t take it out, right? That’s one thing. The other thing is that you might have overcome one of their major objections and they saw themselves saying, no, no, no, no, no, I don’t want this, blah, blah, blah.
Kwame: But then you’ve done a good job of drawing out the hidden objections and now they’re starting to realize, wait a second. The reality that I believe that was in is not what it really is. I might actually need this. And so when you think about the way that people process information, it takes a little bit of time for them to adjust from their original position to another position. So they have to consider where they were before, where they’re potentially going, what was the thing that changed their perspective? And really they want to do it in a way that saves face. People don’t like to feel as though, Hey, Jason’s just a wizard, he overwhelmed me with his persuasive skills and now I see the world that the way you read it, they might be trying to adjust their position in a way that allows them to save face and feel good about themselves. And again, if we rescue them from that productive tension by saying something, we’re cutting off that cognitive process. So in a lot of times we need to sit there and wait, let this process work and it doesn’t feel good a lot of times, but you have to take the time and see what happens on the other side.
Jason: That’s it for part one of my conversation with Kwame Christian, and make sure to go to cutterconsultinggroup.com to find the show notes, his links and the transcript, and make sure to subscribe to catch all of these episodes. As always, keep in mind that everything in life is sales and people remember the experience you gave them.