Focus on self-education. My goal is to read one book per week. I never truly realized how much I could learn outside of school until I made this my goal. Now, I can say without a doubt, I’ve learned significantly more through self-directed education than I have throughout earning 3 degrees at University. Take control of your education by reading more, taking more courses, and listening to podcasts.
As a part of my series about “5 things I wish someone told me when I first became an attorney” I had the pleasure of interviewing Kwame Christian Esq., M.A.
Best-selling author, attorney, and speaker, Kwame Christian, is the Director of the American Negotiation Institute and a respected voice in the field of negotiation and conflict resolution. Christian has conducted workshops throughout North America and abroad, and is a highly sought after national keynote speaker.
Host of the top-ranked negotiation podcast in the world, Negotiate Anything, Kwame is dedicated to empowering professionals through the art and science of negotiation and persuasion.
Kwame’s TEDx Dayton talk, Finding Confidence in Conflict, was the most popular TEDx Talk on the topic of conflict in 2017, and his book, Finding Confidence in Conflict: How to Negotiate Anything and Live Your Best Life, is an Amazon Best-Seller and has helped countless individuals overcome the fear, anxiety, and emotion often associated with difficult conversations through a branded framework called Compassionate Curiosity.™ (*January, 2020)
In addition to his role at ANI, Kwame is a business lawyer at Carlile Patchen & Murphy LLP where he represents businesses in a broad scope of legal needs including contract negotiation, business formation and structuring, finance, transactions (including acquisitions and contract preparation and analysis), employment, and general business and legal counseling.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit more. What is the “backstory” that brought you to this particular career path in Law?
My undergrad degree is in psychology and I’ve always been interested in understanding the way the mind works. More specifically, I’ve been fascinated with social psychology because it’s all about how humans interact and connect.
As I was going through law school and earning my master of public policy, both at The Ohio State University, I discovered negotiation. This was very exciting to me because it was the first time I saw psychology so clearly in the legal practice. It was at that time that I decided that I was going to make this a major part of my career.
Fast-forwarding to today, I started a company called the American Negotiation Institute where I lead negotiation and conflict resolution training, host the top-ranked negotiation podcast in the world, Negotiate Anything, have a best-selling book, Finding Confidence in Conflict, and I’m a business attorney at the law firm of Carlile Patchen & Murphy LLP.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your law career?
I think the most interesting story for me is the unique career path that I chose. It can certainly be described as a non-traditional route. The vast majority of my time and energy is dedicated toward building my company, the American Negotiation Institute, but at the same time, I’m practicing law at a highly respected law firm with a great team. The two parts of my professional career feed into each other because the legal practice gives me credibility as a negotiation expert and it helps me to be a better teacher in my trainings and as a professor at the law school and MBA level.
What are some of the most interesting cases you have been involved in? Without sharing anything confidential can you share any stories?
Not surprisingly, it comes down to negotiation and conflict resolution. One of my Fortune 500 clients needed help with a multimillion-dollar procurement negotiation. After a couple of months of consulting and strategizing, we were able to save them $23 million on the deal.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Gandhi are some of my favorite historical figures because they were peacemakers. They were able to find peaceful solutions to complex social problems. In my opinion, it is deal-making at its finest.
What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in law?
The advice that I would give to young people who are interested in getting into the law is very simple — have a plan. I think a lot of people go into law school in an attempt to find themselves. I’ve seen a lot of people spend a lot of money and end up lost and frustrated in their careers because they were never really truly committed to what they were doing.
If you had the ability to make a reform in our judicial/legal system, what would you start with? Why?
The biggest reform to the judicial system that I would add would be mandatory mediation for almost every case. As a mediator, I’ve seen the power of the process. It saves time and money and is uniquely capable of not only creating solutions that are tailor-made to the parties but also makes it more likely that the parties can have a working relationship after the process.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I believe that the best things in life are on the other side of difficult conversations and it’s my goal to help to make these difficult conversations easier. This is why I produce so much free content. The podcast, Negotiate Anything, is the top-ranked negotiation podcast in the world and we have over 215 episodes, 2 million downloads, and listeners in over 180 countries and we do all of this for free. I’m a contributor for Forbes and that content is free as well. Every day on my LinkedIn I’m sharing free tips and articles. My goal is simple — help as many people as possible to improve the ability to get better deals and resolve conflict.
I know this is not an easy job. What drives you?
The thing that drives me the most is the ability to have a positive impact on people around the world.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or an example for each.
- Focus on self-education. My goal is to read one book per week. I never truly realized how much I could learn outside of school until I made this my goal. Now, I can say without a doubt, I’ve learned significantly more through self-directed education than I have throughout earning 3 degrees at University. Take control of your education by reading more, taking more courses, and listening to podcasts.
- Get a mentor. Similar to the first point, sometimes the best way to educate yourself is by talking to somebody who has actually done it. Ask them questions like, if you were in my position, what would you do? What was something you were great doing in your career? What were some things you wish you did more of throughout your career? They have an incredible perspective and as you start to talk to more mentors, you can begin to triangulate the right answers for yourself.
- Be a mentor. One of the most satisfying things that I do right now is mentorship. I recognize that a large portion of my success is attributed to the incredible advice and guidance I received over the years from my mentors. It’s an honor and a privilege to be able to give that back to other people. Also, as you help to bring them to higher levels, they will eventually be in a position where they can reciprocate as a major part of your professional network. Not only are you investing in their career but you’re also investing in your own.
- Create your own path. There’s an assumption that there is a “right” way to develop your professional career. You need to start to think outside of the box to figure out what you really want to get out of life and what is the best path to get there. Again, if you look at my trajectory it was anything but traditional. However, I was able to build a custom made profession for myself as a lawyer, business owner, best-selling author, professor, and recognized thought leader. It certainly wasn’t easy and I had my fair share of doubters who questioned my approach but in the end, it all worked out. You need to trust yourself and create a career that works for you because at the end of the day it’s your career, not theirs.
- Extend your reach. People always talk about the importance of networking but they don’t talk as much about the importance of personal branding. Your personal brand by itself is persuasive. The more visible you become on social media and the more free content you produce, the more people get to know you and begin to trust you as a person and as a professional. I wish I would’ve started building my audience earlier because that investment would’ve paid significant dividends.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
I think it would be fascinating to meet Elon Musk because he’s been able to build a career unlike any other. He is one of the founders of PayPal, he has an electric car company, he has a space transportation company that builds rockets and spacecraft, and a tunnel construction company that will revolutionize transportation.
His professional palette is very diverse and he’s led by his curiosity. I would love to understand how he is able to incorporate all of these companies that are so different into a personal brand that still makes sense. I am a strategy nerd and I would love to see his approach.