A passion for negotiation, business led one alumnus to start his own firm
A desire to pursue a career in politics may have been what brought Kwame Christian ’13 to law school, but it was the discovery of his passion for negotiation that led him to a career today as the founder of The Christian Law Office LLC and the American Negotiation Institute.
“I love negotiation. I didn’t discover negotiation until law school. I didn’t even know Ohio State had the top-ranked dispute resolution program when I applied. The only reason I took the negotiation class was because it was a fall break course, and I said to myself ‘I can get two hours in one week? Let’s do that, that’s efficient,’” he said with a laugh. “I realized it turned out to be the most practical thing I learned in school because it was something that I knew I could see myself doing in real life in the business world.”
His current practice at The Christian Law Office focuses on helping businesses get off the ground, offering support to entrepreneurs with basic legal framework. As someone who has always been interested in becoming an entrepreneur himself, starting his own business to help other businesses seemed like the right fit after graduating from law school.
“What’s interesting is I never wanted to be a lawyer,” Christian said. “I went to law school and simultaneously received my master’s in public policy because I wanted to be a politician. But as I saw what kind of damage that kind of career can do to your life, I decided not to go that route. So I thought, ‘I have this degree, what do I want to do?’ I realized the shortest distance between myself and entrepreneurship was a law firm. So I thought, ‘I’ll do this and focus my practice on entrepreneurs because then I get to have my hands in a bunch of different businesses.’”
He also wanted to find a way to incorporate his passion for negotiation into his business model. He started by offering seminars and lectures on the art of negotiation, which he continues to do today. Christian said he tries to keep the talks as interactive as possible to truly engage the audience in learning about negotiation. He also likes to include a simulation at the end of each engagement to give attendees the opportunity to practice what they’ve learned.
“I started to get clients because I would go around the city and put on negotiation seminars. I’ve put on a lot of them over the last two years. I have one this month, I had one last week with the Ohio State Bar Association, which was livestreamed, I have one in a couple of weeks with the Women’s Business Center, and then another on March 9 with the Dublin Entrepreneurial Center, so it just keeps on coming. I can’t stop teaching it, I just love it,” he said.
And his enthusiasm for the subject is infectious. After gaining a solid following through his talks all across Ohio, in April 2016 Christian started the American Negotiation Institute, which provides negotiation support for business professionals and helps business leaders build and maintain successful relationships with their partners. The venture began with a podcast, which has quickly grown to be one of the most popular negotiation podcasts throughout the world. As of February, the podcast had been downloaded more than 30,000 times from 63 different countries.
“In this day and age, there’s so much vitriol in the way people talk with each other, I like being that voice to show people how to really communicate,” Christian said. “Right now we’re the top-ranked negotiation podcast on iTunes, we were featured on the homepage last week, and we’re getting more than 1,000 downloads a week.”
Many of his early podcasts focused on recognizing opportunities for negotiation and from there has grown to cover a variety of negotiation styles and skills. He’s interviewed people both in the mediation and negotiation field, as well as community leaders who have different insights into how to work with others toward a common goal.
“When you’re first introduced to negotiation, people have this idea in their mind of what a negotiation is, so the first thing I wanted to impress upon them is that you need to broaden your scope of what a negotiation is—it’s any communication where somebody wants something, and that’s probably 90-95 percent of the time we’re talking, we’re trying to convince somebody of something. So once you have that recognition, now we can move onto learning about opportunities to utilize these skills, because if you don’t see it you can’t use these skills,” Christian explained.
“We had Jim Tressel on the podcast a couple of weeks ago. We talked about leadership—persuasive leadership. I wanted to know how he was able to persuade and manage those big egos on the football team and how those same skills are helping him now as the president of Youngstown State University. How are you able to get these big egos to get in line with your agenda, because he’s a very soft spoken guy, so he goes counter to the way many people see leadership too.”
Christian said he sees the American Negotiation Institute growing to be the go-to mediation source for business owners who are having difficulties in their business relationships.
“What I’ve realized is a business partnership is a relationship second only to marriage. You see a lot of people getting into business partnerships kind of like people get married in Las Vegas. They say, ‘I think this is a great business idea, do you?’ and the other person is like, ‘Yeah let’s do it, let’s get married!’ and they don’t realize the ramifications of that decision. But similar to a real marriage, you have pre-marital counseling and then when things start to get bad you actually have counseling to keep things together. So what I’m finding is that people need that business marital counseling before they get to that point where they’re done,” he explained.
“For example, I’m actually working with a company right now out of Portland and they’ve been friends for a long time and business partners for six years and now they’re not communicating well. So what I do is I work with one partner, have a phone call with them, then have a conversation with the other partner, and then kind of go back and forth to find out what the issues are, and almost serve as a mediator of sorts. At the end, we have a group conversation to see where things should go in the future.”
As the business grows, Christian wants to hire more mediators with a similar passion for business and helping others. And what better place to recruit those people than at Ohio State, he said. “This is the exciting part, and Ohio State plays a big role in it. I’m carving out this niche where there’s not much competition but there is a lot of need,” he explained. “What is a better pipeline than the top-rated dispute resolution program in the country? So the end goal is to hire consultants, to hire mediators, from this program, from Ohio State, as I bring in more business.”
To listen to podcasts from or to learn more about the American Negotiation Institute, click here.