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We give you actionable advice so you can elevate your influence through purposeful negotiation—helping you overcome the hurdles you face in business and life to become even more successful.
Hey folks! Welcome back to the NEGOTIATEx podcast . In this episode, we continue our conversation with Dr. Ken Dekleva . Ken is a practicing psychiatrist and senior fellow at the George H.W. Bush foundation for US-China relations.
If you haven’t already checked out Part A of this episode, be sure to do that first. So, without further ado, let’s jump right in.
Aram kicks off the second part of this podcast by asking Ken how he manages to influence people to do things they do not want.
In reply, Ken highlights that most people fail to influence others to do things they don’t want because they don’t have enough patience. Sometimes leaders need to take it a little slow to be successful negotiators. He then goes on to cite Gary Noesner’s podcast episode where he refers to his book Stalling For Time to further establish his point.
Ken also talks about how important it is to be flexible and creative while negotiating with difficult people and suggests that following rigid protocols and guidelines might not always be a good idea in complex situations.
Beyond that, he re-emphasizes the importance of good listening skills and adds that one needs to know who it is that they are trying to influence during difficult negotiations. In other words, understanding the power dynamics is crucial in order to negotiate effectively.
When asked if there’s room to negotiate with Vladimir Putin to put an end to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Ken highlights that it is possible but challenging. In order to negotiate effectively with Putin, you need to first humanize him and use tactical empathy, as Chris Voss and Gary Neosner mention in their respective books.
It’s also important to understand where he is coming from, his culture, and his history, which is indeed very difficult. So, even though it is hard to negotiate with a leader like Putin, it’s certainly not impossible.
Next, Ken highlights the role of words in high-stake negotiations, which was beautifully highlighted in an op-ed in the late 90s by the State Department Interpreter for Secretary Of State, Late Madeleine Albright, when she went to North Korea to meet with Kim Jong Il.
The Op-ed talked about the words they had used during the meeting because President Clinton sent a condolence letter to Kim Jong Il after his father, Kim Il Sung, passed away in 1993. And the North Koreans were very touched by this and thanked them for it. Thus, it proves that every word matters in high-stake negotiations.
Moving on, when asked about the role of preparations in negotiations, Ken replies that preparation is critical in complex cases. However, it could become a problem when people start over-preparing.
A person could prepare as much as they want, but if they don’t tap into other soft skills that Ken talked about, like openness and good listening skills, chances are preparation would not help them as much as they had hoped.
Towards the end of the podcast, Ken highlights that good negotiators need to be comfortable in their own skin. Contrary to what other negotiators might believe, Ken feels there’s no point in putting on some theatrical performance while negotiating.
Instead, Ken strongly believes we’re better when we negotiate from who we are and how we naturally show up. Long story short, being authentic, being real, and connecting with people can go a long way in doing better at negotiations.
Aram, Nolan, and Ken go into much greater detail on nailing high stake negotiations in this episode of the NEGOTIATEx podcast. Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know how you negotiate when the stakes are high.
Thank you for listening.
Nolan Martin : Hey everyone! Thanks for joining us on the NegotiateX podcast. We are continuing our conversation with Dr. Ken Dekleva, who is a practicing psychiatrist and senior fellow at the George H.W. Bush foundation for US-China relations. If you haven't already checked out part A of this episode, be sure to do that first. Let's jump in the conversation with Ken.
Aram Donigian : Ken, I wanted two things on what you're kinda sharing around your diplomatic experiences. One is, and maybe this builds off what Nolan just asked you. You talked about having to persuade people to do some things they don't want to do, whether that is leaving a country, whether it's come back and testify and you don't wanna create that secondary experience. How do you do that from kind of, from your perspective in your field. How do you influence people to do things they just fundamentally do not want to do?
Ken Dekleva : You have to have immense patience and usually when we fail at this, it's because we're in too much of a hurry. So, sometimes you have to slow it down. And I know Gary Noesner talked about this in his podcast and in his famous book, Stalling For Time. Once the person is talking to you, time is your friend. So, you use that to slow things down and get the patient, in my case where I was a physician and it was a doctor patient role to get them to do the right thing in terms of their healthcare, where, when they were in a country, which had no healthcare, we had to get them to definitive care.
So, you have to wait. I had another colleague where they had to, we had to often medically evacuate very sick people back to the United States for definitive care, cuz they were in a place that had no resources, no hospitals, no clinic, no American or Western standard of care. And the person refused was in their apartment. So, my colleagues spent three days bartering, negotiating with the person who was very, very psychotic to get them to agree, to come back with an escort family member to get help.
So, we have to be very creative and flexible in this kind of work and professional negotiators who deal with the most difficult cases, need a high degree of flexibility in their work. So, rigid, rigid protocols and guidelines don't always work in difficult cases.
AD : Yeah, again, really. I appreciate that. I think we'll make that a key highlight, right? Getting around the bureaucracy. The other question I wanted to ask you about diplomacy, you started this kind of section talking about just the complexity of these negotiations, 40 plus stakeholders in a room, those dynamics, is that something you can talk to and maybe even put a, a medical, a spin on it, but how do you manage those sort of dynamics when there are 40 different stakeholders, all with various concerns, how do you move that sort of behemoth towards some sort of solution or resolution?
KD : It's very hard because you have different agencies, different offices, different bureaus in a large government bureaucracy, and they all have their role. Plus they had several lawyers in the room. So, you can imagine that. You have to be a good listener and you have to, you have to be attuned to the power dynamics in the room as to who the decision maker is because that's who you really want to influence. And I was able to use my expertise, but importantly, you have to stay in your lane. If you, if you get outside of your area of expertise and stretch your expertise, you're gonna run into problems with that.
So, as the medical person in that room, I was able to sort of talk to the planners, what would we do to medically support a hostage who was being held in a place where there's no embassy nearby and no resources. It was sort of akin to what happened in war zones during the war on terror.
AD : Yeah, we often talk about the four Ps of multi-party sort of negotiations. Those in you're in the room like that and saying, Hey, what is, what's our, what's our purpose for being here? What's the product or output that we want to come out of this? Who are the people that need to be in there, or as you're saying, like being aware of who the decision makers are. And then the final piece is like, what's the process? And I think as you talk to stay in my lane, demonstrating expertise, leveraging that expertise, it really kinda gets to those sorts of concepts.
KD : Yeah, process dynamics are critical. And as a psychiatrist, one of my jobs in the state department and my colleagues that are doing this job now do the same thing. We advise senior leadership in the state department or in the embassies on how people are coping, adapting to these type of crisis situations, whether it's a kidnapping, a hostage situation, a suicide at the embassy, these are rare events, thank God, a war, political violence, a terrorist attack, a natural disaster.
And we try to understand the human processes and psychological processes that are going on. So, you can mitigate the stress and help people find their own natural, what they call resilience to move forward in these processes.
AD : Hey Ken, thank you. All right, let's move into the, kind of the third part you've had such a very fascinating career. You talked about some of your leadership analysis. We talked about some of the key folks you've done that work around that. One of those is Russian president Vladimir Putin and obviously can't talk about Putin today without talking about the invasion of Ukraine. So, do you have an assessment at this point of the kind of invasion in Ukraine Putin's thinking, and I guess the real question that so many people have is there room to negotiate with Putin?
KD : Yeah. Thank you for asking that, I've written and spoken a lot about this and, and I've studied president Putin's career since 2000. When I read the copy of his autobiography, a series of interviews, first person, when it first came out, I later read it in Russian as well. And so he's been a fascinating leader in a very, I think what is known about him is he's, of course he's a very ruthless leader, but he's also very tactical.
He's very strategic and he's highly intelligent and he's highly patient. He was trained by the KGB. He's amazingly resilient, people you can read in that book about his Hardscrabble Childhood, growing up after the war, what was then Leningrad, war-weary, war-traumatized, if you will, parents as an only child in his sort of how he got into the system first as a KGB officer, and then later as a politician, his rise to power from 1991 when he quit the KGB to becoming president in 2000 was nothing short of meteoric.
KD : And as we all know, he's ruled Russia for the last 22 years. I think it's important to point out for your listeners, I haven't seen evidence that Putin has any serious mental health or neurological issues or medical, even medical issues that could cause him difficulty or get in the way of his leadership.
So, I think that there's a lot of speculation about that. And I think one has to be very cautious about speculation, especially when it comes from single source reporting in the intelligence world. The other thing is, although he's a very intelligent, highly intelligent tactical and strategic leader, he made a very serious strategic miscalculation in the invasion of Ukraine. Now, he would probably disagree with that in his mind. He feels he's doing what's best for Russia, but I beg to differ. I think he made a miscalculation.
He may have got bad intelligence, that's very possible or spoonfed intelligence, people told him what he wanted to hear, that the Ukrainians would fold quickly, that Zelenskyy would flee. He underestimated as did we also the courage and heroism of president Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian's desire to fight for their country.
So, moving to your last question is, can you negotiate with Putin? And the answer is yes, but it's very difficult to negotiate with him. You certainly gotta humanize him and you need tactical empathy as Gary Neosner and Chris Voss talk about. You have to put yourself in his shoes, even if you don't agree with him. And what's been very problematic in trying to set up negotiation to come to a ceasefire and begin to think about how does this war end? Name calling is not helpful. So, calling him a thug or a mass murderer or genocidal murderer psychopath, these kind of things aren't helpful.
KD : And I think it's very important to step back from that and understand his culture and his history and where he is coming from. Is it possible? Yes. Is it difficult? Very difficult, but as Professor Graham Allison pointed out in a wonderful op-ed last week, he's the author of 13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis and he teaches at Harvard is we've negotiated with other very difficult leaders in our history Mao, Stalin, Brezhnev and others.
So, can the West negotiate with Vladimir Putin? Yes. And, and part of it is understanding what he wants, which is a sense of being respected on the world stage and of Russia being respected.
AD : Ken, is there also a piece to this about who is kinda leading those negotiations, whether they're back channel negotiations or who's serving as the interlocutor in this case and is, and is there, does the US need to take a step back? Is there somebody else? I mean, we've seen some attempts at this already, other leaders trying to step in and, and try to mediate, have we just not found the right person or right country to lead that mediation yet?
KD : I think there's a lot of back channel going on, which I've heard from all my sources, including people who've met with Putin, but it's very quiet, it's behind the scenes and it may not necessarily involve Americans. Although I think we're very fortunate in having people that know Russia and have met with Putin, such as the former deputy secretary of state and now CIA director, Bill Burns was ambassador to Moscow.
President Biden's fortunate, having ambassador Burns on his team as someone who is one of the supreme diplomatic negotiators of our generation. So, I'm optimistic that with people like that involved, we will find a way. And there are others, the Chinese, surely the Indians, the Israelis and West Europeans that are all trying to put out feelers to Putin. In order for Putin to come to the table, though, it has to be his choice and he has to believe that he has somehow won.
And Gary Neosner and Voss and this is a hostage negotiation in a sense where Ukraine is held hostage by president Putin and Russia, because they have 6,000 nuclear weapons. So, the rules change because he has those nuclear weapons. Words really really matter, this was highlighted in a beautiful op-ed in the late nineties, I think by the state department interpreter for Secretary Of State, Late Madeleine Albright, when she went to North Korea to meet with Kim Jong Il and Tom Kim is his name, he's retired now, but he wrote this piece where he talked about the words that they had used because president Clinton had sent a condolence letter, a personal condolence letter to Kim Jong Il after his father, Kim Il sung passed away in 1993. And the North Koreans were very touched by this and thank them for it. So, in these types of high stakes things, every word matters.
AD : Yeah. Also, the small details, paying attention to the small details there. Thanks Ken.
NM : Now it's kind of when we kind of transition and we like to talk about successes and failures that you may have that you're willing to share for our listeners in the field of negotiations, or at least maybe it's the field of psychology that just happens to have an application to leaders or negotiators. So, would you be willing to share any successes or failures that you've had?
KD : Well, I think I shared in the success, the forensic story is one like that. I think where I've had failures or where, where you read about other negotiators having failures is where you are in a hurry, you may have missed out on details that were important.
Usually it's when we get in a hurry, cuz we want to get negotiators, want to get to that agreement and they want what they want and sometimes waiting is the way to go. Time is usually on the side of the negotiators. So taking more time, slowing it down, what the, the great, the Nobel Laureate and writer, Daniel Connaman talks about thinking fast and thinking slow.
If you think fast, you may not get what you want in negotiation, usually you have to shift your mindset to a more patient and thinking slow mindset. So where, where I've run into trouble as a, as a physician, as a psychiatrist or when I was in the world of diplomacy, trying to persuade somebody to go on a medical evacuation, was if I was pushing too hard. So, I had to learn that over time.
AD : And Ken, what's the role of preparation before you get into that situation? I don't know if we've talked about that, but as you, you talked about, you know, the tendency to get in a hurry, try to get to an agreement. It would seem that if I am prepared and I have some like you in my circle, talking to me, coaching me, advising me the quality of preparation could be that much greater. And is that something you've seen?
KD : Preparation is critical in complex cases, certainly in the leadership stuff I've written about and writing about negotiations with Kim Jong Un or, or Putin or Xi Jinping, you know, attention to detail and preparation is really critical, but that's true in like forensic psychiatry, people tend to over-prepare. You can have all the preparation and the facts at your hand, but if you don't tap into the other soft skills we've talked about, then the over preparation may not help you as much as you hope.
AD : And let me ask you this. So,as you, that's a nice kind of transition to broader application. We've talked, you know, so much in your world has been kind of the international relations field and criminal justice, forensic world.
Are there broader applications of the concepts we're talking about today, as we think about, you know, business, military, perhaps, I guess that that's an obvious one, but business and personal life, do you see, an obvious connection there that people can take away?
KD : Yeah, I think there are, there are a lot of huge applications in business, in the legal worlds, not only forensic, the kind I did criminal forensic, but civil in civil cases, criminal cases, negotiations are happening all the time in the business world, in the government, in the military. And we've talked a lot about that.
So, I think you, you see that a lot. There's a lot of good books on business negotiation that have been written. And I highly recommend professor Michael Wheeler's online course at Harvard Business School. It's an eight week course called Negotiation Mastery. I learned a lot about negotiation complexity. Professor Wheeler is a brilliant teacher, but I learned about myself because you have negotiation simulations. And most of the people, my negotiating partners, were from all over the world. So, we actually became friends, you know, but we were given a simulated problem that was very difficult.
KD : And you learn a lot about yourself and how you deal with ambiguity and issues where there's kind of no right answer. The timing and setting is everything. The late great businessman who founded the international management group, Mark McCormack, who wrote brilliant books about negotiation and his first book, I think What They Don't Teach You At Harvard Business School: Notes From A Street-Smart Executive, it's a classic, I recommend it to your listeners. And there's a famous part there where he is trying to negotiate a deal for Rolex to sponsor Rolex at Wimbledon.
And he was negotiating with the Swiss and everyone knows the Swiss are tough and they're, they have their traditions in their ways. And he was a brilliant negotiator, but he wasn't getting anywhere. So, he invited the CEO of Rolex to sit with him on center court for the final of Wimbledon. And he didn't say anything, he looked around, he just let silence, which is very important in negotiation. McCormack didn't say anything.
He let the CEO take it in. And then the CEO turned to him after several minutes and said, this is Rolex. And he got the deal. So, silence can be very, very important in negotiations as well.
AD : Yeah, that's great. Thank you.
NM : Aram and I are always interested in how negotiations show up in your personal life, away from the workplace, away from, with your clients. How has this showed up for you? Ken.
KD : It's much harder in personal life than it is in, in your work cuz in your work, you can have more emotional distance, which you need. You need enough emotion to be connected, but you have enough distance where it's not personal and people don't push your buttons.
But your best friends and your loved ones and your family, they know they know you intimately well and they know, and your kids, they know how to push every button. So, it's much harder to negotiate even with the knowledge that you get from life experience or a certain type of job or courses and readings, it's much more difficult. And the top negotiators actually have said this, I watched an interview with [. And he said, I'm a really great hostage negotiator, but I have a lot of trouble negotiating with my teenagers.
KD : And a psychiatrist, I used to work with a child psychiatrist in the State Department. I had him see a family for a second opinion where I was really struggling to understand this child. And I'm not a, I saw a lot of kids, but I'm not a trained child psychiatrist. I know a lot, but he was board certified in it. And I remember his last words, what he told the child and the family. And, at the end, the child went back to school and he talked to the parents and he goes, this is really hard. Being a parent is way harder than being a child psychiatrist.
AD : I like that you said that because that's very helpful and encouraging. I have six kids, Ken. So, I struggle every day trying to apply the things that we teach.
KD : And the cultural aspect. I'm a child of immigrants. I grew up with foreigners, so I'm comfortable around foreigners and I'm married to an immigrant. So, I spent most of my life being the fly in the sugar bowl, the odd one out in the room. So, you have to understand different cultures. I've spent thousands of hours with folks where I'm the only white person in the room. So, you have to be comfortable with, with different cultures, comfortable in your own skin.
I will tell you a story as we wrap up, I was in Bangladesh in Dhaka and I forgot that the embassy was closed on Friday cuz that's prayer. So, I had a lot of free time that morning till my flight in the afternoon, back to Delhi. And you know, I wore my jeans, took my pack, my camera and walked around parts of old Dhaka for several miles. The markets, the chicken markets, I was just taking pictures and observing and a crowd appeared, 250 people followed me, Bangladeshis followed me. And they were very curious. I was the only white person that I saw that whole day. And one of them came up to me and said, American? And this was during the height of the war on terror. So, I was kind of like, eh, what do I say? I said, yes, American, Salaam Walekum and then he smiled. He said, oh, you're Muslim.
KD : I said no, I'm Christian, but Salaam Walekum. And he said, Salaam Walekum and smiled. And then the crowd sort of, the ones that were near that heard it smiled. So, it was a unique experience in dealing with a very different culture for me, where I didn't speak, I don't speak Bengali, but I was, I had to form a connection cuz I'm like, what's happening here. And then a policeman came over and raised his ratan, and everyone dispersed.
AD : What a beautiful story.
NM : Absolutely and thanks for sharing. And, and also thanks for joining us today. We're able to dig into a lot of different areas and I really appreciate sharing all the stories. This is a podcast that is all about elevating your influence through purposeful negotiation. So I'm gonna turn it over to Aram here for some final takeaways from today's episode.
KD : And thank you for having me.
AD : Yeah. Ken, I'll say thank you for being here again. We can appreciate just how busy you are, the great work you're doing and for our listeners there, you know, listen to the podcast. There's so much to take away there as I've taken notes, you know, the, some of those soft skills, the curiosity around people, the things Ken was talking about, dealing with ambiguity, cultural awareness, just the skills that persuade folks, the, the skills we need in the room, when there's multiple stakeholders, the skills we need in the room, when we're dealing with the Putins in our life, the difficult people we don't want to deal with, but we need to, we know we have to.
I'm just gonna say the biggest thing and you talked about being in a hurry and the costs that can come and, and getting well prepared. The biggest thing though, that is, was one of the last things you just said, Ken, that I appreciate the most is I think, I think good negotiators need to be comfortable in their own skin.
And that's something that sometimes we hear people talk about the need to put on some sort of theatrical performance and pretend that negotiation is something that, you know, I do, you know, in a different sort of body or something. And I think there's a real cost to that. I think we're better when we negotiate from who we are and how we naturally show up. And so being comfortable in our own skin and your story that you shared there at the end, I think just illustrates that. So, incredibly well, be authentic, be real, connect with people and that's what's gonna allow us to be successful.
NM : So, that is it for us on today's podcast. Definitely. Thank you for checking it out. We very, very much appreciate it. We're very humble. Um, so thank you very much. Um, if you could please rate, review and subscribe to the podcast, so definitely help us out. Definitely help us get this podcast in front of other leaders and other negotiators. So with that, we're gonna see you in the next episode
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