Successful Negotiations in Military Operations

Dr. Tim Kirk discusses an instance of a successful cross-cultural negotiation.
Video Transcript

Early on in my experience I had a supervisor who didn't think very highly of language or culture, in fact he spoke openly derogatorily of people who spoke the language and sought to impede that type of stuff. This guy was the classic bad example of what it is we're talking about here. And he would complain every day about how he'd been after this deputy minister of defense to sign this memo, and he, he'd been at it for months,  trying to get this guy to sign this memo, and all it was was a memorandum of agreement that would allow us to supply the army with the equipment that they needed to develop their soldiers, and he couldn't understand why this guy was so stupid and not signed this memo and not let us do this thing.

And so he was beating his head against the wall and the minister just refused to either see him, or when he did see him he refused to sign the memo, and so finally the guy asked me to come with him to his engagement. And when I came as I walked in the outer office I recognized immediately that all the people working there were of a certain ethnicity, and I knew where that ethnicity was from in Afghanistan, so I kind of walked up to him and said in their language, I said excuse me, are you all from that place? They all went yeah, we're all from there. I said thank God, I'm from there too, and they all laughed because they look very different from me, I look very different from them, but the fact that I would, you know, portend to be from the place that they're from, or even understand that that place really existed, made a huge impression on them. They thought it was hilarious. So they laughed and laughed and laughed and they asked me, no really, where are you from, and I talked about cities and villages in that place that they were clearly from, and they just thought that I knew anything about their hometown was just the coolest thing ever. So they go running inside the minister's office, he's also from that place, and they told him there's a guy here who says he's from our hometown, and he said bring him in. So they come out. My boss is left out of the engagement, and I'm brought in, and as I walk in, the minister sees I'm in uniform, I'm clearly from America. He starts laughing and he says, again in the language, I hear you're from our hometown. I said, that's right, I'm so I'm so lucky, you know, thanks to God that I've come in here and seen all these people from my hometown, this is wonderful, I feel so honored and special. And they're laughing and they think it's so funny.

He takes a chair and sets it right next to him and says sit down, now tell me where are you really from, what, how is it you speak my language, you know. We get into this 20-minute conversation about just small talk, where I'm from, what I'm doing, and he just he is so entertained by this, you know, pretense that I've kind of put forward. And finally one of the guys walks in and says minister, you know, the head guy's out here wondering when he's going to get in here to see, and he says okay fine, bring him in. He says to me, you sit right here and you know, we're going to continue talking, and so the guy, my boss, and his other guys walk in and they sit down and he's ignoring, the minister's ignoring them but talking with me and saying this is great, have you ever been to this place? And I said no I've never been there, I've seen pictures, but you must be my guest and come out to this place and I'll throw on a banquet and we will, you know, dine together and look at the scenery and so forth. And I'm like this would be great honor, we're laughing, and finally he turns to my boss and says what is it you want. And he says, Minister I brought this memo, again I really need you to sign it, and he says bring it here, and he hands in the memo, and then he hands the memo to me and he says what do you think my brother, what should I do with this? And so, I've seen it, so I pretend to read it and I look at him and I say sir, I was stationed with the 201st ANA core. Those men are my brothers there and I know that if you sign this memo it will give them the things they need to make Afghanistan strong and to fight. I think it would be a good thing for you to sign that memo. And he goes very good, now when can you come visit, you know, we'll get together and so forth.