Even hope can be negotiated. Meet Andre Norman. From illiteracy to gang activity, Andre’s childhood prepared him for nothing less than a life of crime and violence. This behavior eventually led him to be sentenced to over 100 years in prison. During his stay in solitary confinement, Andre had an epiphany to turn his life around. He wanted to get an education, so he took it step by step and after over 25 years of hard work and dedication, Andre is now a Harvard graduate and is a motivational speaker that has travelled around the world from the Bahamas to Sweden, talking about his incredible story. Andre is also the founder of the Academy of Hope which is a program that helps reduce prison violence in order to create a safer environment for everyone. Join your host, Christine McKay and her guest Andre Norman on how he negotiated through the prison cells and into helping others. Learn how jail time helped Andre in his ability to negotiate by just reading the room.
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From The Prison Yard To The Podium: Negotiating Hope With Andre Norman
As always, this episode is no exception. I’ve been talking about Andre Norman coming to my show since he agreed to do it because I am very excited to hear more about Andre‘s story. Andre is known to many as the Ambassador of Hope. He has this incredible experience. He started out in a way that’s going to be unsuspecting to you. He decided to build his life this way that nobody thought he could do it. The odds were stacked against him. Yet, he has built this incredible life. I’m being cryptic about it because I want you guys to know his story from his perspective and the negotiations that he had to have with himself and others in order to be able to make it happen and to do the amazing things that he’s doing to help others all over the world.
Andre, thank you so much for being here. I am super excited to have you here.
It’s always a pleasure to hang out and I appreciate the invitation. I couldn’t say no.
Thank you. I thought about reading some of your bio and your story is so powerful that it is better served up with from your voice. Tell us about how you got here.
I grew up in the city of Boston. I went through a horrific childhood, you could call it. I got on a school–to–prison pipeline bus in third grade because I was illiterate in third grade. They put you in a space where they would set you aside and they start shuffling you towards the prison. I went through being poor, hanging out, and hustling. Life was horrible for the most part. I ran into a teacher who took a liking to me, and she started teaching me. She said, “You’re not stupid, Andre. You just learn differently.“ She started teaching me my learning style, and I appreciate her. I could read and write now like the other kids, but she couldn’t fix my poverty situation, no dad situation, and the environment that I lived in and had to walk around every day.
The environment wins. Drug dealing, hustling, got to have nice things, have your own, stand up, and be tough. You got to be tough in the fifth grade because kids pick on you and it’s not all simple. We were fighting from the third grade on. After school, you had to fight. Otherwise, you have nothing. That’s the world that I grew up in. Along the way, it was reinforced to reinforced. My sister’s situation with addiction and my brother’s situation with alcoholism. I can tell you a thousand stories, but you can go to Netflix or Hulu and watch single–mom, six kids and see my life story.If your business is choking the life out of you, then you’re in the wrong business. Click To Tweet
Hundreds of movies out from now. There are thousands of TV docu-series and it‘s great. They talk about social justice in 2021 and how it’s unfair to treat people a certain way. I grew up in a town where it was okay to call me a nigger, throw rocks at my school bus, deny me entry to certain places and pull me over because I was black. I am so happy that we’ve come out of that to a certain extent, but I didn’t grow up in that time. I grew up in a time where it was permissible. My father, my great, great grandfather, who was still alive wasn’t even refused.
It wasn’t even possible for him to be born in the hospital. He had to be born at home with a midwife. Him, my uncle, and aunts were all born at home because blacks weren’t allowed to be born in the hospitals in his day. People think, “That’s slavery many years away.“ No. My father was born at home because of the law. The law said blacks couldn’t be born in the hospitals in Virginia the year he was born. That’s who raised me. He raised me with the understanding of his lifetime. He couldn’t cross certain streets, and no matter how tall or big he got, he’d always be a boy.
You learn these lessons along the way. You ingrain them, you ingest them, and you try to make them make sense while you‘re going down a path of destruction. I found myself in court. I got sentenced to about 100 years in prison. The eighteen-year–old black kid was sent to prison. It’s not a new story. It’s about twenty movies out on that. When I get to the prison, it was the white people who run the place. They’re kind and polite. The lady told me all of the wonderful things. I can get a GED, go to college, and drive a forklift. I was like, “This is great.“ I walked into the housing unit, and I learned the reality. Gangs, violence, rape, murder. It was two different worlds. I got into the gang world because I didn’t want to be raped or murdered. The first six years of my sentence, I participated in gang culture, criminal activity in jail until one day I woke up and I realized that I had become the King of Nowhere that had all the status and people love me, and feared me, or whatever you want to call it. I say I don‘t want to be the King of Nowhere. I want to be somebody.
I came up with a plan. The first thing I thought is I want to be free. Six years in, the first time I ever said, “I want to be free.“ I looked around. I did my market research as business people would say. White, Black, Spanish, Asian, kitchen workers, chess players, basketball players, religious guys, everybody. Everybody goes home. Everybody comes back. I said, “Free doesn’t work as a trick.“ I switched from free to successful. I said, “Successful people don’t come here. If I can become successful, I’ll never come back to jail.” I picked successful then I realized I need to go to college. I picked a school called Harvard University, and that was my plan. Go home, go to Harvard, and be successful. I’m in maximum security prison. I got ten years added to my sentence for two attempted murders. I’m in solitary confinement, I’m the number three gang member in the state. I’m a psychopath. That’s how I came off but I had enough of this life.
We talked about impostor syndrome a lot. Being an imposter, that’s not who I was born, raised, and chose to be. I put on the dressing, clothes, and attitude of this gangster guy. There were no gangsters in my playpen and elementary school, I decided to become a gangster and I made myself that. When I walked away from it, I saw that I had been an imposter for six years. I found a true goal. A true goal is something that doesn’t hurt anybody, it benefits everybody, and it edifies you. If your goal is hurt people, destroy people, and don’t benefit you, it’s not a goal.
That’s my goal. I spent the next eight years working on Andre, and achieving this goal of step one was getting out of prison. It took me eight years of teaching myself to read, law, going to South help groups, fighting my case on appeal, and going to college just to get to step one, then I got out. I spent the next eight years designing programs, helping kids, traveling the world, and doing everything you can think of. I spent the next eight years building myself. In 2016, I got a fellowship at Harvard Law School. I started that journey in 1991. Along the way, I was given a job at London Business School, where I’ve been since 2001.
In 2000, we worked with President George W. Bush. We created an Office of Faith-based for him. I’ve worked around the world with YPO. I’m the highest rate YPO speaker in history. Let somebody beat me in years. I joined EO as a member. I can give you tons of accolades, but never did I forget the day I sat in that cell. I said, “I want to go to Harvard.“ I asked myself this question, “What is inside of me that’s stopping this from happening?“ One of those things was I get contempt. These other things came into play at London Business School, the White House, YPO, and EO. All these things are pouring on top of me and I could have easily got contempt. I said, “Andre, what was your main thing? These are great things, but they’re distractions from your main thing. Don’t stop.“ I did not stop until I walked and got my email, [email protected] I didn’t quit. That, to me, was a 25–year walk but I walked. I’ve done a lot of stuff in between and since, but my thing is contempt mitigated.
That’s an incredible story. You hear that all the time, I’m sure. A lot of the people have heard some of my story, very different from yours, but homeless to Harvard and beyond kind of thing. I also had set that goal to go to Harvard and getting that Harvard.edu email. It’s a thing. It makes me so excited when I can go on LinkedIn, and I see somebody went to Harvard Business School, and it says that they were there for four years, and I’m like, “No, you weren’t.” I was like, “No.“ Along that path, as you’re sitting in solitary confinement, you are re-imagining and redefining who you are. I talk a lot about negotiations. The hardest part of a negotiation is the negotiation we have in between our ears. What were some of the things that you did to manage that negotiation that you had to have with yourself every day?
First, I had to understand that what I was doing wasn’t working. I’ve seen people be successful in business that kills them. They choke the life out of them. If your business is choking the life out of you, it’s the wrong business. I’m in the business of drug dealing and contraband inside a prison, and most people don’t understand the numbers. Let me give you some of the numbers. If you take a prison with 2,000 people, you make 50% of the drug addicts. That’s 1,000 people. A bag of heroin then was $50. If you could sell every addict a bag of heroin, that’s $50,000 a day, $350,000 a week, $1.4 million a month, just in heroine. This isn’t like $20. Let me get a soup, a soda, and a pack of cigarettes. You’re talking about millions of dollars a month being made behind these walls.
I’m the third break–in gang member. In there, I have a lot of market share that I control and influence. It’s never been about what I’m doing. It’s lucrative. The problem is my business was killing me because my business called for me to be in prison, locked in a cell, and inhumane space. I had a great business, but it wasn’t any good for me. I understand that my business was wrong, and I was on the wrong path. Success, bringing money in this instance, wasn’t everything. Once I told myself, “What you’re doing isn’t working. It’s killing you.“ I had to say, “What are you going to do instead?“ My first thought was the wrong thought. I want to be free. Free is not really what I wanted. Free is just in the parking lot. If somebody says, “I want to make money. I want to be free.” What does that mean? It means you’re in the parking lot. The average person sits on that bed for ten years, and they’ll put them in the parking lot. If your freedom takes nothing to get, what is it worth?
That comes down to parents or people give you things. People don’t value anything that’s free. All the training and seminars, if it’s free, you‘re going to blow it off. It‘s the same thing with your freedom. If you have to do nothing to get it, you don’t prepare for it. I got the concept of not going with my first thought but going deeper. I came up with, “I want to be successful.“ I realized where do successful people come from? College. I didn’t pick the biggest. That‘s the only one I knew the name of. I did like anybody determined. I take the first mistake I made. I made up my mind. I went and told all my friends, “I had a vision, goal, and dream.“ They came to me. It didn’t come to them. I went to them, what they heard me saying is, “I’m about to leave you.” “What do you mean?“
Let’s say you’re dating a guy, he’s 5‘8, and he’s 140 lbs. You walk up to him and say, “No. I like 6‘2, Latino guys who are buff.” What he heard you say is, “I’m leaving.“ They‘re like, “I‘m not that.“ I came to my friends, and I told them what I wanted. They realized we’re not part of that dream. They immediately went against it. It’s the same thing with my family. They weren’t part of that dream, so they immediately went against it. When you get a vision for a company, a concept, or thing, don’t go to people who don’t understand it, who have a vested interest in you staying where you are.
I love that because so many times, we make decisions, then we have an epiphany, or we do have these dreams, and we tell everybody in the world about them. One of my mentors and, Brandon Fong, who introduced us, knows Blair Dunkley as well. Blair talks about how people get so stuck in their past. When you have a dream, you’re talking about your future, and that means change and change for somebody who’s stuck in their past is untenable. Our brains are geared towards keeping us breathing and alive.
They’re not only stuck in their past, stuck in their past, but you were part of that. You walk into the landlord or your building and say, “I want a 30,000 sq ft. space.“ He says, “I don’t have that.“ You told him you’re leaving. You‘re his tenant, you told him, “I need something that you can‘t provide,” which means if I’m going to have it, I have to leave you. Your landlords can‘t start making all these provisions, offering new stuff, cutting your rent, and being nice. You’re like, “You go for it, but then you never get your dream and the thing that you said you wanted.”
How did you deal with that?
Once I realized that I was on my own, the best thing I did was tell my friends. When they all laughed at me, it made me do it by myself. I didn’t try to double convince them. When they laughed and said, “It’s not possible.” I got to do this by myself. There’s a lot of people who will give up at that point because their friends disagreed. For me, I got to do it by myself. I started on this journey by myself. If they said yes, I didn’t try to take fifteen guys from maximum–security prisons to Harvard. It wouldn’t happen. I’m glad they said no.
I created a routine. I wrote my goals down. I was clear on my goals and I was clear on the things I needed to fix inside of me. My goals weren’t the problem. I was the problem. I said, “What’s inside of me that‘s stopping this from happening?“ The prison guard is going to be the prison guard. He still might be standing in that same spot from when I was there. He wasn’t my roadblock. The cell that I was in is still a cell. That wasn’t my roadblock. I was my roadblock. There are some things that are permanent and fixtures that have nothing to do with us, but we give them importance and credence and we start making them the issue.
In negotiation, we do that a lot too. We put the emphasis on the wrong things and it leads to suboptimal outcomes as a result because we’re not looking inward enough to question ourselves. We don’t have that clarity that you mentioned. Being very clear on what it is you want and what’s important to you is really important, especially when you hit a point where you need help from other people. You clearly hit a point where you were going through this journey on your own while you were in prison, but that where you needed help from somebody else.
If you’re not stable, you’re going to find unstable people to help. If you’re not happy, you’re going to find other unhappy people to help you. This is the law of attraction. What you are, is what you attract. If I‘m a happy, outgoing, helpful person and try to go up on somebody who’s grumpy, he’s not going to hang out with me. If I’m grumpy and miserable, and I go to a grumpy person, we can be grumpy together. Let’s go. The law of attraction kicks in here. One thing that I learned early in my prison sentence is projection. You have to be clear on what you’re projecting because people are reading. I don’t treat you based on who you are. I treat you based on what you’ve projected. The way you treat me and what you project will determine how I treat you. That’s across the board, no matter who it is. I was in maximum security prison out in Pennsylvania. I got shipped from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania for being in troublemaker.If your freedom takes nothing to get, what is it worth? Click To Tweet
I get to the new place. I’m in a giant dorm block, 200 guys. I get on my bunk at 11:00. I go to bed. 11:20, five guys that off their beds running across the floor and attacked a guy. At first, I thought it was just a regular don’t beat them up, but when they finished beating him up, they raped him. All five of these guys took turns raping and stuff. They went back and jumped in their beds, and I’m like, “This is not good.“ I stayed up the rest of the night. I listened to that guy who got raped stayed up the rest of the night. The next morning, I go to a couple of fellows. I say, “What was that about?“ They said, “That’s what they do here.“ I said, “Why did they pick him?“ They said, “He was weak.“ I said, “How did they know he was weak?” “He projected weakness.“ Million-dollar question. What is projected weakness? It says,” Stand up. It’s the way you respond and carry yourself. It’s not looking away. It’s all the little intangibles that they’re looking for.“
I look into the corner. I try to plot every piece of weakness that I could find. Every day, I mastered not projecting weakness. I didn’t want to end up on that list of five guys running up on me. After you perfect not projecting weakness, you come to understand what is projected strength. I understood life or death, projected weakness, projected strength. I learned it because I come from a world of getting it right or death. Your lone is gone, not your competitive one, not your stock fill five points. If you get this wrong, you’re getting raped by five guys or you’re getting stabbed in the shower. You’re going to be dead laying, dying on the floor. I come from a world of getting it right or death. I had to learn not only projected weakness but projected strength. I had to learn communication skills. I‘ve learned a lot of stuff to stay alive and stand up. When I changed my life around, I started saying, “I don‘t want this thing, I want to go to Harvard.“ I started moving towards that destination. I needed to project strength. I need to project confidence because if I didn’t, people would attack them.
People attack what they don’t know. When I’m projecting such confidence, it repels 80% of the people who want to attack me. Their attackers are weak, they’re coming from a place of insecurity and low esteem. They’re coming at you because they’re insecure, but if you’re projecting such strength, then I’ve not wasted time because they don’t have the position or the leverage to try to knock your dream off or goals.
I want to bring that penny back to the negotiation conversation because that matters so much in one’s ability to get what you want in a negotiation. I talk a lot about the notion of leverage. You use that term as well. In business, leverage is something that you voluntarily acquiesce. You give it up because you aren’t clear on what you want, and you are not standing in your power asking for it. As soon as you start letting that voice in your head go, “This is what I want.“ If I ask for that, they’re not going to like me. They’re going to take their business elsewhere. Everything is going to happen. I can’t ask for that.
There’s a physical change in the body that happens to your point. People’s shoulders slump forward. They shrink down. When you’re standing in your power, because you’re so clear on what it is that you want, you become unmovable. It gives you the power of saying in a business situation, I’m imagining harder to do in the situation you were in. It gives you the ability to say no or yes with definitive authority. When you have that definitive authority, then the world is your oyster because if the answer is no, it’s no because this isn’t the right relationship. “I’m going to go find what I need someplace else.“ Using your landlord example.
On the back end of that, if you say, “This is too much. I can’t ask for that.“ You asked for less than what you need and they give it to you, you’re going to fail. You better off not getting it. If you get X on your track record instead of a W because you ask for 30% less or 50% less, the margins got too tight, and something life happens, now your whole business goes under. I had a contract discussion asking $8.1 million. I submitted my proposal. It was $8.1 million. They said no. I said, “Okay.“ I kept moving. If they didn’t say, “Can you do it for $3.2 million?“ $3.2 million sounds like a lot, but I needed $8.1 million. Over $3.2 million, I could’ve made a showing, but I couldn’t get a win. At the beginning of the race, if the race is when people go out fast then they fade and fall off. I know what it takes to get through this whole thing. “No, I can’t do it for $3.2 million.“ I didn’t even ask $8.1 million to get it done. Yes or no? Cool. If you want to drive from California to Arizona, you need a certain amount of gas. There’s no discussion. They don’t have solar cars yet. What I would say to folks is stand in your power and know your numbers, but don’t be too connected.
I got married in 2004. Me and the wife went on a honeymoon. We go to a Caribbean Island. There’s another door to these hotels, but excursions. The first day, it was horseback riding. I go to the lady who has a horseback riding table. It was like $50 apiece. I beat it out at $10 each. I’m like, “You got no people. I’m the lend it for the day.“ I talked it out at $10. I said, “It‘s better than nothing.” She doesn’t lose. She saves it. The next day was whitewater rafting. I go and negotiate whitewater rafting from $100 down at $25. The next thing was parasailing. I negotiated that. I went on five excursions.
We were there for three weeks, which was two weeks is too long but then came scuba diving. If you’d asked me, what are the three things you want to do when you got to jailbreak, scuba diving would have been number one. For fourteen years, I daydreamed and dreamt about scuba diving. I went to my wife. I said, “Honey, you need to negotiate the scuba diving one. I can’t do it.“ She said, “You‘re the greatest negotiator. You didn’t pay these people pennies on the dollar. You can do it.” I said, “Eva, I can’t do it. I’m too close to it. I want it too much.“
She made me do it. Instead of paying the $80, I bought all the extra gadgets that went with it. She said, “What happened?“ I said, “I told you.“ If you‘re doing mostly attached to something, I got to the table, and I told him to negotiate. She could see in me how much I wanted this. She could see I wasn’t going to walk away. What she said, I wasn’t walking away. She said, “We got no special.” That’s her job. She’s like, “He’s bluffing.“ When I went to the other ones, they knew I could care less about horseback riding. I could care less about parasailing. I never did it. I don’t care. I was not leaving that Island without scuba diving. Not only I buy the full package, I bought the extras that I didn’t need.
I love that story because it’s absolutely accurate across all things in business. When I talk to small business owners in particular who don’t necessarily have a team of people to help them negotiate, I tell them, “You need to have somebody who’s not you in the negotiation,“ whether you have an advisory board you set up that you have to take the deal to have a conversation about or you engage somebody to negotiate on your behalf so that you are separate and a decision–maker. Negotiation is inherently emotional. As soon as we want something from somebody, our emotion is engaged. You can’t get rid of it, but you can control it. It’s the person who controls their emotions at the negotiation table that’s going to be the most effective. The more you want something, like as soon as I hear somebody say, “I’ve got to close this deal.“ That’s not going to end well. This is not going to be an effective negotiation.
When I’m working with my clients, that’s one of the things that I talked to them a lot about. You have to develop the BATNA. What’s your best alternative to a negotiated agreement? What’s your walkaway point? What are your other options? How do you make sure that you keep options open? If this conversation doesn’t work, then you need to know what you’re going to do. If you don’t have that ability to walk away, your negotiation is not going to be effective because you’re going to agree to things that are not in your best interest, just because you’ve convinced yourself that you have to do this deal. That’s the only deal out there.
How many times you’ve been in negotiation and people don’t follow instructions?
A lot of times.
I do a lot of crisis management, crisis intervention, and people with substance abuse problems. If you have a loved one who’s strung out on drugs or drinking too much, I’m the guy that comes in and pulls them off the ledge. If I get a call, I fly out, I find your loved one or your relative, I’d tell them to go to treatment, and I talked to them the next stages. I negotiate them to save their lives. I always talk to family members first. I got two instructions. They never changed. One, during the meeting, don’t answer questions for them. When I asked him a question, you cannot answer. I don’t care if there’s a twenty-minute pause. Leave it alone. I need to build a relationship with them, not you. If you keep answering, they will default to you anytime a hard question comes up. The second thing is, don’t make any suggestions on what they or I should say. Tell him this, tell him that, ask him this. Don’t make any suggestions and don’t answer further. Participate in the conversation, share, grow happy, but you can’t do these two things because it’s going to impede me from getting them to treatment.
The mother, sister, husband, and dad are so mostly connected. I ask the child a question and they might pause a little bit. The dad jumps in and answers it. I kick him under the table. “Stop it.“ What you’ve done is convinced the child that they don’t need to answer any questions. Dad answers the questions. When it’s come the time to, “Do you want to go to treatment?“ They’re going to say no because they have no connectivity to what I’ve been pushing. Following instructions is super important. I do a little crisis management around substance abuse stuff. I’ve got so many people who are so emotionally attached to the outcome that they can’t follow basic instructions. Not being in the room is a lot better.
I imagine doing it with my own kids and it’s hard, especially when it’s a loved one. That’s a really hard thing. For people who have built a business, they’re saying it’s like having a child. I care about the outcome. I birthed this business. It becomes hard to not says and interject. You made a comment that I want to make sure that we hit on it. It doesn’t matter if the pause is twenty minutes long. I talk about listening as a full–body activity. It doesn’t happen with just your ears. If somebody walks a room and they’re wearing a certain cologne or perfume, that communicates something. That’s a piece of information. If somebody‘s facial expressions are non-verbal, that’s all information. Listening is a full essential experience.
The thing is that we ask questions. I do an exercise where I get a group together. One person asks a question, and the person who asks can’t say anything. I give different people in the group at a different times that they can start to speak. Inevitably, by the time the last person is getting ready to speak, which can be as short as 1 minute but as long as 5 minutes, the person who’s asking is leaning and practically halfway across the table. Their mouth has started to move, but they’re not saying a word because they know they’re not supposed to. That anxiety that they create about needing to fill that empty space, that air, is palpable for everybody. Inevitably, the last person that speaks has some of the most valuable insights because they’ve been listening to what everyone else has said. If the person who asks the question interjects too soon, they lose the benefit of that insight which could have been a groundbreaking observation.
When I go to meetings, if it’s an hour-long meeting, I won’t speak for the first 40 minutes. I just sit there. Anybody can ask the basic question. How are you feeling today? What’s 2 plus 2? What are we here? I don’t even say any of those questions because when you’re in a meeting, your voice is going to be used so long before they tone that. If you answered ten meaningless questions, when you answered that one serious question, it runs into the other ten. He answered ten questions. If I only answered two, and they’re both significant, and I will be remembered for the two. If I answer eight minimal questions and two serious ones, they all blend together and my voice is dissipated. I go in and I’ll sit for 40 minutes. I don’t care how important it seems. We got out. Nothing really kicks off for the last twenty minutes.
It’s true. The best part of any meeting is the last few minutes of the meeting. That’s when a lot of decisions are made.People don't treat you based on who you are, they treat you based on your projection. Click To Tweet
I come in at minute 40, people were like, “Give him space. We haven’t heard from him yet.“ If I spoke ten times, they‘re like, “I wish he would shut up.“
When I’m on negotiating meetings or calls, my first two meetings, I speak very little. I’m trying to observe how all the different people interact with each other. If I’m negotiating with a team or my counterpart has a team, I want to see how their team is interacting. Who likes who? Who’s rolling their eyes when somebody speaks? What’s the level of respect amongst that team? I want to observe how my team is interacting with the counterpart group. I’ll do that for the first couple of meetings before I say much of anything. I always like it when I’m on the phone and I’m in negotiation. My counterpart is like, “Are you still there?“
My first job when I came home, I worked for a nonprofit. Once my boss realized my reading skills, he called it, and he would take me to a meeting. It might be me, him, and other person, maybe with eight people, and I will sit there at the end of the table and say nothing. At the end of the meeting, when it was all said and done, and everybody left, he’d be like, “Andre, tell me who’s who? What’s what?“ I can tell you who’s the real leader, who’s a breaking point, who’s connected, who’s connected to who, who backs up who, who doesn‘t support who, this is what he’s not going to give on, and this is what she‘ll give. I grew up in prison. If they walk into a prison and you stand there, you can look around and 300 guys around you. You got seconds to read body language, read intentions, read variables, possibilities, process it all, and come out with real output. Again, get it right or die.
He’s taking these meetings with 7 or 8 people with nothing, not to hide their emotions, thoughts, or interactions with people. I’m dealing with professional people who are holding high–emotion criminals. You put me in a room for business people. I used to sit there. They’re having a regular conversation, negotiate, and bring up different points. As soon as the meeting was over, I gave him a full breakdown of every person, where they are, where they stand, how to break, and get through them. We did that for years.
In situations where you’re not in a life and death situation like you were in prison, in a refugee camp, or any of these situations like that, we’re not trained to keep our emotions at bay. Even when we say we’re shoving our emotions, we‘re not. One of my favorite psychologists is Dr. Paul Ekman. There’s a TV show about him and his work called Lie to Me. It’s all about micro-expressions. He did a lot of research in the ‘60s about how the human face contorts into certain expressions. Universally, every human does it in microseconds, they don’t last for long, but you cannot control them. They are involuntary. Whether you have contempt for somebody or you are happy, I can’t remember all the eight. It’s off the top of my head right now. Understanding micro–expressions because we can’t hide our emotions and basic level of emotion. It‘s super powerful being able to read the room and understand who’s doing what and we do it all the time.
I negotiated for my first boss, over a couple of years, $25 million. His negotiation was a better contract for me around that $25 million. I trusted him blindly. I never negotiated anything, but I negotiated for him. Everything I did for him, I never did with him. I just gave him a pass and never even said, “What’s his intent with me?“ He gave me a job, I think he‘s great. I kept running. I never looked over my shoulder. Four years and $25 million, I walked out of there with next to nothing because I was an employee, not a partner. My house, car, phone, and credit cards, everything was attached to the business, so when he pulled the plug, I ended up with nothing. I was like, “That was a good experience.”
What were some of the things you learned from that experience and how have you applied them?
Before I negotiate for you, make sure I‘m taken care of before I helped you take the other like, “Let’s go get this thing and I’ll take care of you.“ No, rode that bus. What are you selling or writing for me, so when I do this thing for you, it doesn’t change later because so often, when I need you to help to get a $100 million or to get ten men to get a man, I’m going to give you half before I get it? Once I got him, “Do I need to give you a half?“ That’s a lot. People negotiate in good faith, and they’ll give you astronomical numbers when they don’t have the thing, but once they physically have it and they have to release it, it is different. If you’re asked to release $500,000, $5 million, or 30%, it’s easy to agree to it. It’s so much harder ask and release it.
I did an episode with Kevin Thompson. I don’t know if you know Kevin. He was part of the Genius Network as well. He’s built a $16 million business on handshakes. He doesn’t do contracts. We did an episode which is about what that means when you do business on good faith. A lot of businesses do it, but there’s a big risk that goes with it. Memories are not great. People‘s memories are not good.
You can do that, but you have to be in a certain space and place, and you’re dealing with certain folks. You can’t be doing with startups because good intentions don’t mean anything if the numbers aren‘t there. He vets his people. He doesn’t do handshakes with everybody?
No, he totally vets his people. He has a partner who helps vet with him. It’s a team effort.
To do a handshake deal, does the deal make sense? Do people make sense? Can they do this without me? I have a company I run. It’s a seven–figure business. You can’t do it without Andre. I’m not supposed to notice that the company is trying to find a way to replace Andre because the price of the program drops dramatically if Andre is not getting paid. It’s 95% cheaper in theory. We give it to Andre. We can hire our own people to do it. In–house is cheaper but they kept looking and saying, “We can’t find a way to replace him.“ I’m mindful not to give them the tools to replace me. I can do a handshake deal but you can’t replace me.
That goes to knowing your value. When we understand the value that we bring, that makes that conversation a lot different. If somebody doesn’t know their value and they go, “We’re going to replace him.“ How do you make sure that you position yourself? You don’t because you don’t know your value.
I can do a handshake deal day at a week because you can‘t. Tiger Woods is not a replaceable commodity. When you have a commodity that’s not replaceable, you’re going to go shaped differently versus you have every product that they can replicate. You have to understand what you’re selling and who’s buying because everybody always wants cheaper. I don’t care. If I’m paying you $100, I would love to pay you $50. You might be worth $100 but you told me $50, I wouldn’t cry about it. Everybody is always looking to say, “How can I save money? How can I minimize?”
I had a friend who helped build a company. He built this company. They were doing nothing. A couple of hundred thousand but he build them like $5 million or $10 million a year. He was crushing it. Then they maxed out. Whatever they maxed out at, that was their number. They’re not getting any bigger than this. They start looking, “How can we increase revenue?“ Fire people. That’s when they fired the guy that built it for him. You know why? He can’t build any bigger so they fired him. You didn’t have the contract. He’s freaking, “I built it. You can’t do it without me.“ Since you can’t get past $10 million, we don’t need you no more. We’re stuck at this number. This is our number. You’ve been here for 6, 7 years at this number. What we’re paying you was a loss. They fired him. No one told him, “You helped us get here.“ None of that.
Sometimes, we can take things to a certain level and we’re not the right person to take it to the next level. I find that in negotiation, too. There are times like your scuba diving situation where I’m not the right person to do that negotiation. It could be a personality thing, respect thing, or anything. Knowing when you’re not the right person to meet the need of that organization or client, it’s an effective negotiating because if you clear yourself from the deck, knowing that you’re not the right person to deliver, then you bring somebody else in. You’ve added more value and they’ll always come back to you in that situation.
I understand the things that I do that other people can’t do. I don’t drag people through the mud. It’s like, “If you want to try, I’ll help you.”
Tell us about the Academy of Hope.
I had a wonderful life. I climbed up the ladder, I pulled myself out of the cement, not out of the mud, of the penitentiary. I made it to Harvard, London Business School, White House, YPO and EO, and I’m flying around the world. I got a great life. My phone would ring, I get a speech call, I’m great. I fly to that city, I speak maybe an hour, they write me a check, which has already been positive before I get on a plane, I have a great dinner with some great people, meet some new friends, and I leave. The next time someone would call me, they arrange it, and I’d fly to that city. I might even do a couple of volunteer days, go to the school, to the program, and it was great.
I couldn’t ask any better. I mixed my volunteering with my company. If you hired me for a speech, I do want it to monetary days in your city, high schools, prisons, homeless shelters, and I will do that. I’ll go around the world. Saudi Arabia, Australia, Sweden, and all across the United States. A couple of days volunteer, I did a big money speech, and I’m out of it. My life was so good. A lady came up to me at a conference and said, “We had a riot in South Carolina. 7 people were murdered and 30 people were wounded. Will you come help us?“ I said, “I’m busy.“ I’m booked for speeches for the rest of the year because people book a year in advance once you start doing real speeches. “I’m booked for the next year. It’s the beginning of August. I’m going on vacation and I can start to work for us in September.” She said, “No, we need you. People are dying.“ I canceled my vacation. I flew to South Carolina. The entire prison system had been locked down for five months.Listening doesn't happen with just your ears, it's a full body activity. Click To Tweet
I went into the prison where they had 7 deaths and 30 wounded. I asked them to open all the doors. They said, “Dre, we can’t open all the doors. They’re going to kill each other.“ I signed a waiver. They opened all the doors. I talked to them about expectations, how they conducted themselves, how they were carrying themselves, the greatness is waiting for them, and what they need to do to reach that greatness. Over six days, I went to ten prisons and spoke to 8,000 men. At that time, there was not one fight, not one assault. The director of the system started getting flooded with letters from the men saying, “We want him to come back.“ I spoke at two female prisons. Women were writing, “We want him to come back.“
The director said, “Will you start a program?“ I came back. I did an assessment there. The first time was a crisis. The second time was an assessment of the crisis. I determined that of the 19,000 prisons that they were holding, maybe 300 were problematic. I’m going to create a program for the 300. If I can turn them around, you got the other 19,000. We put together a unit and we got our dorm. I brought in the top gang leaders in the State of South Carolina into one unit. Top influencers, top bosses, and top leaders of everything.
I brought them into one unit. I put a team together, then we went in. Over two years, we went from seven dead people to one fistfight. No assaults, no stabbings, no weapons. One of our graduates was in another place. The officer got attacked by an inmate. Our guy, who was a graduate, saves a little tenant’s life and gets stabbed six times in the process. When I asked him, “Why did you do this?“ He said, “It was the right thing to do.“ The Academy of Hope has gone from seven dead to at least one life saved, and nobody was wounded and injured in the last two years.
There’s so much that could do for the rest of the prison system.
It is for societies. I took the stuff that I learned in prison, corporate, academia, and nonprofit work. I come in after doing an assessment of these 19,000 people. I have to come up with a system and a plan for these 19,000 people then I had to negotiate. I got to convince these 300 people that what I’m suggesting is a good thing. “I need you to risk your life for God.” “Huh? I’m a gang member. What are you talking about?” “I need you to risk your life for anybody you see that‘s being done wrong.“ That’s what I had to set. I need to set it to gang leaders, bosses, and hitmen that they need to sacrifice their own lives for other people. I got it done, I negotiate it, we won, and we‘re doing it.
They proved that the concept was what we said it would be. A man would give his life for another. Even though years ago, he’d been deemed as an enemy. Reading people, knowing people, encouraging people, knowing what to say, what to offer, and what not to offer, you can offer the wrong thing. That man’s motivation wasn’t money. That man’s motivation was to be seen as human. That was the biggest motivation. I remember when my son was first born, I thought when he was 9 or 10 years old, I had to give him the beating of a lifetime and tell them the dad is in charge. A friend of mine told me, discipline is the greatest tool you have over your son. You don’t have to beat him, tell him you‘re disciplining, and this whole world will fall in. I learned to negotiate with my son not to physicality but to emotional wellness.
Knowing the right thing and how to deploy it is what we’re doing in South Carolina. We’re about to go to three other States and help them fix their system because these people are getting out of jail. 85% to 90% of people in prison come home. You do not want to be sitting on a bus next to somebody who has that murderous spirit. If something happened to you and he’s strong enough to save you, he’s like, “That’s not my problem.“ If somebody does something, you usually say, “That’s not my problem.“ There are a lot of people attacking the Asian folks in this country, which is horrible, and nobody is standing up for them. My guys would stand up. If you got a criminal that will stand up for a CEO, they’re definitely stand up for Asian–Americans. Hands down, no question. They bend right from wrong. There’s no bottom. There’s no border.
How can people support you? What can we do to help you with that mission?
You gave me two choices. There are always giving money. Money is great. We buy books. All the Genius Network members donate books in their training. Keith Cunningham, Ben Hardy, Dan Sullivan, Cameron Herold, John Rule, Michael Bernoff, Joe Polish. I’ll go down the list. They all give books. I have all the Genius Network books authors in the unit. Think about this. Prisons get the worst education. They get the cheapest and the worst books and story so I bring them stuff people paying $25,000 to $100,000 a year to study from. I’m bringing those books to a population that’s going to be life-changing.
They’re getting the real information. If you’re a top–flight consultant, trainer, or author, we need your stuff and we need you. We’ve had Genius members come to fly and come in and talk to the people. They do a one-day mastermind with my guys, and it changes everything. If I had one request, the first request would be, you come in person to the prison. Come in and sit down. My son has been in and my girlfriend has been in. Everybody goes in. It’s not like I have five females on my staff to go in every day. It’s completely safe.
I would love for you to come in. Whoever you are, come in in person. It would be the number one ideal thing. The second ideal thing, you could send a donation that could go towards buying books, buying stuff in a closet. We have some guys that don’t have. We buy soap and toiletries. We do that. You can send books and trainings and say, “Andre, I’m going to give you 100 copies of my book. I’m going to give you twenty copies of my training.” We have virtual trainings where you can come online. We have a lady from Sweden called me. She does a letter campaign. She does Emotional Wellness to writing letters. She’s going to do a one-month training. Four Tuesdays in May, she’s going to train my guys in emotional wellness. She‘s like, “You don’t have to come in Sweden. I can do four Tuesday’s training. We’ll set up virtually and back.”
Sign me up. I would be honored to be part of that.
You‘re all in.
I definitely am in. Andre, it has been amazing to have this conversation with you. I know people can find you at AndreNorman.com. Are there any other links that people can find you out?
I’m on Instagram @AndreNorman. I’m on Facebook, @AndreNorman. Our website is AndreNorman.com, or they can call you. If somebody has a problem, that’s not an email scenario. They got a real problem, a loved one in jeopardy, or something like that. They call you. We can get on the phone. We can help them out. If they get connected to you, we’re going to help. That’s first and foremost. I don’t care how great your business is doing, how your kids, marriage, brothers, sisters, and parents are doing.
It’s my biggest thing that I‘ve done in my life. This is what I do. I realize one day that I’m going to die. They’re going to put a tombstone with my name on it. It’s going to say Andre Norman, 1967 and 3050, so I’m going to be around for a while. The first thing it’s going to say is Harvard fellow because I did that. The second thing is going to say, “Honorable Son.“ It’s going to say honorable son because I went to my dad’s hometown in Virginia, where he had to leave because it was Jim Crow South. I went in there. I did $300,000 to $400,000 worth of work. At the end of the week, we sat at a table. I said, “It’s time to pay up.“ I called my father on speakerphone. The first person said, “Hi, I’m the Mayor of Petersburg, Virginia, and I want to thank you for your son.“ The second person. “I’m the police chief school’s superintendent, fire marshal, sheriff.“ They all went around the room, and they thank my father for me coming to Pittsburgh. They sent him a plaque. He’s born and raised there. He loved that place. He had to leave because it was hard to live there as Blacks in the ‘40s, but he loved that place.
He told me all the stories about it, and I don’t want to hear any of it. I went to his hometown, and I made his name good again. I gave him a good feeling about his hometown. I did that. For my mom, every mother, you included, you have one thing. Are my kids going to be okay when I leave? That’s the ultimate question. I went to my mom, and I said, “Mom, I’ve made enough. I’ve done enough. Then you go, I lookout for the rest of my brothers and sisters. There will be no homelessness in our family. There’ll be no hunger in our family. There might be some disappointment and disagreement, but ain’t nobody going to be hungry or homeless.“ I was able to tell my mother that I can take care of her number one concern.
Honorable son for those two reasons. One for dad, one for mom. I ask people, what is going on in your tombstone? What is your intent? What are you putting on there? I’m working on mass incarceration. I ended mass incarceration on my tombstone. I’m working on social connectivity. How do White, Black, Spanish, Asian, Jews, all of us get together? One at a time. I got my fellowship. I’m listed as an honorable son. I’m working on mass incarceration. I’m getting the social justice, social interaction, or social equality, whatever you want to call it. I asked the people what are they going to put on their tomb? It won’t have to be a long sentence, Harvard fellow, honorable son, ended mass incarceration, and human justice. I’m going for it. That’s how I lived my life. I negotiate my life based on my final chapter.
You always needed to know where your exit, what’s your exit strategy, what do you want it to look like when you exit.
Do you want all your kids sitting around determining what’s going on mom‘s tombstone?
She was funny. She was a great mom. Everybody‘s tombstone. Great dad, loving husband. I’m past that.
One of my other guests, Meghan Gardner, made a comment that, “On our tombstones, we have the year we’re born, the year we die, and the majority of our life is represented by the dash in the middle.” What do you want to define that dash?
It‘s not going to be, Loving dad, loving father. My son will be fine. Harvard fellow, an honorable son, mass incarceration, human connection, I’m going for it. That‘s my life. Everything about life is tinge against that. Does this get me to where I want to be? If it doesn’t, I say no.
You’ve talked about this without labeling it, but you have very patient capital. You make an investment in whatever and you’re working the whole time to make it happen. You’re taking action, but you’re patient in it. You invest knowing that the investment may take time.
It’s going to take time. It took you nine months to get out of the womb, so nothing is going to happen. My lasagna doesn’t take nine months.
Mine take a number of days because I cook my sauce for two and a half days.
I’m a chef. I got a corner into green jail.
Andre, thank you so much for being here. It’s been an absolute honor chatting with you. I have learned a lot from you. I think our audience has learned a lot from you as well. I really appreciate you. I appreciate the work that you’re doing to end mass incarceration. There’s a personal connection for that for me. I appreciate that. To the audience, thank you so much for tuning into another episode of In The Venn Zone. Remember that negotiation is nothing more than a conversation about a relationship, and you cannot win a relationship, but you can get more value out of it. We will see you next time on our next episode of In The Venn Zone. Have a great day and happy negotiating, everybody. Thank you, Andre.
- Andre Norman
- Dr. Paul Ekman
- Kevin Thompson – Past episode
- Genius Network
- @AndreNorman – Instagram
- @AndreNorman – Facebook
- Meghan Gardner – Past episode
About Andre Norman
From illiteracy to gang activity, Andre’s childhood prepared him for nothing less than a life of crime and violence. This behavior eventually led Andre to be sentenced to over 100 years in prison. As a natural-born leader, he quickly rose to the top of the prison gang system where he managed gang activities from within the confines of a maximum-security prison. During his two-year stay in solitary confinement, Andre had an “epiphany” and he made the decision to turn his life around.
Today, Andre is known to many as “The Ambassador Of Hope.” Andre’s experience and expertise is what empowers him to help people turn their situation around. Andre travels around the world to serve as a mentor and listening ear for so many in need.
He has made an impact working in the countries of Bahamas, Guatemala, Honduras, Liberia, Sweden, and Trinidad. Inclusion has been at the core of his solution-based efforts.
Andre’s work was instrumental in bringing an end to the protests in Ferguson, Missouri—work that earned him a fellowship at Harvard University. In addition, Andre utilizes his unique understanding of everyone from corporate executives to prison inmates to help them find their purpose and turn their lives around. He is a highly sought-after motivational speaker and serves as a consultant for executive groups, prison systems, and nonprofit organizations.