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We usually ask for things, hoping to get a “yes” and be done with it. But leadership communications coach Dia Bondi says, ask to get a no, like how an auctioneer does. The auctioneer keeps asking until the answer is no, which is where the limit is.
Dia explores examples from her life to keep pushing it until there’s no opportunity left on the table. So, whether you’re in your next salary negotiation or trying to go backstage when your favorite band is playing, ask like an auctioneer and get more than what you think you can get.
What we learned from this episode
It’s very easy to go from congratulating somebody for negotiating on their own behalf in their career to being patronizing about it.
There’s an opportunity for you to do something that maybe nobody else sees and doesn’t require sacrificing someone else in order to get it.
What you can do right now
When you’re facing blowback for being a tough negotiator, don’t apologize for it. Flip that into a source of power.
“What we don’t do as auctioneers is ask to get a yes. We ask to get a no.”
“Just because you asked doesn’t mean you’re entitled to get.”
“Never have I had anybody asked for a raise that doesn’t really deserve it.”
Today, our guest is Dia Bondi. She’s a leadership communications coach, speaker, and creator of Ask Like an Auctioneer. This episode is called Work Minus Waiting For It. Hi, Dia. How are you today?
Hi, I’m good. I’m good. I’m so glad to be here with you and your listeners today.
We’re very excited to have you on. We’re talking a lot about asking on the show. So, I want you to give just a little bit of background of how you came into this field. And specifically we’re going to talk about this Ask Like an Auctioneer thing.
Yeah, I mean, I don’t know that asking is a field so much as it is just a place that I really have my attention right now in my 20 years of communications coaching.
Like, what industry are you in? I’m in the asking industry.
Yeah. People always ask me that. And I have a friend of mine who I asked last year, actually, we were at dinner. I said, “What business do you think I am?” And he said, “You’re in the excellence business, Dia.” And I was like, “Excellent.” So, I’m applying that now to this context. So, yeah, I mean, in 20 years doing leadership communications, which the first 10 years was really dedicated to the classic public speaking training in organizations in packaged foods and also in technology. The last 10 years is really focused on working with people who are VP level and above that have really high stakes communications moments. And across the board, every time we sit down to build a 5-minute story for a stage or a 50-minute story for a stage, the question is always what do you want? And the answer that I often get is what can I get? And what that ends up doing, and I didn’t really see this until I went as just an adventure, I went to auctioneering school in my 40s as part of my bucket list, and now I do nonprofit, I do fundraising auctioneering for women-led nonprofits and nonprofits that benefit women and girls just as a hobby gig. But one night I was looking back at this response that I get all the time from my coaching clients around what can I get and looking at the last year I’d spent on stage with a mic in my hand and a nice dress asking people for money, either through a direct pledge or selling live auctioning an item.
What we don’t do as auctioneers is ask to get a yes. We ask to get a no. We actually intentionally push on what we think someone will or won’t either donate or pay for a particular item we might be live auctioning and we know when we get that no that we’ve left no money on the table, no opportunity on the table. So, as I was falling asleep one night, I was thinking it’d be so wonderful if most the professionals that I work with, and specifically because it’s the area I care about, women that I work with had an opportunity to stand on stage and just in very transactional, very external way, push up against what they think is possible in a negotiation. Also, because auctioneering is very hyper condensed negotiating. It happens in two minutes and there’s not time to hand wring and second guess ourselves. I just have to ask. If you’re in at 5,000, would you be in at 7,000? Until I get a no. So, I was falling asleep that night thinking wouldn’t it be so cool if women had an opportunity to stand on stage and just have this transactional conversation with the room to see what they can actually get, to end up getting more than they think that they can get? And wouldn’t it be awesome if they all had an opportunity to ask like an auctioneer? And I went, okay.
And I whispered it to a few colleagues and coaches. I had an opportunity to stand in front of a room of women at a meetup here in Silicon Valley and say, “Hey, I’m going to share some weird ideas about how we could borrow from the world of auctioneering to help us ask for more in our careers and you tell me if you think it’s garbage or not.” And turned out it was wholeheartedly not garbage. And so, last this year I launched this project, Ask Like an Auctioneer, which is aimed at helping a million women and underrepresented folks ask for more and get it in their careers. And yes, in the area specifically around financial negotiations, but more about how do you think about asking for what you need in your career to try to accelerate and reach your goals as fast as you possibly can?
So, give us another example of an area outside of salary where you need to do this asking.
Well, there’s a million ways. I mean, half the conversations that I have with folks are about how do I make the kinds of asks that bring sponsorship in my organization toward me as a high potential high talent manager aspiring to be a leader? How do I think about approaching, maybe I’m an entrepreneur, and how do I think about not just asking for investment in my business, but how do I think about going to potential partners that might feel out of reach for me now or it feels like a bigger, more courageous ask than what feels easy or “acceptable” at this stage of my business? How do we use asking to find the mentors that we need to help teach us what we need to know in order to step into the bigger and better version of ourselves? How do we use asking yes in financial negotiations? How do you use asking to lobby for yourself to get training and development dollars as you think about your professional development in your workplace? I mean, I could go on.
So, I want to jump into what you said about you’re asking to get a no. You’re trying to figure out where’s that limit that’s there. I feel like probably the pushback, I’m guessing from especially the women that you’re interacting with, is that we’ve been taught or we’ve conditioned women or most people to think that if you ask for too much, you’re kind of being a jerk. You’re showing off too much or you’re being rude. So, what’s that emotional disconnect that’s happening?
So, here’s my answer to that. It’s very interesting you bring that up because the first meetup I mentioned where I beta tested this with 65 women in a room, somebody raised her hand in the back and she asked that very question. She said, “So, I love all this. I’m going into a few negotiations coming up. I’m looking for a new role. This is so energizing to me. But here’s what I’m afraid of. If I ask for too much in a salary negotiation, or if I ask for too much, maybe I want to lead a project and not be second fiddle on a project. Maybe I want to raise my hand and say I want to actually be the communications point person for this project in my organization, to raise my visibility, have my first chance to talk at my all hands. I want to ask for something more than what I’m used to asking for. I don’t want to be perceived as bossy, as a jerk, as selfish, as greedy, as…” She just listed all the things. And honestly standing in front of the room at that moment, I had a choice. I was going to say, “Here are the nine things you can do to avoid being perceived that way.” Or we can just as women decide that we’re done twisting ourselves into a pretzel to avoid being perceived as X, Y, or Z. Because if we focus, what I see, and because I’ve worked so much with people on stage, it’s really hard if you spend all our time figuring out what not to be to figure out what we actually are.
So, whether that’s a great answer or not, it’s the answer I want to bring into the conversation with everyone I talk to around this because we can’t carve ourselves down, shave it off just a little bit, dim our light just enough to try to manage everyone’s perceptions of us all the time. Now, can I add something to that? Which is last season I was giving my signature workshop, Your Most Powerful Ask, live, at a large technology company and we’ve gotten to a part of that workshop is doing live coaching in the room with people around upcoming crucial asks they have in their careers. And it ends up that people bring other questions. They do peer coaching. It’s a wonderful conversation. And one woman said, “How do I deal…?” Because this is the backside of this question. “How do I deal with the blowback?” And I said, “What do you mean? What kind of blowback?” She said, “Well, for this job that I have here, I negotiated really hard for myself. And I got accepted in the role. I got the money that I wanted. And I was really proud of myself. But when I showed up, everybody knew it. And I started to get hammered for it. Folks were saying to me, “Oh, we really heard you are a tough negotiator there.” Or, “Wow, you really drive a hard bargain.”
And she was feeling like she shouldn’t have or that she was being punished for it. Whether their intention was to do that or not, she was feeling like, “What do I do with that?” And my answer is to not apologize for it but to actually flip that into a source of power. So, I offered to her, “What would it be for you to say…” she, by the way, worked in legal, in contract negotiations. And so, I said, “How about we flip that over and say, “Thank you so much. I am pretty good at negotiating when I need to. And if you need me to help with that with difficult upcoming contracts, you can tap me as a resource. Happy to share with you how I do that.” So, we have to stop making each other or making each other feel bad or feel bad about something that we do that is powerful.
Yeah. Cool. As a man, myself, and for other men listening in, what are some things that we can do or we can stop doing that are exacerbating this problem? Any tips you can give us or things we can avoid saying or say to help women to be more willing to make those asks?
I love this question. Couple things. One is it’s very easy to go from congratulating somebody for negotiating on their own behalf in their career to being patronizing about it. So, we have to be careful not to make, like, “Hey, that was great what you just did,” or “Wow, congratulations,” to not have that feel like a pat on the head. And that doesn’t just apply to the men who might be speaking to women but also maybe mentors who are further down their career path. We look at people at the stage of the game that they’re in to make sure that our congratulations don’t feel patronizing. So, there’s that one piece. And I think another piece is asking really directly what is it that you need? And being open to trusting that when women ask for what they need, it’s actually what they need.
Or probably less than what they need.
Yes, potentially, but not overriding it with what you think they need. So, it’s trusting that women know what they need in order to move forward in their careers. And that if you’re going to challenge it, make sure that you’re not just challenging their notion of what they need or make it so that it’s destabilizing for them, but instead to say, “Excellent. What else? Or what would be the bigger version of that? Or is that all? I’d love to see what else we can resource? What other resources we can pull on to help you reach that goal?” So, that’s another piece of it I think.
I want to go into a slightly different topic, but the same theme. You have an article out about jumping the line, about moving forward things, which I really resonated with to feel like, okay, there’s times when you need to sit in line, wait for your ticket to be called, and other times when you can just show up and jump the line. So, tell me about that.
I just love it that you’re asking this question because, like I said, asking isn’t just for those negotiation moments. And also I want to start by saying asking is not entitlement to getting. They’re different things. Just because you asked doesn’t mean you’re entitled to get. But if we lowball every ask that we make in the world, we may be leaving some opportunity on the table. And I think of asking as a tool to jump the line. Yes. So, maybe I’ll share my story around that and where I’ve done that in my career. So, I’m 45 years old, #sayyourage. And when I look back on my career, there was one ask that I made that really helped me jump the line and it’s the kind of ask I think about as a champion ask. It was an ask that changed everything. And after college, I struggled to see in my vision a career path that felt powerful to me, that felt worth the time, energy, psychic attention, spiritual energy, humiliation, early parts of your career can take because you just don’t know anything yet. And I ended up finding someone who did a work that lit me up and I didn’t know it existed in the world. It got me closer to the thing I wanted, which was global travel, which was working intimately with people, which is helping people bring more of who they really are forward as a source of influence. And this is long before anybody used the word of authenticity. It was around basically corporate storytelling. How do I as a communicator in the organization do it in a way that makes sense to the business but also brings my best self forward?
And I was shocked when I saw this work. And I saw it because somebody introduced me to this man and he said, “You think what I do is interesting. You have to come see it.” Well, I went to see it. And as I sat in the back of the room and watched him teach, it was back in the day when we called the world of professional development, training and development, right? People were getting trained on all their soft skills. Here’s how to do them, people. And as I watched this work, I felt so compelled by it. I never want anything so bad. But I didn’t have a portfolio. I was an economics major. This is the world of communications. It was so far. It felt like I knew I could do it. I felt it in my guts. But it was so far away from what my picture might look like that would make somebody say, yes, you. So, when I was done watching him teach his class, it was a three-day class, I ended up following up with him and really deciding that I don’t want to “start at the bottom” and not get to do that kind of work until the middle of my career. That’s 15 years away. I will die in that time. I cannot stand in line. I can’t wait until the picture of my professional potential matched my internal self. I needed to jump the line. And so, I was thinking, what is the ask that I really need to make of this man? And it wasn’t, “Will you hire me?” It wasn’t, “Who else do you know in the business that can teach me?”
It was directly to him to say, “Look, I can do this work. I want to do this work. And if you don’t help me do it, I know that I’m going to find another pathway. But I want it to be with you. Will you teach me?” And he paused and said, “Yeah. Sure. We’ll sign the contract tomorrow.” And I was on a plane to New York. And I’ve traveled all over the world for the first 10 years teaching his classes. He was an early mentor to me and it helped me jump the line in a way I could not imagine. And in a way that my family who said, “You know what? Just be patient. Get a job at the bank. Why do you need to fly all over the place? Those kinds of jobs don’t really exist.” So, there are lots of cases where I hear people making those kinds of asks that can help us jump the line. And the metaphor in that article that you’re referring to I use is imagine that you’re standing out front of your favorite band’s local show, and you’ve got your ticket in the hand and either you can be 222nd in line and wait until you get there and end up having to be more than a stone’s throw from the edge of the stage, or you can go around back and knock on the door. And you can ask if you can get in the back.
And if the person at that door says, “No way. Band only,” instead of going to get back in line, if you want it enough, you go to the next door. And maybe if you see someone at that door who’s wearing the same band concert Tee that you have from a show you saw 10 years ago, now you’ve got something in common. You find out that your values align, you find out that the things that they care about are the things that you care about, and that them helping you get what you want is a way for them to action their own values, a way for them to actually live in alignment with themselves. They might say, “Yes, I’m the person. Go ahead and head on in through the back door.” So, I always want women that I work with, everyone I work with, to be scanning the landscape of the careers and looking for opportunities to make unsolicited but in rapport and well-earned and credible asks that help them jump the line.
Let’s visit some of those qualifications you just made because my wife, she hates it when people cut the line whenever we’re in something because she’s like, “Okay, we got to be justice minded. I was waiting here.”
Yeah, the whole I don’t deserve that thing. Got it.
Yeah, because there’s one thing like what you’re talking about where you’re making a big ask and maybe it seems like you’re jumping ahead of people, but maybe the opportunity was just waiting for you anyway. And there’s other situations where you are perhaps stepping on people or asking for something you don’t deserve or something like that. So, how do you navigate the two?
So, two things for me. The assumption that jumping the line means you’re stepping on other people is false because you may be asking, there’s an opportunity for you to do something that maybe nobody else sees and doesn’t require sacrificing someone else in order to get it. To me, that’s a very scarcity kind of mindset. That me moving further forward doesn’t mean you feeling left behind or being left behind. In some cases, particularly in the context of women in work, helping a woman jump the line and get elevated, I can give you an example. Last year I worked with a woman who in one year doubled her salary and doubled her title from a coordinator position to a senior manager position. Latina, single mom, and you know what she is now in her workplace? In a gaming company. You know what she is now? She is a see it, be it situation. She didn’t have to step on anyone to do it. In fact, she filled a role that didn’t even exist before she put her hand in the air and said, “Excuse me, we need this at the organization.” She enabled a lot more good work at that organization, and again, see it, be it. Latina, single mom, leader in a gaming company, like come on. So, that’s one thing around this idea of skipping the line being unjust. No. And secondly, what was the other half of the question? Sorry. I just ranted and now it’s gone.
It’s mostly that. Yeah.
Oh, undeserving. Yeah. So, this came up in a workshop I gave this year also. Somebody said, “Well, if I go make an ask and it’s completely over the top and it’s delusional, it’s something that I’m so undeserving of.” Let me just tell you. 99 out of 100 conversations I have with women in their careers, that is not the problem we’re dealing with, okay? What we’re dealing with is, are you actually asking big enough? So, just when I get that question, I just want to say, “Not the problem right now. When that becomes a problem, I can’t wait to address it.” Also, I will say, my dad said when I was very young, it’s interesting. He had a construction company. He had a lot of guys, working class thing. He said, “Never have I had anybody asked for a raise that doesn’t really deserve it.” And it was a very transactional blue collar context for him. But it is true that I rarely see people asking, women that I work with, asking for things they don’t “deserve”. And overall, I don’t really like the idea of getting what you deserve, positively or negatively, because it assumes somehow that there is this perfect equilibrium we’re working in all the time where we’re only getting what we deserve. And it also assumes that if we don’t get something is because we deserved that.
And there’s somebody setting a standard out there that determines what you’re worth, right?
That’s right. It takes the power out of our own hands.
Yeah. Good. No, I like it. So, we have this gender divide we’ve been talking about. It’s almost like men having perhaps an easier time of making those asks or applying for positions they’re not qualified, different things. So, I want to keep going into this vein of people who are in privilege. We can talk about race. We can talk about sexual orientation. We can talk about lots of different ways of this intersectionality that’s out there. Is it easier for people who already have privileged to take those risks and to say, “Well, I can do it”?
Look, it’s easier for those of us who have privilege to do everything. So, it’s not like, “Oh, accept and asking now it’s all totally, like perfect, equally challenging for everyone.” No. What I do see is that when we go to make an ask and we lowball ourselves, that’s a common suffering that happens no matter who the profile I’m working with. That just happens. I’ve come across a handful of men, particularly entrepreneurs, that struggle with that. But, yes, for those of us, and those of you, listeners, who are dealing with biases that folks like me who are white and female don’t deal with, the thing that can really matter and what I see matter a lot is this thing I think about cultivating your community of champions around you. So, I don’t want to say, “Be careful. Don’t ask because you don’t want to get punished.” But I do want to say, “How do you create the conditions to make it possible for you to ask in a way that you feel safe enough to take some risks.” So, since I draw on my funny impact hobby of auctioneering, we can draw the metaphor of what that fundraiser looks like. When I step on stage and I go to sell off a camping trip, a luxury camping trip, or sell off a trip to Tahiti, or a piece of art, or just to make a direct ask, the people in the room, they know exactly why they’re there. That is a curated, nurtured group of champions for that organization. So, when we think about asks in our careers, how do we also curate and nurture a community of advisors, a community of champions, a community of peers around us that are going to help elevate us, that are not necessarily going to be the people always saying yes to the asks. But people that you can lean on for advice around what to ask for when, people that you can get peer coaching from. And then also, for sure, there will be times in your career where you’re going to make targeted, courageous asks of that community. But if you’ve laid that groundwork, primed it and nurtured it, it’s going to make that risk less materially risky.
Makes sense. Dia, we’re going to end with a new segment we’re calling our captcha test. We like to talk about being humans here on Work Minus. So, I’m asking you what’s your favorite captcha test? How do you tell if somebody’s a human or not?
So, you’re maybe going to hate my answer to this.
Oh, no. This is the first one. You’ve got to make it good.
Yeah. Well, it is good because I don’t need to test to see if people are human or not. I assume that they are. My coaching model is a collective model where I hold everyone I work with naturally creative, resourceful, and whole. And I’m going to meet them where they are. And I have to assume humaneness. Now, what I am looking for, though, is readiness. So, in their humaneness, how ready are they to do the thing that we’re about to do together? Whether it’s a workshop, a one on one coaching session, helping them be powerful on stage, in a negotiation I’m in, it’s really more about meeting them where they are. And I think the way, I don’t know how I have a captcha test for that. I think it feels like noticing how connected they are to the moment. And if they’re not, how can I help them be more connected to the moment that we’re in together?
Cool. I like it. Dia, where can people go to learn more about you and your stuff?
All my stuff is at diabondi.com and my project for helping a million women and underrepresented folks ask for more and get it in their careers is at www.asklikeanauctioneer.com. Last year was the launch year and 2020 is going to be the year where this shows up in the world at organizations and communities I hope globally.
Good. Well, we’re excited to promote it. Hopefully we get you a lot more people to talk with. We’ll put all those links in our show notes and thanks a lot for being on the show.
You’ve probably not heard of Dia Bondi. There’s a good reason for that. For the last 20 years, some of the highest profile, most extraordinary world leaders, CEOs, philanthropists, visionaries and innovators have considered Dia their secret weapon. Over thousands of coaching session, she’s been in their corner, behind the curtain, helping them tap into their power and move their businesses forward.
Dia helped Rio de Janeiro secure the 2016 Summer Olympics. She’s worked with Intel, Mozilla, Unilever, Nabisco, P&G and Progressive Insurance. She’s coached changemakers at the Clinton Global Initiative and the Commonwealth Games Federation. Dia is direct, magnetic, fierce, and insatiably curious. She will always bypass small talk in favor of deep connection.