No Is Better Than Yes: What an Auctioneer Learned About Negotiation

May 3, 2019

Dia Bondi

For the last 20 years, some of the most extraordinary world leaders, CEOs, philanthropists and innovators have considered Dia their secret weapon. Over thousands of coaching sessions, she’s helped them tap into their power and move their businesses forward.

Dia helped Rio secure the 2016 Summer Olympics. Her clients include a wide range of organizations in technology and beyond. She’s coached changemakers at the Clinton Global Initiative and the Commonwealth Games Federation.

Dia is the Leadership Communications Coach and Creator of Ask Like An Auctioneer, a program helping women ask for more using the mental model and tools of Auctioneering. Dia believes that asking is one of the most powerful and overlooked (avoided) success strategies out there.

In 2018, I had the privilege of speaking at the 3% Conference in Chicago to a packed room. Here’s what we talked about that really freaked some people out. 

Getting a yes feels good but... 

Ok, so listen. Before I get going, I need to say I’ll be talking about money and asking in this article. But, money is a metaphor. You will make all kinds of asks in your career. Maybe your Asks are about job titles, or connections, or access, or visibility, or responsibility. All of them will help you move toward your goals. Let me start with money, then you can apply this advice to what you’re dealing with. 

I’ve been out “on my own” for most of my career. That means I’ve written a lot of proposals. And when I say “a lot”, I don’t mean a handful. I mean like, thousands. More than I care to count. I’ve got a lot of experience with proposals and negotiating. I’m pretty good at it. 

But what I’ve learned from my long, independent career is that most of us go after the wrong thing. We pursue the “yes.” Now, I know what you’re thinking. The yes is the wrong thing? What does that even mean? How could a ‘yes’ be bad?

The “yes", and especially the “quick yes”, is a trick. It tricks us into leaving money and opportunity on the table. We go after it because it feels guaranteed. And when we get it, it feels good. The “yes” is validating. It tells us we're on the right track. It feels good on our egos. It smiles at us and says “good job, they wanted you!”

But what that “yes” isn’t telling us is that we’ve left something on the table. That we could have asked for more, even if it’s just a little.

If you’re ready to explore closing that gap between what you get and what’s possible, ask yourself, “what do I think they’d definitely say no to?” Ask for that, and negotiate down from there.

Essentially, pursue the “no.”

But, why don’t we pursue the “no?” We believe the “no” means bad things. Like: 

The “no” is a signal that I stepped out of turn. 
The “no” means I’m not worthy of the ask I made. 
The ”no” means I’m really not good enough. 
The “no” means I broke something. 

We tell ourselves lots of stories about what the “no” means so we avoid it. We stay away and decide before we even ask what they’ll say no to. So we carve our asks down into their kinder, gentler version until they fit just right into a guaranteed yes. 

Most of all, we believe that the “no” is the end of the conversation, but it’s not. Not when you’re in the right market and your asks, even big ones, are to folks and causes and networks who are aligned with what you're doing in the world. When you’re making a big ask to an organization or audience who are right for you, “no” isn’t the end. It’s the beginning. The beginning of a conversation and adventure that will yield the full potential of the ask you made. 

And that is a thrill. An energy-producing, potential-maximizing thrill that will let you know you’ve left nothing on the table. And that’s what I want for you. To know you’ve left nothing on the table. I want for you to get more so you can be more, grow more, impact more and fulfill your own potential. 

It’s definitely easier said than done. But this ideology became very obvious after practicing as an auctioneer. Yes, you heard that right. It was on my bucket list. When I was 42 years old, I started fundraising auctioneering for fun. 

In auctioneering, we pursue the “no.” Because we can’t sell anything until someone says “nope, I won't go any higher.” And you don’t get a chance to think about it or mull over the consequences because auctioneering is rapid fire. You don’t get to feel bad about the “no,” you just have to keep negotiating until you get that “yes” you know is the absolute most you can get. 

In auctioneering, a “no” doesn’t ruin things -- and if it does they probably weren’t your buyer anyways. And yes, I know, you’re not in a competitive bidding situation. Fine. But what I want you to focus on is that unless you aim for "no" in your initial ask, you won't really know what was possible. That yes that’s just one click below a no. That yes that maximizes the potential of an ask. 

And it’s at this point that you’re probably saying to yourself, “Ok, that’s nice, Dia, but how do I actually DO this?” I’m glad you asked. Here’s how to get the most out of every ask: 

● Stop waiting for permission, nobody is going to give it. 
● Stop listening to the voice in your head that says “oh, they’ll never go for that.” 
● Stop thinking it’s supposed to feel normal, it doesn’t, if it does, you're not asking big enough. 
● Stop talking yourself out of the bigger asks. 
● Go into the bigger asks on purpose, with a purpose. 
● Stop worrying about what they “might” say and find out what they’ll actually say. 
● Trust the process. Ask big and negotiate down, increment by increment. 

And most importantly, you’ve got to find your “ZOFO Number.” 

We freak out when in the presence of unknown potential 

Your “ZOFO” (Zone of Freaking Out) number is the number (or whatever) that freaks you out when you say it out loud. It’s the number that whips up your energy. It’s the number that makes you say, “OH GOD NO, I COULD NEVER.” 

That’s the number you want to find because that number is where all the potential is. It’s the zone where you don’t REALLY know what answer you’ll get. And when we’re there, it’s freaky. 

Ok. Go ahead and freak out. And then ask anyway. 

If we craft every ask off of what we don’t want to be, we’ll keep shrinking ourselves and our asks right into annihilation. We can craft our asks based off of what we DO want, and we can stop apologizing for it. 

Even if you walk away empty-handed and you don’t get what you want at all asking for what you DO want, and advocating for yourself feels good, it builds confidence and enables more courage to show up next time. Women tell me this. Over and over. And you can, too.

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