Rebel Uprising Podcast

Value the Ask with Devon Smiley

In today's three word rebellion spotlight, we have Devon Smiley. Devon is an absolute expert in a skill that each of you, including me, 1000% need for our businesses and our speaking business: she is a negotiation consultant and speaker and has 15 years of experience with Forbes' finest and small businesses alike.

In today's episode, we talk about:

  • How Devon got into the business of negotiation
  • Why she is rebelling against the classic, “alpha-dog” style of negotiation
  • The difference between being grateful and just settling with what you're given
  • Devon's best negotiation tips, especially for those just starting out
  • Why reframing your view of negotiation begins with everyday interactions

Tune in to (or read) our conversation below and be sure to follow Devon on Instagram. Enjoy!

Michelle: Hey. Hey. Hey. Welcome to The Rebel Speaker Podcast. In today's three word rebellion spotlight, we have Devon Smiley. Devon is an absolute expert in a skill that each of you, including me, 1000% need for our businesses and our speaking business. It's also a skill that makes us wildly uncomfortable. That skill is negotiation and negotiation often gets a bad rap because it's done so poorly. Instead, Devon is going to ask each of you to start to value the ask. Devon Smiley is a negotiation consultant and speaker with 15 years of experience with Forbes' finest and small businesses alike. She closed 5 billion, that's with a B of commercial contracts as a lead negotiator. She brings this experience to organizations that are focused on securing strong commercial results without sacrificing relationships.

Michelle: Devon's global consultancy also includes work with small businesses and startups. Devon contributes as a mentor and advisor for programs including Startupbootcamp, Fintech, New York City, and Startup Canada. Her insights on negotiation have been featured in Glamour Magazine and The Chicago Tribune. A strong believer that negotiation benefits more than just the bottom line, Devon is honored to work with pro bono partners including the Clinton Foundation and the and UN women to lead negotiation skills training for their teams and communities. Bottom line, Devon knows what she's talking about when it comes to negotiation and how to do it well and in a way that makes you feel good. Welcome to the podcast, Devon. I'm so excited to have you here.

Devon: Hello, hello. Thank you for having me.

Michelle: Yeah. Full disclosure, everyone. Devon is one of my clients. We did work on her Three Word Rebellion, which are the questions I'm going to be taking you through today. But the first question I wanted to ask you, because even after working together, I don't know the answer to this. So tell me a little bit about your backstory. How did you get into the business of negotiation?

Devon: I know, how under this one ended up here? When I was a little girl, I definitely did not dream of being a negotiation consultant. It was not even on the list. Maybe quite frankly, ballerina and I doctor. But I'm really glad I ended up here and I came to negotiation through working in procurement and I was working with a lot of vendors, expediting a lot of product and realized that if only you had a really well-negotiated contract, it would make everyone's life so much easier. Yeah, so I decided to take matters into my own hands. Moved over to a contract negotiation role and the rest is kinda history and fell in love with it.

Michelle: Yeah. So what do you love most about negotiation?

Devon: I think what I love most, and believe me, at the beginning I was not a huge fan of negotiation. I was really scared of it. I thought I'd have to become a total jerk in order to do it well. What I liked most about it is that I could tap into my own natural abilities when I was doing it. I didn't have to be someone I wasn't in order to be successful. For me it was important I could build the relationships and I could communicate well and that made me a good negotiator. Everyone brought their own thing to the table.

Michelle: Well, and I think what's really important for everyone to understand is that you bring your skill, you bring your whole self to the negotiation table. You don't actually like put on a cloak of like, “This is how I negotiate.”

Devon: Exactly. People are surprised and especially the people I would negotiate with that I would actually show up at the negotiation table with the same personality that I'd had on our phone calls leading up to it. There wasn't some bait and switch of a really nasty character showing up when it was time to talk money. It was me. It was just goofy. Kind of silly but great at a job me.

Michelle: I love it. So with negotiation, tell me, what are you rebelling against?

Devon: Oh, all of that negotiation that is done so so badly, and this is, I call it the classic competitive alpha dog type of negotiation or you're banging your fist on the table and you're locking people in rooms to late at night to try and get them to agree with a deal. It's just, oh no, that feels good to absolutely no one and it needs to stop.

Michelle: Why do you think that's such a big trend? It's not even a trend. Why do you think negotiation is done that way when absolutely no one likes it?

Devon: Exactly. I think that's where we get trapped in this idea of what it should mean to be a negotiator. We have all these images of high powered professionals in navy blue suits, so everyone's sort of bought into that as the way to get a good deal and therefore they just keep doing it because that's of course what they should be doing.

Michelle: Do you have any stories like negotiation horror stories you'd love to share?

Devon: I have some horror stories when it comes to being brought in with the client and they look at me like, “Devon, we just don't understand why this negotiation isn't working,” and within 10 minutes I can see it's because no one is speaking to each other with any level of professionalism. People are ignoring one another. There's someone in the corner sleeping and another person's like banging their fists on the table to try and be the boss of the whole room. Like, “You really don't have an idea what this isn't working?” and then I'd have to deliver the tough love of how each of the people on that team needs to adopt their approach if they're going to get a good result.

Michelle: Oh my goodness. Yes. What do you think this means for, especially for us like small business owners or for the speakers? Is this one of the big reasons we're so terrified to negotiate?

Devon: Definitely. I mean, especially when you're the little guy, “little guy” and you're going in to negotiate with a big client, a multinational organization, you're going to expect that they will treat me poorly, that they're going to throw around their weight. They're going to show you who's boss and who on earth wants to be in a situation like that? So instead we just kinda get whatever deal they give us and go, “Yes, please. Thank you very much. Signing here. Let's get this over with.” We don't speak up. We don't make our ask.

Michelle: Oh, yes, and it's funny because I see that a lot with speakers. They go into a negotiation for their speaking fee and they have this I'll take what I can get mentality instead of actually having a strategy. One horror story is I had a client a few years ago and she was so excited because she booked a speaking gig and she's getting paid a thousand dollars for it. After this negotiation, she did some research and she found out the speaker of the year before got paid $10,000.

Devon: Oh no.

Michelle: I know, right?

Devon: Oh no.

Michelle: But she didn't have that good mindset going in of actually making that ask and it was just like, “I'll settle. I'll take what I can get. I'm just lucky to be here.”

Devon: Oh, exactly. That's the worst. You know what, there's a big difference between gratitude and being content with where you are in life and just settling for whatever someone happens to hand you, huge difference between those two things.

Michelle: Yes, yes. Yeah. I feel like part of your rebellion is like, “Don't settle. Just don't do it. Just don't settle for the scraps.”

Devon: Exactly.

Michelle: So with that in mind, what kind of change do you want to create in the world?

Devon: My big goal is that each and every person can step up and ask for what they want or need and actually feel good doing it and there's, I think, a lot of power in tapping into the fact that you as a human being have natural skills that will make you a great negotiator. You just need to learn how to leverage those at the right time in the right way.

Michelle: Yeah, and I do think that's also where like your Three Word Rebellion comes in, is you know, seeing that as a valuable source of communication even when we go to the negotiation table, seeing that as something that is valuable, it's worthy to pursue, right?

Devon: Exactly. It's worth speaking up and I always with my clients say, “There's no guarantee you're going to get what you negotiate for, but you could always have that conversation if you ask politely and professionally, there is nothing you cannot ask for in this world.”

Michelle: I love it. So for the audience, what is one of your best negotiation tips? Especially if you're just starting out, you're new to sitting down to the table to negotiate, or the only negotiation you have experience with is like when you're buying a car?

Devon: Which is always fabulous experience.

Michelle: Oh, I know. Isn't it? That's why I typically buy cars where there's no negotiation, like the price is the price. But yeah, what do you suggest people do in order to start valuing the ask, in order for them to start becoming comfortable and better at negotiation?

Devon: I think the very first step is twofold. First, you have to become more aware of your opportunities to ask, and my rule of thumb for this is that if there's anything in your business or your life where you are less than heck yeah, that's a sign. There's something there you could ask to change. So it might be something as simple as you really don't like having an 8:00am phone call because you're not really a morning person and I put myself very firmly into this category, ask to change it to 10:00am. That's a negotiation, that's something you can ask for that will make an immediate impact on your life. So spotting the opportunity is big.

Michelle: So you are really reframing negotiation, that it's not just about money and contracts, but it's about these everyday interactions.

Devon: Everyday interactions. I know, I even catch myself still chickening out of some of these everyday asks that I could be making, like something as simple as asking to reserve the phone booth at my coworking space and me chickening out because I don't want to be a bothered, I don't want to be a hassle, it's shared space. I don't want to be a nuisance. Well no, I need that space. It made my life so much easier. So ask and of course they said yes and of course it was no problem and of course I shouldn't have been worried in the first place, but we still need to practice and that's really spot the opportunity and then practice with the small asks because it's going to build your confidence for when you get to those big boy asks down the line.  

Michelle: Wow. So I'm just kind of blown away for a second because I'm really thinking about this like how many times we don't ask for what we need. Maybe it's you need to start on a client appointment 15 minutes late and just asking, sure, it might not work for the client and you'll just go through with it anyway. But it's really making the ask in the first place is the important part.

Devon: Exactly. Realizing that even the small asks, they have a ton of value. Even if you get a no, there's still value in having made the effort and made that task.

Michelle: I love this. I think the big takeaway for everyone is to start making the small asks and like one ask, well you know this from working with me, right? Like one ask that I always tell my speakers is like, tell everyone you know that you're a speaker and if they know anyone and that is like a small ask but I am always surprised at how many people are resistant to it. I'm like, “But people want to know what you're up to. So just look at it this way.” But they're like, “Oh, I don't want to bother you. I don't want to put myself out there. I don't want to be a nuisance.” All of those things.

Devon: Oh, God.

Michelle: But that is the first step to getting to the place where you are comfortable at negotiation. So I love that. I love that so much. So the final question that I have for you is, what would the world look like if everyone valued the ask and made the ask? What kind of world that we live in?

Devon: Oh, what a beautiful world that would be. Well, I think the big difference we would have, especially when I look at the work I do with small businesses, speakers, entrepreneurs, is a lot more empowerment and I don't mean that in a woo-woo way, but just that we can own our role as business owners, that were not just the “little guy”, that we can actually go after what we want and need to grow our businesses. I think that if we can make that switch, it means every interaction we have with a big boy is going to be a lot healthier. There's going to be a lot more balance, an equilibrium of power. I think that will help serve everyone.

Michelle: This idea of the equilibrium of power that we are all … If we start asking for what we want, what we need, we actually start embracing our power. We become more powerful in all of our communication and especially I know women have some issues around-

Michelle: I know, making the ask, even valuing it because they don't want to bother, but really being, becoming better at negotiation, taking that first action of just making a small ask, it's how we achieve … It's the path towards equality for a lot of women.

Devon: Exactly, exactly. I always say my advice for women who feel that they can't ask for something because they're going to look greedy or selfish, is to reframe it in terms of the benefit that ask brings to people in your community. So you might feel greedy raising your price, but if that ask means that your kid can now go to summer camp, that's a good win. That feels pretty good. That's not greedy at all. If it means that you can donate more to a charity that you care about, that's also not greedy. So reframing in terms of the broader impact your ask can have can really help you break down those roadblocks.

Michelle: I love that, Devon. So tell everyone where they can find you online.

Devon: Online, my home is and I hang out a lot on Instagram, @devonmsmiley.

Michelle: Yeah, and please check out Devon's Instagram. It is fantastic. Not only does she have this make the ask series where she features other business owners who made the ask, but she lives in Paris. So you get these fantastic shots of Paris that are amazing and I can't recommend Devon's work more. This is a skill that you and I both need and for me, I'm going to go out and I'm going to start making those small asks. So thank you so much for being here, Devon.

Devon: Thanks so much for having me, Michelle.

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