Nadia De Ala is a leadership and negotiation coach for women of color, a self-advocacy advocate, speaker, and facilitator on a mission to close the intersectional pay and leadership gap.
As we get more visible as thought leaders, we engage in increasingly complicated collaborations, we get invites onto larger paid stages, and opportunities to work with larger corporate clients. With that comes the need to advocate for ourselves and ask for what we deserve.
This can be especially for impactful softies and sweeties (like me) because stereotypical negotiation techniques don’t always jive with the ways we lead.
So, in this episode, Nadia is sharing negotiation tips and strategies to support you through these difficult conversations so that you can harness your softie superpowers to get what you deserve at the negotiation table.
“If no one taught you any differently, how would you actually know what’s okay and what’s not okay in the business world?” – Nadia De Ala
Highlights from the podcast episode:
Fun Fact! We’re Jumper Twins
T: I just have to say this is an audio podcast. So, the good people listening can’t see us right now, but I just want everyone to know that we are wearing the same Farm Rio leopard print jumpsuit right now, and I just want you to really enjoy that information. I hope it creates a vibe for you as you listen.
N: We found out on accident [that we both love and own this jumpsuit] on the online streets, and both said we’re going to wear it. We’re committed to that indeed and this is our first time meeting.
Just because you can doesn’t mean you should
T: I’d love for you to tell me what you have grown through to become the negotiation guide that you are today.
N: That is such a fun question and the way you phrased it! Because there is so much growth to get to claim who you are and the expertise that you do. So, what I’ve grown through are multiple careers and my own life.
I’ve grown through daring to change my path, daring to say it wasn’t a waste of time for me to go from this industry to this industry to this industry. I’ve grown through the fear of quitting my job without another job. I studied audio engineering and sound recording, went into full-time hospitality, went to travel tech, went to start-up tech, and eventually quit after helping grow a team for my last company as their first account manager. I decided to take a break to heal because I realized I had just been hopping around and it was unfulfilling work.
It was a huge growth of “just because you can doesn’t mean you should” moments over and over again. I think this happens a lot with my clients, where we just go with the flow and say, “Oh, I’m really good at that.” “Oh, I can do that.” “Oh, there’s good perks and benefits to this job, and this company, and this industry”, and not really taking the time to think: What do I want to do? What do I want to make or create in this world? What impact do I have?
I feel like I’m speaking very poetically, but really returning back to myself is part of a huge growth of saying I am the guide for people to keep it real with themselves, with the relationships they have, with the stakeholders they have, with the work that they do internally and externally. I do that work. I lead with love. I lead with integrity. And even right now I’m in a season of growth to reconnect with those values and break cycles that don’t serve me in a different way.
When I found coaching, I was on a career sabbatical. In June 2017, I quit my six-figure tech job, I was super unhappy doing sales. So, I’ve grown from that. I didn’t know that I would become a coach. I didn’t know that I would specialize in leadership, negotiation, and advocacy. But I grew by staying open and then claiming whatever felt right. Y’all, I just call myself a leadership and negotiation coach and it’s been like that for years. Then I decided, within a year of this business, that I solely wanted to coach women of color, and then at some point, people kept coming to me for speaking gigs, workshops, facilitation, custom bespoke corporate programs, and it just kept growing.
I’m actually, right now growing through a season of again asking myself six years later, running this Real You Leadership business thing, What else do I want now? What’s next? How do I want to lead this life?
What makes it harder to advocate for ourselves as women of color business owners?
T: I’ve been wanting to talk about negotiation because, like you shared, we go with the flow. As we get more visible, we get these increasingly complicated collaborations, we get these invites onto larger paid stages, and we get these opportunities to work with larger corporate clients, and oftentimes…
I’ll just speak for myself, I don’t want to speak for anyone else. But oftentimes, I will forget, or I won’t even realize it. I’ll just be going with the flow. I’m a Pisces and I’m like, “Oh, yeah. Okay, let’s do that.” and I’ll be talking to a friend later on, or maybe my husband, or whoever, and they’ll ask something like, “Well, did you ask for more?” And I’ll be like, “What do you mean? I didn’t know I could do that.”
So, before we get into any tips or tactics or tricks, it sounds like that’s common but why do you think that we are this way? What is the root cause of that?
N: I think that as women, as BIPOC folks, which I center my work around BIPOC women and femmes, women and femmes of color. I think that as marginalized people, we inherited a lot of habits, behaviors, mindsets, and strategies to protect ourselves from rejection, from being told we’re not good enough, from being told that we’re not moral, or that we’re greedy, or that we’re selfish.
We are taught to people please, we are taught to keep out of the spotlight as a part of survival, for better or for worse. We’re taught to take what we can get. Part of that is because people down our line and our lineage, in our circle, and even today, we have seen that rejection from our parents, we have seen their rejections that they’ve also collected, and it scares us. So, even if many of us didn’t experience that ourselves, we witnessed it to the point that it scared the crap out of us, and we decided “that ain’t gonna be me”, so let me just stay put. Or we were taught the programming to prove ourselves first, to get our foot in the door, to get X amount of experience to be able to claim our rates, to be able to claim what the value of our work in our expertise is.
Straight up, so many of my clients were told when they got their first even nine-to-five offer or their first contract gig that their parents or some adult figure in their lives that they trusted, that guided them, that taught them everything they knew that: “Do not negotiate. Just take it. That’s more than what we’re making. That’s more than what we made at your age. Take it. Don’t be foolish, don’t lose it, don’t get it rescinded.”
So, there are so many things past, present, and potentially future that could influence our inability to advocate for ourselves or influence us to not activate our voice.
[Note to reader: these themes, concepts, and learning lessons also came up in Ep 7: Fostering Belonging Through Your Story with Jessica De Anda as well as Episode 15: How to Leverage your Personal Brand and LinkedIn at Work with Cher Jones.]
T: That really resonates with me, thank you for framing it in that way. I too am a fellow daughter of South Asian immigrants and like you shared I very much saw their sacrifice more than anything else. I saw their sacrifice and the values that they carry of stability, of humility. So, asking for more often just didn’t come up as a thing at all.
N: I have one client I just got off a session with yesterday, she herself is an immigrant from Africa, and we were talking about preparing for her performance review. So, she is in a nine-to-five, she’s in tech. We’re talking about getting sponsors versus mentors: champions that speak your name, tap on your shoulder, and help advocate for you in a way you can’t, who have positional power and an incredible amount of ways to influence the trajectory of your growth.
This person has spoken nothing but good about her. And yet, when we talked about “how are you going to ask for him to put in a good performance review for you?” She froze and said, “Oh, am I even allowed to tell him that I want a promotion? That I want more? Is that okay?” I was like, “Girl, how will he know?”
So, if no one taught you any differently, how would you actually know what’s okay and what’s not okay in the business world?
T: That’s so beautiful. I hope that eliminates any potential shame or any potential negative feelings that are coming up because how would we know? But now we get to see examples of this in action.
How to use your softie superpowers for negotiations
T: So, another identity that I carry, and this might sound silly, but I’m really proud of this identity, and it’s that I’m a softie. I’m soft, tender-hearted. I’m the embodiment of a fuzzy blanket, and I love that about myself. But when I think about negotiations, sometimes the idea that comes into mind is like banging on a table and being the loudest person in the room.
So, I would love to know, especially for other powerful, impactful softies who are maybe new to negotiating for themselves, how can we use our unique capacity for listening, for caring, for empathy, our sensitivity in our negotiations?
N: I love that you frame it this way. I know that when you reached out to me, you said that this was something that was a highly sought-after topic, negotiation for soft bbys.
I myself am also very sensitive. Yes, I’m courageous. Yes, I take risks. And yet I still struggle. So, normalizing your softness, normalizing the very human defense mechanisms and emotions that will come through, like people pleasing, fawning, freezing, avoiding, ruminating, over-processing, spiraling, all of that is real. Even getting angry is real, because our pay gaps, regardless if you’re a business owner or a nine-to-fiver, are huge as women and femmes of color, and that is not because we cannot advocate that’s because of the systems that are there. So, I also normalize that, “Hey, it’s not your fault that no one ever taught you how to negotiate. And it’s not your fault that you even have to be in a position to negotiate to get an equitable rate, to get the best pay possible in this engagement.”
So, really taking out the shame of not knowing, really taking out the shame of feeling big feelings. Definitely, even if you’re in an anger mode, which we have a lot to be angry about. There’s so much here to say that that doesn’t help you in the negotiations, we need to be aware of our activations, and we need to be aware of other people’s activations that are on the other side of the negotiating table.
What I would say is: enhance your superpowers. Actually, the way I teach negotiations is to be wildly curious, wildly empathetic, and to be able to understand what their needs are, what their limitations are. But if they don’t come correct and come through with that clearly, it’s your job to use that empathy to ask for clarity. It’s your job to use that empathy to build co-empathy for you too and to say, “Hey, we both want a win-win here, what’s it gonna take for us to both feel good about this?”
So, what I suggest for anybody who thinks this is a win-lose situation: Make sure you know it doesn’t have to be and it’s not. I think that’s what scares us, that someone’s got to lose. But negotiations do often start at No. Then, you get to stay curious and open and continue a conversation by saying, “Well, what would make it a Yes?” so that you can collect that information. Or saying “When could that No turn into a Yes?” So, that’s really what we want to keep pushing ourselves and to use that sensitivity and our investigative skills. Because I know those of us who are very sensitive, we’re constantly gauging things, constantly collecting clues and data. So, use that for the good and collect the information you need. “What would it take for you to increase your budget?”
3 negotiation scenarios thought leaders oftentimes face
T: A lot of folks who listen to this are coaches, consultants, service providers, maybe nonprofit leaders, and so I’d love to ask you a couple of scenarios that we oftentimes find ourselves in. How can we start to begin that piece of asking for clarity, staying curious, “What would make it a yes?” Is that okay? Can I ask you about that?
N: Yeah! Absolutely!
Negotiation Scenario #1: A big industry conference that doesn’t pay their speakers
T: This one comes up a lot. Let’s say that there’s a big industry conference that you really want to speak at, but they don’t pay their speakers. You’re fairly confident that if you go, you can probably get business from this gig, so you want to go. But the plane tickets, the hotel costs, food… it’s starting to add up, it’s feeling a little painful. What are some negotiation tactics or what is maybe a lead into a conversation to negotiate with the conference organizers to get more of what you need to feel comfortable in going?
N: First, you’ve got to ask. It doesn’t hurt to ask. So, don’t stop yourself from saying, “What else can you do?”
I was invited to a conference a few years back, but they didn’t want to pay for anything at all. For me, I have the benefit of being a negotiation coach as part of my title, so I get to be a little cheeky and say, “Hey, as a woman of color that cares about equity and getting paid fairly for labor, and as a negotiation coach, I can’t help but ask: What else can you do? Can you pay for my parking? Can you pay for my gas?” and they actually did at least that.
Just seeing “what else is possible?” So, I would definitely suggest to keep it open-ended and say: Here’s what I want. Here’s why. Here’s the impact it might have negatively on me if you don’t. What else is possible? How much time can I get? What can I do to share my pitch? What resources can I share? Can I speak on other panels while I’m there? What other opportunities are there to network? Is there going to be a speaker lounge? How, how long can I be in there? What access do I get? How about getting another ticket for my team member? There’s so much that we can ask to see what’s there.
As far as compensation goes, I know conferences are really hard. That’s a tough one if I’m being very honest and candid. Unless you’re the keynote speaker of the day, it’s hard to get actual pay. But I would definitely be curious about what else is possible to get this in.
T: So many of us are used to being facilitators of change. Maybe we’re fundraisers at a past life, maybe we come from the nonprofit world, or maybe we’re volunteers. We are so used to asking for others and asking for a mission outside of ourselves. But we are so uncomfortable asking on our own behalf, asking for ourselves. So, that’s what came up for me in this moment like, we do deserve to be equitably paid and poured into. That’s so good. I love that.
N: As you were talking, I just thought of other things for conferences: Can you get highlighted in their newsletter? Can you get highlighted on different parts of their event page? How else can they basically maximize the marketing of you and the work that you do, so that this feels more like an equal energy exchange?
Negotiation Scenario #2: Closing the gap when you’re being underpaid
T: Okay, I’ve got another scenario for you:
We said a verbal yes to this opportunity. Now, it could be a speaking gig. It could be a book deal that’s in the works. This actual scenario could even apply to somebody in a full-time job.
Through conversations with our peers, we realize that someone else is getting paid significantly more for the same thing/for doing what seems to be the same amount of work, maybe it’s a salary, maybe it’s a book deal or something like that. So, what then? How do we navigate that uncomfy conversation?
N: This has happened to me in a nine-to-five in a past life years ago, where I found out that I was getting underpaid more than $20,000 than my white male counterpart, who I helped hire onto the team and advocated for.
First of all, take care of your heart, take care of yourself, because you’re going to have a lot of big feelings around it. It’s going to hurt. Know again that coming in with resentment, coming in with anger full on without any restrictions, unfiltered will not serve you. Because you might get hyper-defensiveness back, you might activate someone else’s defense mechanisms. So, we need to come through with curiosity, and we need to make a plan. I was able to close that gap, but at the same time I was just catching up, and it was planting seeds saying, “Hey, this performance review cycle is coming, I need to do this.”
If it is someone in the industry say, I found out that my homie got with the same exact corporate client a consulting facilitation workshop and we actually had differences in rates, and I found out that I was less, I would:
One, absolutely ask my friend, “Are you okay with sharing that information with me or with them or coming correct with me to advocate for pay equity here?” If they don’t feel comfortable coming together – because you shouldn’t have to do that alone if your friend can act as an ally or champion you altogether – for me, if I had to go about it myself, I would just come very directly, very clearly and say, “Hey, I heard that another speaker got this rate. I have this weight rate” and ask for clarity, that curiosity again. “I want to make sure that we honor equity here”, especially if that organization, which most organizations do, has a DEI statement (a diversity, equity, and inclusion statement).
In any negotiation, you want to find that common ground and say, “Hey, I know you value DEI. I know you value helping marginalized people, it’s on your website. We can both agree this doesn’t really match up with that, so what’s possible to close this gap? What’s possible to raise my rate properly? And what’s possible to make sure that this is good across the whole board for everybody?” So, what we’re doing in that scenario is creating safety by saying, “I agree with you because you have this statement here.”
If they don’t happen to have a DEI statement that you can lean on – that’s just a classic move for me to do. You can absolutely say, “We can both agree this doesn’t feel good. We can both agree this isn’t fair. And what can we do about this?” and start that discussion.
T: I really appreciate how you brought in the piece around almost coalition building on the first angle, by bringing in somebody to be in a united front with you and create community around that. That is a fabulous approach. On the second piece, you’re giving people an opportunity to operationalize the values they say they have, and it could be a win-win. I love that!
N: The way I see it is it’s beyond me at this point. Of course, I want my rate. And it’s really not about me, it’s about the system and the value system that you are presenting to me and I’m going to call it all in. I’m going to be curious, and I’m going to invite you to collaborate with me. So, that’s what we’re constantly doing, because I can’t raise my rate and your budget on my own, I need you on my side. So, I’m going to state what’s here and how this is beyond me and you, this is about doing the right thing.
T: As a soft change-maker, it makes me really happy knowing that that conversation will create systems-level change, so the next group of folks coming in will have a different experience. That feels really, good knowing that my negotiation can lead to that.
N: Hopefully. Well, it’s possible. I’ve seen whole teams advocate for the entire team to get to pay equity, which is really nice. So, it’s not impossible.
Negotiation Scenario #3: When the opportunity doesn’t align with your values
T: I have one more scenario for you:
What about if it’s not necessarily a money issue, but a vision or values issue? We started talking about this in the previous one. I’m thinking about some of the consultants I’m friends with and work with. So, let’s say you’re part of a collaboration, like maybe it’s a large Summit, or maybe it’s a paid offer that you’re doing with a couple of other folks, and you’re picking up on signals that others you’re in collaboration with are not necessarily values aligned, or they don’t share the same vision. One example I can think of right off the bat is around the level of diversity in the speakers that you’re bringing in and you don’t agree on that. Can you guide us through some conversation starters?
N: This has happened to me where I have said no to a couple of opportunities that just didn’t align because I was the only brown face there. They did not handle my call-in very well and it wasn’t a paid situation anyway, so I just said, “Thank you, goodbye.”
I’ve seen this in so many ways. Say, if it’s the diversity concern. You’re about to be on a panel or in a summit, you can email them saying – again, especially if they have a DEI statement – “Hey, let’s talk through this”. I have had peers as well that have firm boundaries, very clear needs saying “If the speaker roster does not have at least 50% BIPOC community members, I am not attending this.”
So, be really clear on what your non-negotiables are, essentially what it comes down to, and be very unapologetic about saying, “Hey, I would love to attend this, and this is the standard. Otherwise, I feel like I’m being very tokenized. Or I feel like I’m being in a silo situation that I can’t speak for the majority of the community, etc.” Or absolutely ask again “What do you think about that? What are you going to do about that?”
I was just coaching a client who’s trying to make a move into a sister team, basically, in her existing organization. She’s really concerned because the leadership of that specific team, even if they work so closely together, is majority white and they saw in the past year every single BIPOC employee leave that team. So, they have all these concerns, they’re so worried, and they don’t want to offend them, because they still know this is a great opportunity. They want to go through with the interviewing process because they could essentially be a shoo-in to get this role. And I said, you don’t need to say, “Hey, what’s wrong with you?” and put them on the defense, “Hey, what went down?”
You need to ask them, “What is your commitment to changing things for the better?” Because you’re interviewing them back, you’re seeing if this is a good fit back. So, you need to at least understand, do you align with their commitment moving forward too of ‘what are you going to do to improve things’ because if I join this team, I’m going to expect you to improve things. It can go either way.
I’ve worked in my own consultancy gigs and I say things upfront now. Even paid gigs to do inclusive leadership talks or inclusive leadership programming that I do for people managers and majority people, I have to be very clear on my standards, the language I will be using, that I will be talking about systemic oppression, and it needs to be okay. A lot of folks center whiteness, a lot of folks center comfort of men, a lot of folks say “oh, we need baby steps”, etc. So, we have to really have an ongoing conversation of what I will and won’t do. I need to know what I’m clear on, that I need you to know that I do this. Or if you bring me in for a negotiation workshop for your BIPOC employee resource groups or your affinity groups, which are very popular forming women’s groups, I need you to know that I’m going to be telling them about systemic oppression, about managing up. I also need to know what you are doing to prepare your people managers for all of their marginalized team members to suddenly say, ‘I want more, I’m setting boundaries.’ This is not good enough, because it can’t just be on them. There’s a whole ecosystem that you need to focus on. Because if I’m empowering your team members and it stops at your managers not being inclusive and equitable, and not being able to embrace that and stay open and curious to that, then this isn’t going to work. I started saying that upfront, I learned very fast that I needed that to be. No money was worth basically putting the people that I coach at risk.
Caring for yourself before, during, and after negotiations
T: So, you have equipped us with some really wonderful language and some really helpful ways to think about this. Yet, when I think about myself and some of these scenarios as I go into them… My friend, Dr. Keecha Harris, calls this relationships tilted by power. I’m thinking about a fundraiser talking to a donor. I’m thinking about a consultant talking to a long-term retainer client. I’m thinking about all these different things.
We might have the language ready in our mind, we might have the fill-in-the-blank ready in our mind, but when we go in, our body starts to react in a different way, or in a way that we’ve been conditioned to. I would love to hear your take on: What can we do to prepare ourselves mentally, but also in our bodies to go into these conversations?
N: One: you’ve got to up your self-care game by times 100. Seriously! Because showing up in completely new ways, doing something that goes against every internal activation, defense mechanism, and programming in you is not easy. So, I say prepare your self-care practice, your centering or grounding practice before, have something for during, have something for after.
BEFORE. For me, before I have a really big conversation, sending a proposal, getting the update for it, or going through back and forth on Statement of Work pieces I will absolutely always light some beautiful sage or guava leaf, or light a candle. I might pull a card, I might center on something, I might say a bunch of affirmations to myself. Sometimes I run around my house and if my husband is home, I will put my arms up and say “I can do this. I can do this. Tell me I can do this.” and he’ll say, “You can do this.” You’ve got to hype yourself up and say why you absolutely can do this, why you absolutely unquestionably are the right person for this, and claim that.
DURING. Especially if it’s a Zoom conversation or video conversation, I’m constantly touching my fingers and counting my fingers, or I’m constantly rubbing the ridges of my fingers together to just ground and just wait and pause. Because the power of the pause in a negotiation is very important. Some of my clients will have a little toy car or something on their desk to just move it back and forth and back and forth to just be present with yourself in that moment.
AFTER. Then, I always say, have a care plan. A lot of my clients call it care plans, but I call it Restorative Leadership Plan, something to restore you and celebrate yourself after, regardless of the outcome. So, to be able to say: “I’m celebrating myself even 1% because I did this freaking really hard thing and that deserves to be celebrated.”
To be honest with yourself about the power dynamics in the room, since you did mention the power dynamics, that of course you would feel different. I feel completely different when I enter a room full of my clients, BIPOC women and femmes, versus entering a room of majority power in an organization, which are typically white-male-centered spaces. All of my work trauma comes out, all of my inner haters and fears come out, and all of my imposter comes out to play all of a sudden. No matter how good I am at self-managing that. They will always activate when I sense danger because: “Oh, the power dynamics just shifted.” I am absolutely scared. I’m scared of judgment. I feel vulnerable, I feel this versus I feel safe to be vulnerable, I feel safe to be myself.
I still want to lead through those scenarios as me. So, I pull all the stops, as many times as I have to. After a workshop, I’ll spiral. If it’s a people manager workshop and I got all these blank stares at me, and I’m not sure how it went. It always goes well, but my mind will say something very different. So, I will oftentimes jump on my bike and bike really hard for 10 minutes or lay on my back and do deep breathing on the floor. Because I just know that my brain is trying to tell me all the things that I could have done better and all the things that might have not been good enough for it to be “worth all that money” because I charged, I claimed my rate. So, I have to take care of my heart and I have to take care of my mind.
BE PREPARED. If you know that about you, be prepared. Prepare your scripts, prepare your objection handling scripts. That’s such a great way to just practice the actual voice muscles of saying your rate, saying “no, that’s not good enough”, saying those open-ended questions like “What’s possible/”. Whatever your worst-case scenario is, write it down and say, “I’m scared, they’re going to say this”. So, then write down what you will literally say in your own words and practice it. That always helps me too.
T: Yes, that’s so good! You have really just opened my mind from the ritual aspect of it. The releasing the energy that’s in our body by biking. For me, I’d probably try to run as fast as I can just to get the heebie-jeebies out.
N: And folks do it even before. For this negotiation conversation, I went for a run.
T: And I love how you amplify the piece around celebrating no matter what the outcome is, because celebrating that you are being brave and being in the process is huge! That’s huge.
N: It is huge! Especially if you’ve never done it before. It’s such a big deal, and it deserves to be celebrated.
Hoping for a world where negotiation isn’t necessary
T: I could talk to you forever. But as we start to wrap up, I have a typical soft, Pisces, dreamy question for you, and that would be: Tell me about your vision for the future. What is the world that you’re trying to build?
N: For myself, always as soft as I can go, as slow as I can go. I would love a world full of diverse leaders of all different intersectional identities taking up all the space, not being gaslit, not being told that they’re not good enough, not being told they don’t belong, but rather always having a place to safely be themselves emotionally, psychologically, physically.
I envision a world where everybody can just be their real selves, say what’s really on their mind, understand their impact, make conscious intentional decisions that center their wellness, and for that to be okay. To know that what is good for you is also good for the collective and the collective to understand that. I envision a world where boundaries are just a norm, and that’s okay. Hopefully, a world where nobody even has to negotiate, we are all able to get what we need to nourish ourselves and thrive in this world and in this life.
I envision a world where I get to constantly let go of any sort of programming around urgency or “productivity” being the center of our world and identity. And I really do just hope that everybody finds pockets of that as many times in their daily life as possible.
T: What strikes me and what’s so beautiful about that is your work around negotiation is very much helping to create that world because negotiation is a tool for change, it’s a tool for systems-level change.
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