12 December 2017,

Auction and communication: Mind your “please” and cues


Auction professionals should know how to interpret and communicate with both verbal and nonverbal cues.

By NAA staff

Perhaps it sounds like a no-brainer, but strong communication is key for successful auction professionals.

And, while we may think first of verbal communication, body language and non-verbal cues are equally important, says Barbie Doering, a professional auction ringwoman and assistant communications professor at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa.

In fact, Doering estimates that 80 percent of job success is attributable to how people communicate with others. The remaining 20 percent is split between 15 percent professional experiences and five percent academic credentials.

“If you can’t communicate your thoughts with others, you won’t have much success,” Doering said. “It is a critical part of what we do.”

Doering, a member of the National Auctioneers Association since 2008, has also worked as a registered nurse. Communication, she said, is the tie that binds together such seemingly different careers like nursing, college professor and Auctioneer.

Effective communication requires people to realize that we are all different in how we perceive the world, Doering said, and we should use that understanding to guide our communication with others.

For example, consider how we respond to directions. Some people prefer streets and addresses, while others use landmarks. Learning to interpret others’ communications cues will boost our own careers, Doering added.

“You can learn a lot by watching other people’s gestures,” she said.

To some effect, people can change how they are perceived through non-verbal cues. On this point, Doering has discussed what is known as the Harding Effect. (In short, President Warren G. Harding was elected in a landslide due in large part to his looks in photographs. He is now regarded as among the worst U.S. presidents of all time.)

Auction professionals can use the Warren Harding Effect to their own benefit. How so? Consider nervous Auctioneers who compete in bid calling competitions.

“Maybe you are nervous as heck and aren’t comfortable at all. You can change your appearance to show you are okay,” Doering said. “It’s not easy, but you can learn those skills yourselves. You can communicate what you want to communicate.”

Many facial expressions are universal. Pleasing smiles, raised eyebrows, compressed lips, eyes wide open and mouths turned down in a frown. However, some cues, such as dilated pupils, are more difficult to control. Others, like biting your lip, can be stopped.

And, one small tweak can have a big difference. For example, if you are nervous and need to do something with your hands, place them behind your back rather than clasp them in front because that denotes submission or nerves, Doering said.

Auctioneers can and should notice people’s cues and gestures before and during auctions. Take notice of who wants personal space and who is a close talker. And, use your team to help you collect that buyer data.

“Before an auction, a ringman should never be sitting down and drinking coffee,” she said. “They should be talking to people, making connections, getting personal.”

That way, when you ask them to bid, she said, they already have a connection with you. The same goes for virtual auctions. Doering said she always tries to call bidders before phone auctions.

“Now when you ask for their money, there’s a connection,” she said.

The teach back is another important skill for the Auctioneer. When working with sellers or bidders who are new to auctions, she says asking them to repeat the rules or what they understand can be helpful to ensure you are on the same page.

Doering quotes Steve Covey, the author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, who has said, “The biggest communication problem is we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply.”

That is a problem across all professions, she said.

“What happens is you’re not really listening to what someone is telling you,” she says. “The more you talk, the less you listen.

“Sometimes, being silent we can learn a lot more about what’s going on.”

This article was an excerpt from a presentation given at the 2017 NAA International Auctioneers Conference and Show. Want even more tips regarding this topic? NAA members can access the full audio of this presentation and many others in the NAA Knowledge Center.