Mirror, Mirror…Just Don’t Let Me Catch You At It


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Are you aware of the communication/empathy/rapport building technique called mirroring?

Many of us do this naturally when we’re with people we’re close to. For instance, if I’ve just had lunch in a restaurant with a good friend, I might suddenly realize that we’re both sitting forward in our chairs, and we both have one hand over our other hand resting on the table.

Sales people are taught this skill, sometimes under other names such as matching. According to the website thebalance.com, mirroring is “when one person adopts the physical and verbal behaviors of another as a way to build rapport and agreement during the selling process. Although that may sound a little creepy, it’s subtle when done well and research supports its effectiveness.”

So if a prospect leans back in a chair and crosses one leg over the other, a person mirroring may, a few seconds later, adapt the same pose. We can match another’s rate of speech, use similar language or vocabulary, and move into the same positive body language. The key to success in using this to build rapport with another person is subtlety.

And yes, this can be used for nefarious purposes—to trick someone into liking you, for example. I trust my tribe of readers, though, so I know you will use this new power for good and not for evil.

When someone is mirroring me and doing it badly and obviously, sometimes just for laughs I’ll strike some odd pose such as laying my pointer finger along the outside of my nose and leaving it there for a minute. Just picture what someone copying that pose would look like. I don’t consider this mean; I’m just teaching them a lesson. Be subtle!

I recall when one regional boss in my corporate America career learned that one way to show people you’re really listening to them is to repeat back the last four to five words they’ve said. Again, if you really ARE listening to people and choose to use this technique, use it judiciously, not like the regional boss did.

There were about a dozen of us at the conference table, taking turns presenting options or ideas to solve some financial problem. After each person spoke a sentence, boss man repeated back the last half dozen words. The sequence was repeated over and over again.

I finally had to fake a nosebleed in order to leave the room because I knew I was going to burst out laughing if I listened to him perform this act of pompous stupidity one more time.

Mirroring done well works because we like people who are like ourselves. I’m willing to bet you already know that. Tony Robbins’ version is, “People like people who are like themselves OR are how they would like to be.”

Mirroring can certainly build rapport. And it can be used for good purposes in many situations. Consider when someone calls a depression hotline for help. The caller is reaching out because of feeling sad and hopeless and may be brimming over with despair. The trained counselor doesn’t respond to the caller’s opening remarks with, “Oh come on….it can’t be that bad.”

No, the counselor moves down to mirror the level of the caller, asking questions that establish the meaning, “I understand. I feel your depth of pain. You’re not alone.” And only when the rapport has been established gently, hopefully the counselor can move up the emotional state of the caller a little bit at a time.

We can all use a dose of that kind of understanding every day.






Do Not Repeat After Me, Repeat After Me, Repeat After Me


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Picture this: I’m looking online for a short talk by Simon Sinek that I “accidentally” saw yesterday and didn’t bookmark. Sinek is an author, motivational business coach, and professional speaker. He’s an inspiration to many people, including me. In my search for THAT video, I came across another Sinek interview that highlighted a point I had just taught the day before.

Surprisingly, I discovered that in this 15 minute one-on-one talk, Sinek repeats the word “right” over and over. I’ve seen other Simon Sinek talks and hadn’t picked up on that bad habit. It’s possible the reason for right popping out is due to this being more of an informal talk. Also, his audience of one isn’t giving any verbal attends. (Those are short feedback phrases such as: Oh. Yes. I see. Sure. Uh-huh. I understand. OK.) So when Simon adds, “Right?” he’s confirming that the audience appears to have received the message, and it’s time to move on to another thought.

How do I know this? Because I used to do the same thing with the word OK. It’s almost as if I was reassuring myself that all was well and I could go on to the next point.

What is the point of my encouraging you to watch this short video? (The link is at the end of this post.) Initially, it was to demonstrate that even a professional speaker can get into the habit of repeating a word while presenting.

But the more deeply I listened to the video, the repeated word no longer bothered me. I got so involved in Sinek’s talk that I tuned out the annoyance.

His message was so big it precluded any focus on this minor point.

I began thinking….hey, this is exactly how the process of becoming an amazing speaker works. The transformation into an engaging public speaker is not about learning and practicing ONE great tip from Norma. It’s about learning and practicing one idea and then another and then another.

It’s trying out the ideas you’ve learned and seeing how you can adjust them to fit your own voice and personality. Then each student or client puts together for himself or herself a custom-made toolbox of speaking practices.

Think of it like this: When you want to purchase a new shirt or blouse you may take half a dozen of the items into the fitting room with you. As you try on each one, you notice what works and what doesn’t. This one is a great color, but it’s a little tight across the shoulders. (So you can use this idea, just tweaking it to suit you.) This one looked super on the hanger but not so good on you. (While this concept sounded interesting, you decide it’s not for you.) But this one….Wow! The color matches your eyes and fits perfectly. (This idea becomes cornerstone content of your presentations. It’s your go-to tool whenever you’re speaking.)

So it’s not taking one class, or reading one book, or watching one video. The quick fix…the one and done method doesn’t work for many important aspects of our lives.

Whether it’s speaking or parenting or playing sports or doing our job…if we are to be successful in that role, it means lifelong learning and reading and watching and doing.

PS – Later in the Sinek video when the host actually does speak up, he also starts to add the questioning “right?” to his speech. Is this is his own bad habit or did he simply latch onto the word to mirror Simon? Hmmm…sounds like another blog post to me.

Link to Simon Sinek video


Find Your Own Voice


Photo courtesy of Brandan Keller on Unsplash

Why do we want what other people have?

My friend Sue has the greatest hair. It’s short and curly and a tad unruly, but it’s a perfect fit for her. When I asked how much time she spends on “the look,” she said, “Oh I slept on this and did nothing to my hair this morning.”

THAT is the look every woman I know longs for…to wake up and not have to do ANYTHING to your hair and have it look gorgeous.

So I tried Sue’s directions (which involved curl cream…something I’d never even heard of) and let’s just say, uhh…it looked like a mistake on me.

Sue’s hairdo is not for Norma.

That incident reminded me that once an audience member beseechingly asked me, “Please teach me to sound just like you.”  I replied, “I’m sorry, this is my voice and you can’t have it. But I can help you find your own voice.”

If you don’t like the sound of your voice, you’re not alone. Many people have told me they believe their voice detracts from the quality of their verbal interactions and presentations. Research bears that out; up to 38% of the verbal message that our listeners receive from us is based on various aspects of voice.

The good news is that you can take initial steps to improve some voice issues without spending a gazillion dollars on a voice coach.

The first exercise is to listen to yourself. That means you’ll need to record 30-40 minutes of YOU talking in everyday situations such as your side of a phone conversation, leading or actively participating in a meeting, teaching someone how to do something. Be creative and try to forget that you’re recording yourself.

No one listens to this taping but you. Set aside some private time to analyze your recording to determine what you want to change. Be brave! This is the point some people give up.

Trust yourself. You intuitively have the smarts to know what needs to be changed.

Don’t listen with a critical ear. Instead listen with an open and understanding ear, as though you’re listening to a good friend and you want to help him or her improve.

Do you hear a voice that’s talking so fast you don’t understand what’s being said? Or are the words coming so slowly that you feel yourself nodding off?

Is the voice high pitched to the point that it causes the speaker to sound unsure or even childlike? Or are the words in a dull monotone where every word carries the same weight? A monotone voice can cause disengagement because listeners aren’t quite sure what the main points are or what is being emphasized.

Maybe there’s a word or phrase that’s used repetitively without the speaker’s awareness of doing so. Some of the most overused words I hear are these:

Basically  /  Kinda  /  Literally  /  Sorta  /  So  /  And so  /  Just  /  Thing

Once aware of any issues that detract from the verbal message, we can begin working to repair them.

Your own true voice is inside you. Let it out because I want to hear it!


Get Your Message Across While Maintaining the Interest of the Audience


Photo by John-Mark Kuznietsov on Unsplash

You’re listening to a speaker. It could be a teacher in a class you’re taking. Maybe it’s a co-worker training your team in a new process. It might be a pastor delivering a sermon. Perhaps you paid to attend a seminar where the speaker is an expert in a field where you want to learn more.

This speaker certainly has the credentials (education, skill set, experience, and achievements) to give this particular talk. But there’s a four component problem:

1) The presentation is so disjointed and rambling that no one in the audience can keep track of the main points. It seems like the speaker is lost and going off in one new direction after the other.

2) The speaker uses a lot of business jargon that you don’t know the meaning of. There are so many facts and statistics thrown in that you can’t keep track of their significance. Sometime the speaker merely hints at some points without really identifying them. Just when you think you understand a point, well…no, that’s not it. This is highly frustrating for an audience.

3) The body language and voice of the speaker are that of a person who has no confidence in herself or in what she is saying. The speaker is either reading from a manuscript or scanning the room without really looking at anyone. You find that you’re asking yourself if the person actually believes her own message. The speaker’s credibility fades as the presentation goes on.

4) When the speaker wraps it up with an “in conclusion,” you realize you haven’t taken any notes. You find that you can’t remember one single piece of advice or action step. There was no meaning to the talk; it was simply a mish-mash of words. An audience usually leaves such a presentation muttering, “What a waste of time.”

Any talk that you give—whether it’s to a class of middle school students, a team of five for fifteen minutes, a congregation of 150, or an hour’s presentation to a large audience—must be FUBR (rhymes with Uber) for the audience.

Follow – An audience needs to be able to follow the presentation. Don’t leave them guessing when you’re ending one main point and beginning another.

Understand – They need to be able to understand the meaning of your words to get your message.

Believe – A speaker’s voice and body language need to enhance the spoken words to strengthen the message. Really look at individual members of your audience while you speak.

Remember – If an audience can’t remember the speaker’s presentation, what’s the point of having sat through it?

An audience (no matter the size) comes to us with hopeful expectations. They may believe that the speaker can help them solve a problem. An audience may want to be inspired to make a change. Some people want to learn a skill or enhance their existing knowledge of one. They’re looking for an experience that will help them.

An audience wants to feel included, respected, and engaged.

If you use the FUBR model, your audience will come away from your talk feeling just that.



Say, Do You Have An Hour Or Two…Or 10,000?

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The writer Malcolm Gladwell fascinates me. He causes me to really think about topics I may not even have considered prior to reading his ideas. His 2008 book Outliers, caused some controversy (imagine that!) when he said that, “Ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness.”

A summary of his theory is that, to be successful in something, natural talent counts and good luck and positive circumstances play a big role too. But the key is consistent practice for a long period of time….10,000 hours as a matter of fact.

Facing some of his critics who misconstrued his writing to mean that you can be anything if you spend 10,000 hours practicing it, he was quoted in Business Insider on June 2, 2014, as saying, “The point is simply that natural ability requires a huge investment of time in order to be made manifest.”

We’re all busy and 10,000 is a big number. To put it in perspective, there are 8,760 hours in a year. So even if we went without sleep for a whole year and focused solely on this expert status 24/7, we wouldn’t have enough hours. The number might seem insurmountable to some people.

But consider where you’ve already put in hours toward your passion over the past month, year, decade, or lifetime. You’re likely well on your way to that magic number without realizing it. Want to become a master chef? How long have you been cooking already? If you have considered becoming a professional gardener in your retirement, tally up the years you’ve spent making your own yard a showpiece.

And what if you have a natural talent for something but have left it as an unrealized passion still inside you? Well, an hour a day for the next 27.5 years gets you just over 10,000 hours. And of course, that means two hours of practice a day will take you less than 14 years. Even if you have a day job, that is doable.

I doubt that many of us are looking to be recognized as a world-famous expert in anything. But it’s important to practice our craft and help others along our way to that magic number of greatness.










Out of the Mouths of Parents


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After thousands of complaints poured in regarding my post about Dale and Andrew Carnegie…nope, just kidding…no one complained.

The topic of that post came up because of a great story my friend Jan Sutton shared with me.

Jan has been a business owner as a Farmers Insurance agent for over twenty years. Early in her career she took advantage of a short, teaser-type meeting sponsored by the Dale Carnegie company. While their website states they improve individual and business performance, most people associate Dale Carnegie with the topic of public speaking.

Jan got fired up at the initial meeting and signed up for their two hour presentation. As she recently talked to me about speaking pointers she remembers from all those years ago, I recognized that many of the ground rules for speaking in public are still important today.

  • Arrive early, check out the room and get to know it, test the equipment, and introduce yourself to the people running the show.
  • Appearance matters.
  • Body language speaks louder than your words can.
  • Be nice.

After that presentation Jan stopped at her parents’ home. She excitedly told her father about all the fascinating new information she had buzzing through her head. Her dad stood up and left the room. Returning from the basement, he held out Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People. This is THE book that started the whole Carnegie movement.

When Jan asked, “Oh, you took the class too?” her dad answered, “Yes. I was taught by Dale Carnegie in New York.”

In the late 40s and early 50s her family had lived basically around the corner from where Carnegie started. To think that her dad had been personally trained by Dale Carnegie blew Jan away. Me too!

Then she started thinking about the advice her dad had given her over the years. He’d always been so supportive of her tackling new subjects, taking chances, and then branching out to own her own business.

In thinking back, she wishes she had paid attention sooner and listened more intently to her parents’ stories. She offers up this advice to younger people: Interview your parents! Find out all the interesting stuff they know! Do it now!

One trait evident in Jan is her fervor to keep learning and improving. She looks for opportunities to gain knowledge, and she takes advantage of any class that’s offered. I’m sure at this point you won’t be surprised to learn she’s a participant in a leadership class.

She also recognizes the value of having a coach. As she expounds on that subject, she takes on an exuberant tone of voice.

“Do you think you don’t need a coach? Have you ever watched the Olympics? When the gold medal winners are shown, who is standing beside them? Yes, their family…and their coach. Regardless of what level you are at, even if you are at the top of your game, you need a coach to hold you accountable and to keep you motivated.”

Sage advice.

And my guess is that both her dad and Dale Carnegie would be very proud.

A Tale of Two Carnegies


Photo courtesy of John Mark Kuznietsov of Unsplash

Did you know that Dale Carnegie (1888-1955), author of the bestselling How to Win Friends and Influence People, had an original last name of Carnagey?

It’s true; around 1913 he changed the spelling of his last name so that the general public would associate him with the family (and status) of Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919). Andrew Carnegie was an exceedingly wealthy steel tycoon and philanthropist.

Both men had been born into poor families and both made their own ways to financial success. And although they did share a passion for books and learning, they were not related.

In 1900 Andrew made a point of telling his family (and anyone who asked) why he was donating the bulk of his fortune (the $350 million would be worth nearly five billion in today’s dollars) by writing a small book called The Gospel of Wealth.

Andrew felt that too much money ruined a person. He encouraged all wealthy people to be socially responsible and use their money to help others.

Part of the money Andrew Carnegie left endowed over 200 libraries.

A man after my own heart.

It’s been thought that Andrew Carnegie and his wife held one of the first prenuptial agreements. Apparently he wanted to leave his wife and daughter enough money to be comfortable, but not so much that they might end up lazy.

In an interview with one of his great granddaughters (Linda Thorell Hills), she said her family has been appreciative and supportive of Andrew’s legacy; they try to live as he did.

Here’s a fantastic quote from a Forbes article from Ms. Thorell Hills:

“Making one’s own way in life is a healthy way to be. Our family has been very much raised with the philosophy that our own individual lives are what we make of them.”

While Andrew Carnegie literally gave away most of his wealth, I cannot find that Dale Carnegie did the same.  In fact, if you do a specific Google search (putting the phrase in quotation marks) for “Dale Carnegie Philanthropist,” you get ZERO hits.  About 0 results (0.69 seconds)

Can you tell me the last time you Googled something and got zero hits?

A biographical website for Dale Carnagey/Carnegie, says that the name spelling change was “a brilliant, if somewhat disingenuous, business tactic.”

Well, I guess he really did know how to influence people.






Rock, Scissors, Paper, Rock, Rock, Rock

big rocks

Photo by Norma Thatcher

If you want to see big rocks, visit Yosemite National Park. If you’re like me, you’ll end up believing that, compared to Yosemite’s, other rocks are just pebbles.

Visiting the park recently reminded me of the time management training I took that was based on the work of Stephen R. Covey. Covey was the inspirational giant who taught us about The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People.

The primary teaching concept is that your life is like a large container you can fill. Next to the container, there are big rocks, small stones, and gravel. If you start pouring in the gravel and small stones, it will fill up the container so much that you won’t be able to fit in the big rocks.

The only way this works out is if you put in the big rocks first. The important and urgent tasks need to be scheduled and completed first. If you neglect the important and urgent tasks and instead fill up your time with the small stones and gravel (minor, unimportant tasks or time wasters such as Twitter, texting, Pinterest or Facebook), then the important work suffers.

This doesn’t mean that if you schedule the big rocks first, then you can eventually get it ALL completed. The real point to me is I need to be aware of what gravel I’m playing with that wastes my time and keeps me from completing what really needs to be done.

I remember one of my bosses (who attended the same training) kept saying for months, “Get rid of the gravel. Get rid of the gravel.”

For me, I have to be super-aware of this when I’m online. Even tonight, when I’m late in writing this post about KEEPING ON POINT, after searching for a good video of the “big rocks” concept, I got distracted and read about Stephen Covey’s death, watched two videos his son made about his dad, skimmed through two other videos about the concept, then got pulled into a Johnny Carson monologue!

Get rid of the gravel, Norma!

It’s important to identify what our big rocks are because each of yours will be different than mine and from each other’s. Some of our big rocks will change over time and some will remain constant.

Too often we get busy with life and forget to focus on the big rocks.

Remember the old game Rock, Scissors, Paper?  Here are the winning outcomes: Rock crushes scissors, scissors cut paper, and paper covers rock.

Ponder that for a moment. Paper wins by covering rock. The symbolism is awesome. Paperwork (even the electronic kind!) can cover our rocks so that we lose sight of them.

Excuse me while I plug in my vacuum to suck up some of this gravel.






Pack A Bag…For Work

Briefcase for work

Photo courtesy of Clem Onojeghuo of Unsplash

Are you aware of the latest “must have” accessory in the businessman’s wardrobe?

An executive backpack.

According to an article in the October 19th Wall Street Journal, businessmen are switching from briefcases to backpacks.

Not just any old backpack will do, of course. Apparently, the “slung over one shoulder messenger bag” is so last year. And to wear a backpack that tells the tale of I-also-use-this-for-hiking would be so, well, gauche.

“Dude, is that, like, a grass stain on your backpack?”

Humor aside, this is no financial joke. An analysis of sales for the past twelve months ending this past August shows that $864 MILLION was spent in the US market segment titled “adult men backpacks.”

And in case you’re wondering how our country can spend over eight hundred million dollars on men’s backpacks, let’s take a look at the executive versions pictured in the WSJ article.

They ranged in price from a paltry $540 to the staggering amount of $3695 for a Brunello Cucinelli suede model.

Just that brand’s name sounds expensive.

So never mind the $7.58 you may have shelled out at Target for the My Little Pony Rainbow Dash backpack or the $9.88 you spent at Walmart for the Spiderman version for your kids or grandchildren this fall. Nope, the real money spent on backpacks is for men.

Backpack boy

Photo courtesy of Daiga Ellaby, Unsplash

Because that eight million and change I noted representing the men’s segment of backpack sales was nearly HALF of the entire American sales of backpacks in the same period.

That’s a lot of men carrying something on their backs.

But you know, the “man bag” (basically a purse for men) never really caught on. I can’t imagine why not. And there’s just something wrong with a man wearing a fanny pack. Plus it’s hard to fit a laptop into something worn around your waist.

So I guess a professional-looking carryall for working men makes sense.

And I would like to applaud the marketing genius who coined the term executive backpack.

Tagging this utilitarian object with a super cool name makes it something that every working man will feel good about wearing even if they don’t shell out big bucks for the expensive versions and even if they don’t work in an office.

When I Google search “executive backpacks for women” and ignore the images and the paid ads, the first hit that comes up says “Women’s Business Backpacks.” That’s followed by hits on laptop bags, travel bags, and the all-purpose “work/life” bags. I guess that means you can carry clean diapers and wipes in with your laptop.

So for now, an executive backpack is a guy thing.

I love Robert De Niro’s character in the movie The Intern.

He plays a 70-ish retired widower who goes back to work by becoming an intern at a start-up company. His millennial co-workers are amazed that he dresses in a suit (complete with a cloth hankie in his pant’s pocket) and carries a briefcase. He took great pride in his 1973 Executive Ashburn attaché case.

He would not have been the same character if he had worn a backpack, executive style or not.

Spoiler Alert to the men in my life:  Sorry, but Santa will NOT be leaving a Brunello Cucinelli executive backpack under the tree for you this year.

But I’m seriously wondering if I should ask my financial advisor about investing in this new industry. Diversify!





The Whole Truth And Nothing But The Truth

Photo courtesy of Inja Pavlic / Unsplash

“You know, I never really lied. I just told the truth differently.” –Merrit Malloy

I’ve heard many lies in my life—probably more than my fair share because of the years spent in foodservice credit management.

With technology advances it became increasingly difficult for my customers to offer “the check is in the mail” excuse. Ability to pay immediately online via checking account or credit card left little wiggle room.

But people with companies in financial difficulty could sometimes find a shade-of-grey truth around even that by blaming the technology “I don’t know what’s wrong with YOUR system, but I paid online two days ago!”

Well, yes they did. But they post-dated the online payment for ten days into the future. I referred to that as the Wimpy covenant: “I’d gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”

Why do we lie? Or fib or bend the truth or provide a misconception of a truth by omitting some details? Or as is popular in politics these days, we don’t lie, we simply misspeak.

No matter what label we slap on it to provide justification to ourselves, we’re lying.

When I trained sales people about our company’s credit management policies and procedures, I’d close the training the same way each time:

“Be 100% honest and forthright with me and the Credit Analyst who handles your accounts. Tell us the truth—always—no matter what it is. If you lie and are caught (and we WILL catch you), you’ll have burned a bridge that cannot be rebuilt.”

And then I quoted them a line from John Steinbeck’s East of Eden.

“I know that sometimes a lie is used in kindness. I don’t believe it ever works kindly. The quick pain of truth can pass away, but the slow, eating agony of a lie is never lost.“

Hearing the truth about their speaking skills grows to be one of the favorite aspects of class for my students. I say, “grows to be” because initially most people shy away from hearing about distracting mannerisms, a monotone voice, or a message so convoluted the audience has difficulty following it.

As we built a team of learners, we find strength in having others we trust gently uncover unknown weaknesses. We learn to “always value feedback because we don’t know what we don’t know.”

But I’ll admit I do see poet Merrit Malloy’s side to this as well; not lying but telling the truth “differently.” Because in the poem, she goes on to explain that she might say something is beautiful when it’s just pretty or that something is fascinating when it’s only interesting.

My admonition to tell the truth isn’t a license to say everything you might be thinking and hurt someone. We need to remember to be kind even as we speak the truth.

“I think it would be helpful to look at another solution,” is a much better response to a friend than, “That’s the stupidest idea you’ve ever had.”

Even if it is.

And that’s the truth.