Mentoring Is Not A New Idea


In my mid-20s I began working as a secretary for an office furniture and supply company. When I was transitioning into my first middle management position, I had an amazing mentor named Ann.

This was in the late 70s and the business world was still very much male-dominated. In fact, according to the Census Bureau, in 1980 only 25% of managers in the US workplace were female. So for Ann to hold the Vice President of Operations title was anything but commonplace.

The advice she provided to my younger self likely seems ridiculous viewed through the lens of today’s world. But since I still vividly remember it today means it had quite an impact on me.

Since the company sold both office furniture and supplies, we had a warehouse. Its workers were union employees. Around 10:00 am each workday, the alarm bell rang signaling break time for the warehouse. Some of the office employees had gotten into the habit of taking our coffee break along with the warehouse workers; I was one of them. Ann suggested that as the newly promoted office manager I should stop reacting to a break bell. She encouraged me to start developing more of an executive presence.

Ann also pointed out that more conservative clothing choices would be appropriate if I wanted to be taken seriously and advance in the company. While I never wore anything that would be considered inappropriate, my wardrobe had consisted of very feminine clothing.

The best advice she gave me was in handling men with their own agendas. I know with the Me Too movement’s push for bringing sexual harassment and assault into the light where it belongs that most people are aware that things used to be very different in the workplace. But unless you lived through those times, I think it might be difficult to believe or understand.

There was this one guy who was also a manager at the company. In the language of the day, we women referred to him as a male chauvinist pig. To my knowledge, he never actually took any physical action against women, but he was the master of manipulating language to create double entendres as well as pretending innocence while lecherously staring at women.

At one management meeting, he kept turning the conversation to a well-endowed young woman I had just hired as the receptionist. No matter how I tried to steer the conversation back on track, he persisted with comments and jokes.

My inexperienced self (rattled, mad, and unsure of how to take back control) took the only action I could think of. I ineffectively stormed out of the conference room, got in my car, and drove away. Where was I going exactly?

When I slunk back in the front door an hour later, I found my way to Ann’s office and slumped into a chair. Her only admonishment was this: “When you allow him to get to you, he wins.”

So yes, things are different now (thank goodness), and yet younger people can still more easily navigate through this world with a mentor. I see this happening in the county where I live with leadership programs and a course called Be the Change for women who want to start a business or build an existing one.

Ann was a wonderful mentor and I’m quite sure that I never thanked her enough. But by serving as a mentor myself to others through the years, that is a form of thanks in itself.


Deserve To Win

deserve to win

Image by analogicus from Pixabay

For nearly a decade when I was in my 40s, I was involved in the Virginia segment of Business and Professional Women Clubs, Inc. (BPW). Unbelievably, the group was founded way back in 1919. The tagline of the current iteration of the group is, “Developing the business, professional and leadership potential of women.”

Back then to me, our mission was simply this: women helping women. We taught classes in finance, public speaking, networking, mentoring, professional image, and leadership. Working tirelessly in fundraising, we established scholarships for high school senior girls.

While I was active in the group, my best friend Betsy (likewise in her 40s) was enrolled in a community college in Pennsylvania. She saw a flyer announcing that the local Pennsylvania affiliate of BPW was offering a $500 scholarship for a winning essay on being an older student in continuing education.

Betsy wrote her essay and was the oldest of three winners. She was invited to accept her prize at the club’s next meeting, and the instruction was this: Be prepared to give a speech. So my friend considered carefully what she wanted to convey.

As you may recall from Saturday’s post, an acceptance speech graciously thanks the giver and helps the audience feel good about having this person chosen as the winner.

Speaking as the first of the three winners, Betsy spoke from the heart. She told them that the prize money was important to her as the coal mines had recently closed down and her husband was temporarily out of work. But more importantly, winning was good for her ego. She hadn’t worked outside the home for twenty years except for volunteer and church work. Living in a small town, she hadn’t had a lot of exposure to the world at large. As she offered her sincere thanks, Betsy shared that knowing her words in the essay moved the committee to choose her as a winner really pumped her up.

As Betsy returned to her seat while the audience applauded, a woman leaned over and whispered to her, “That was wonderful. But I would hate to be one of the other winners following you!”

And unfortunately for them, the other two winners had NOT come prepared and simply offered some sort of generic thank you.

Most of us were brought up to say a proper thank you. I want you to remember that the next time you accept an award or prize.

 “In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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


Photo courtesy of Jim Jackson on

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, 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.






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!


Let Your Light Shine Without Apologizing for the Glare

Light Shine

Photo courtesy of Gilherme Stecanella on Unsplash

I was near the end of telling my husband the story of the two blouses I’d bought at a consignment store. I mean, it was a super deal on two new designer name blouses: 75% off AND buy one, get one free. My total for the two was less than four bucks.

I take pride in my shopping savviness, and he knows it.

But my husband held up one hand in a “hold it right there” gesture and said, “Don’t tell anyone else this story.” As I looked at him quizzically, he said, “I just learned this from one of the woodworkers I follow. When someone compliments a bookcase you’ve made, just say thank you and then shut up. Don’t turn the bookcase around and point out a tiny mistake you made while you confess, ‘But look at this flaw on the back.’ The woodworker says to learn to accept praise without deflection. So when people admire your blouse, just say thanks and don’t add how little you paid.”

That’s terrific advice, right? But I looked at my husband and responded, “Are you kidding me? You’re actually giving ME that advice?!”

My husband had no idea why I was upset, so I had to explain:

That’s the same advice I’ve been telling you for years. Say, “Thank you. I’m glad you like it.” And don’t say anything else. Do you not recall that I forbade you to talk to the home appraiser when he was here this spring? That was because you built this house and I couldn’t trust you NOT to point out every flaw and defect invisible to the naked eye.

Nope. He has zero recollection of my ever having given him that stellar advice.

I actually do recall the very first time I heard that advice. It was 1985 and I was an audience member of a presentation for professional women given by Dr. Julie White.

The term Dr. White used was discounting. In the examples she provided, she shared the story of her complimenting another woman on her jacket. The woman said, “I made it myself.” Dr. White then examined the jacket more closely and admired out loud the beautiful fine detailing. The woman then removed the jacket saying, “Yes, but look at this mistake I made in the inside lining by the left arm.”

No one would have ever known.

Consider someone who has worked creatively on a project that is a huge success. When she’s lauded for her work, she replies, “Thanks. But I was really lucky.”

Lucky? This amazing, over-the-top achievement was due to luck? I don’t think so.

Women especially downplay our worth by the language we use. We over apologize. We apologize for situations over which we have zero control. We add the word “just” to turn a statement into an apology. Instead of saying, “I’m following up on the assignment,” we say, “I’m just following up.”

Say the two out loud. Hear the difference?

I encourage my students to smile and say thank you when an audience applauds at the end of a presentation. There is sometimes the tendency to diminish the appreciation by doing a curtsey or a bow. Or they may shake their head no and wave away the applause as if saying, “Oh, it was nothing.”

I’m not recommending that anyone become a braggart. But let’s stop giving away our success. Accept compliments. Own your accomplishments. Say thank you and simply shut up.

And when you see me in the blue paisley Ann Taylor blouse, please pretend you don’t know it cost $2.