Mirror, Mirror on the Wall?

Misti Burmeister
December 8, 2008 — 1,988 views  
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If I know something is true about me - and I think I am projecting that image to the world - then other people will see me that way, right? Nope! And I have been privileged to have very generous people tell me exactly how I come across. Even when what they have had to say was the hardest thing to hear, they were granting me an invaluable gift - clear insight into how I come across to them and what my opportunities for growth are. Mind you, it takes guts to listen and great courage to decide how to respond.

I will not soon forget a recent meeting with Alex, CEO of a venture capital company and a potential client. When I entered his office space, there was no one at the front desk to welcome me. Within a few minutes, Alex came rushing by and said in passing, "I'll be with you in a minute." Before he finally greeted and ushered me into his conference room, he made sure to rush from office to office - aggressively asserting himself. The message from his words and actions was obvious: he was the alpha male.

Just as we sat down at the conference table, he jumped up and ran off to get another woman to join our meeting. Neither she nor I really understood why she was there.

He began the conversation by letting me know how much he had already accomplished, why he decided to start this new company - and what the secrets to his success were. In short, here is what he said: "We put our customers first, our financial infrastructure second and our people third."

Curious, I asked, "Why in that order?" Before I could clarify my question, Alex cut me off and rambled on about why his way is the right way. Every time I tried to gain a better understanding of anything he said he jumped in without allowing me to finish my thought.

I quickly realized Alex had no real desire to hear anyone but him speak, so I decided to take this opportunity to learn through really listening.

He said, "I'm an excellent listener," yet never stopped talking.

He said, "My people come first," after he'd already told me they were his last priority

He said, "I'm open to new ideas." Yet when I encouraged him to see a new perspective, he shot back, "I grew a company from 0 to 2,500 people and sold it, and it's now doing very well. I have everything I need."

I honestly believe Alex wanted all those things to be true about him. But, like many of us, he is blind to how he is really coming across.

Are you coming across the way you intend? How do you know? After all, you don't know what you don't know - until you ask.

Try this exercise to learn how other people perceive you.


  • Ø Select three people you respect - two you get along with and one you don't.
  • Ø Ask each of them for 20-30 minutes to help you learn more about yourself and how you're perceived.
  • Ø Ask, "What do you think others would say is true about me?" Phrasing it this way lets them off the hook. Be sure to clarify their points by saying, "What I heard you say is ___. Did I get it right? Is there more?"
  • Ø Ask, "What are my greatest weaknesses, and what are my greatest strengths?" Remember, you will never be good at everything. A weakness is not bad - though it could be an opportunity to improve.

Let me know how it goes!

Rock on!

Misti Burmeister


Misti Burmeister

Inspirion Inc.

Burmeister brings more than a decade of professional experience to her work with diverse clientele, including organizations like AT&T, UPS, Marriott International, Choice Hotels, U.S. Army and Navy, Wal-Mart and Johnson & Johnson Company. As a result of her hands-on coaching, clients have seen significant improvements in employee retention, ultimately contributing to their bottom lines. One organization saw a 90 percent reduction in its turnover rate! Her timely contributions are catching the attention of the media, businesses and even the government. She's been quoted in the Washington Business Journal, The Washington Post and The Washington Times. Combining humor with hard-hitting information delivered with "an amazing amount of energy," she's earned acclaim for providing real, quantitative and effective steps that empower and bring out the best in multi-generational organizations "“ immediately.