Ep. 318 The Art of Communication: Insights with Sam Horn

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I have the privilege of connecting with a friend and colleague today! 

Sam Horn is the Founder and CEO of the Intrigue Agency and the Tongue Fu! Training Institute. She is a communication strategist who helps people craft and convey unique presentations, pitches, books, businesses, and brands to drive positive change and permanently scale their impact. In addition to being a sought-after keynote speaker and organizational trainer, she is also a respected personal friend and mentor.

In today’s discussion, we dive into why we, as a culture, are so averse to conflict. We get into the implications of talking on eggshells and losing our voice and discuss the crucial role of pattern interruption and the art of addressing teasing, taunting, and bullying, both online and offline. We also explore ways to deal with complainers and people pleasers, we examine the transformative power of language, and Sam explains how to gracefully handle requests for free advice.

I am truly grateful to have Sam joining me on the podcast to share her wisdom and positivity, and offer strategies for navigating the tough conversations of our time!

“Instead of finding fault, find solutions, or instead of bellyaching, get busy.”

– Sam Horn


  • Why many of us have been finding it harder to express our opinions after all that has happened in the last three years
  • Common reactions that make difficult situations even worse
  • An effective strategy for handling situations where someone deliberately tries to trigger or manipulate you or make you feel guilty
  • How to how to interrupt harmful behavior patterns and become a force for good 
  • How to reframe your perspective and promote empathy
  • Which words should be used and which are best avoided to help children learn and grow?
  • The importance of shifting focus from blaming to finding solutions
  • Ways to address persistent complainers in a customer service-oriented world
  • How to communicate effectively and resolve conflict 
  • How to handle requests for free advice


Sam Horn is the CEO of the Intrigue Agency, a positioning/messaging consultancy, that helps people design and deliver TEDx talks, keynotes, funding pitches, and one-of-a-kind brands.

She is also the CEO of the Tongue Fu! Training Institute, a trade-marked communication skills approach, that teaches how to give and get respect at work, at home, online, and in public.

Sam is the author of 10 books from major publishers including Tongue Fu!®, POP!, Take the Bully by the Horns, SOMEDAY is Not a Day in the Week and Washington Post bestseller Got Your Attention? 

Her newest book Talking on Eggshells received a glowing Publishers Weekly review and endorsements from Marie Forleo, Jack Canfield, Lynn Twist, JJ Virgin, Dr. Ivan Misner (founder of BNI), and Whole Foods founder John Mackey who calls it “The course-correct for today’s cancel culture.” 

Sam’s work has been featured in dozens of publications including the NY Times, Forbes, Readers Digest, Fast Company, and, Harvard Business Review. She has been interviewed on every major network including NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox, NPR, and MSNBC.

Sam has had the privilege of speaking to more than half a million people worldwide – from China to Chicago, Ireland to England – and for clients including Boeing, Intel, Capital One, Cisco, Nationwide, Four Seasons Resorts, Accenture, National Geographic, ASAE, American Bankers Association

Sam’s books have been published in 17 languages and she has spoken internationally in China, Germany, England, Greece, Netherlands, Ireland, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Canada, and Korea.

Fun Fact:  Sam Horn and her Tongue Fu! team stumped the TV Show To Tell the Truth panel.

Sam served as the Pitch Coach for Springboard Enterprises which has helped entrepreneurs generate $27.8 billion (yes, that’s a B) in funding – and has been brought in by TED FELLOWS and Richard Branson’s NEW NOW Leaders to teach how to craft compelling pitches that get a YES. 

Sam’s LinkedIn Learning course is used by organizations worldwide, (e.g., Amazon, KPMG, Walmart) as part of their communication – customer service – leadership training.

Sam co-founded the Business Book Festival (held at the USA Today headquarters) and served as the Emcee and Executive Director of the world-renowned Maui Writers Conference for 17 years.

Sheri Salata (Former Executive Producer of The Oprah Winfrey Show, Pres. of Harpo Productions and OWN) calls Sam “one of the bright lights and most accessible wisdom-sharers in our culture today.”

Connect with Cynthia Thurlow

Connect with Sam Horn


Cynthia Thurlow: [00:00:02] Welcome to Everyday Wellness podcast. I’m your host, Nurse Practitioner, Cynthia Thurlow. This podcast is designed to educate, empower, and inspire you to achieve your health and wellness goals. My goal and intent is to provide you with the best content and conversations from leaders in the health and wellness industry each week and impact over a million lives.


[00:00:29] Today, I had the honor of connecting with my friend and colleague Sam Horn, who is the Founder and CEO of the Intrigue Agency and the Tongue Fu! Training Institute. As a communication strategist, she helps people design and deliver one-of-a-kind presentations, pitches, books, businesses and brands that scale their impact for good. She is also an in-demand keynoter and trainer for organizations. She is also a personal friend, mentor, and someone I respect enormously. And I’m so very grateful to have had her on the podcast sharing her positivity and strategies for navigating our current hard conversations.


[00:01:09] Today, we dove deep into why we are so conflict averse as a culture, what represents Talking on Eggshells and losing our voice, the importance of pattern interruption, how to address teasing, taunting, and bullying on social media and beyond, addressing complainers, people pleasers, the power of language, and how to handle requests for free advice. I know you will find this conversation invaluable and I know you will enjoy listening to it as much as I did recording it. 


[00:01:41] Well, Sam, I’ve been so looking forward to this conversation. Thank you for coming on the podcast. Thank you for the work that you do. I speak very openly that in the time that I was in the Mastermind, you were by far my favorite expert who came in. I just really find so much value in what you share with the world and the strengths and talents that you have. So, it’s really a delight to have you on the podcast unbelievably for the first time. So, as I was reading your book and thinking about what angles to take because there’re so many different angles that we could take as we’re talking about being taken advantage of, our kindness can be seen as a dual-edged sword, why are so many of us afraid to speak up? Why are we sometimes so afraid to speak up for ourselves? And I don’t say this in a way that we can’t advocate or we aren’t confident that’s not what this is. But especially over the past three years, why do you think so many of us feel like our opinions and trying to express ourselves has just gotten more challenging amongst all the events of the last three years?


Sam Horn: [00:02:46] You know Cynthia, we’re not alone. Harvard did a study and 67% of people self-identify as conflict averse. And that means that when they see a conflict, they head the other direction. And it’s because we don’t either want to anger people and do what we think is going to make things worse, or we don’t want to jeopardize our job or we don’t want to put our relationship at risk. Many of us see conflict as fraught with danger. [chuckles] We don’t want any part of it. We’re out of here. 


Cynthia Thurlow: [00:03:17] Yeah. And I think so much of it when I reflect on why I developed into being a people pleaser, why did I go into nursing? I like camaraderie. I like when people agree. It isn’t that I don’t like disagreeing, but I don’t like strife and drama and yelling and screaming. And so, for me, I have a tendency to be very conflict averse. And so, it can definitely be one of those things where it’s good that you want to be a happy, contributing member to society, but you have to speak up for yourself. It’s just like me kind of explain this to my teenagers. I had one who’s more conflict averse than the other and one who’s like a bull in a China shop. And I always say, like, you almost have to restrain him a little bit and then encourage the other one to speak up for himself. Like, if you’re not happy with the way things are going, you have to let people know. They sometimes don’t know otherwise. And so, was it in response to the events over the last three years that this was the time to write Talking on Eggshells, was it in response to what you were witnessing during the pandemic and feeling like, in many ways, we had lost all civility with one another in the effect of being so disconnected and being scared and being upset and frustrated and angry in response to what happened globally and internationally and nationally.


Sam Horn: [00:04:38] It is. And Cynthia, you know how my mind works. I like to juxtapose things, don’t I? 




Cynthia Thurlow: [00:04:43] Yes, you do. 


Sam Horn: [00:04:45] So unless people are driving, I hope they get a piece of paper and they put a vertical line down the center, because in our conversation today, we’re going to identify what doesn’t work, those reactions that actually make things worse. And then we’re going to talk about responses, about words to use instead of words to lose that actually make things better. So, let’s write from the top. Put on the left-hand column averse, we’re conflict averse, we’re afraid of it, we avoid it and we are once again assuming that conflict means we’re going to put our relationship at risk, we’re going to jeopardize our job, we’re going to somehow rock the boat in a way we wish we hadn’t even brought it up. And over on the right, put the word agency that lovely word. What’s the word agency mean to you, Cynthia? 


Cynthia Thurlow: [00:05:36] I think so much of it is just this appreciation of who you are as an individual and how you’re navigating the world and making sense of it to yourself. I mean, that’s what that means to me.


Sam Horn: [00:05:46] Yeah.


[00:05:46] If someone were to ask me outright, I think for so many of us, depending on how we grew up, or what environments we grew up in or how we choose to live our lives. For me, having a calm, quiet, conflict free environment is really important. So, as you can imagine, past three years, some of us got even more quiet because we just didn’t want to run the risk of it’s, like, “I’m not lighting a gasoline. I’m not throwing a match out on social media.” There were specific topics that my team and I, I instructed them, we will not discuss these things-


Sam Horn: [00:06:18] Right.


[00:06:18] -because it’s not worth the blowback, the issues, the challenges of trying to make sense of other people’s reactions and people getting triggered oftentimes has nothing to do with us. It’s more a reflection of what’s going on for them. 


Sam Horn: [00:06:33] Yeah, well, everything you just said and so here’s the good news, is that agency to me means that we have an opportunity and a responsibility to make things better. So, Elvis said, “When things go wrong, don’t go with them.” [laughs] So, the book identifies all these things that we say in reaction. Someone says, “You women are so emotional.” We’re not emotional, now we are. [laughter] You know, we identify all these situations. What to do when people blame us for something that’s not our fault, what to do when people won’t listen, what to do when people are accusing us of something that’s not true. And what we often say, it’s on the tip of our tongue. And then what we can say instead, that’s proactive instead of reactive, it actually helps instead of hurts. So, yes, to answer your question, it’s getting worse. 


[00:07:25] A lot of podcasters say, Sam, is this like Talking on Eggshells? Is being anxious, worrying what to say? Feel we can’t say anything, is it getting worse? It is. And I think part of it is the snark on social media is the takedown artists, the trolls, where something happens and we just comment without even considering the consequences, without asking ourselves, “Is this going to hurt this person? Is this adding value?” So, part of what you and I are talking about today is how to be a pattern interrupt when things go wrong. Don’t go with them, make them right. And here’s all these different ways we can do that. 

Cynthia Thurlow: [00:08:06] And I think it’s so important because it’s so easy. I have a younger brother and when I was growing up, my mother would say, he’s four and a half years younger than me, enough years that he would do things just to incite an argument, a fight, just because he wanted attention. And he was less mature than I was. And his way of doing that was usually to pick on me. And my mom would say, “Don’t give him the satisfaction, just don’t give it to him.” 


Sam Horn: [00:08:32] And here’s the thing. Intellectually, you understood that emotionally though right? [laughs] So, let’s talk about what to do if someone, your word, incite, if someone we know they’re deliberately trying to manipulate us or make us feel guilty or trigger us or something like that, is over on the left is to react, which you know, “Why are you doing this to me? I don’t deserve this. This isn’t fair.” All of that, actually, you use the word fuel, it fuels their fire because rewarded behavior gets repeated. So, if they’re trying to incite us, to rile us up, to put us on the defensive, and we react defensively, they’re going, it’s working. I’m going to keep doing it over on the right. Do you know what we do instead? We name the game. We ask ourself, “What is it they’re doing and we say it.” 


[00:09:31] So if you say, I’m just going to make up your brother’s name here. Let’s say his name is Tom. If we say, “Oh, Tom trying to get my attention again,” that’s exactly what he’s trying to do. At work I had a woman she said, I work for a small law firm for a senior and his son, the junior. Well, senior will come in and give me a priority task and half an hour later junior comes in, gives me another task. She says, “They’re driving me crazy.” I said, “Okay. No, ask yourself, what are they doing?” She said, “They’re putting me in the middle.” I said say that. Go to them and say, “Hey, so and so asked me to do this. You asked me to get this done first. Please don’t put me in middle of this. Please decide which is the priority project, and then I’m glad to do it.” It’s like you can say to a used car salesman, you’re not trying to rush me into a decision anymore. Not anymore, they’re not. It’s Melissa Rivers said of her mom, Joan Rivers, “My mother was a travel agent for guilt trips.” [laughter] If someone’s doing that, saying, “Oh, guilt? That doesn’t work with me, what else you got?” And you see how naming the game surfaces the game and neutralizes it.


Cynthia Thurlow: [00:10:48] And I think this is really important because in many ways, whether it’s teasing, taunting, trolling, whatever it is that you’re experiencing or just miscommunication, the two senior and junior partners coming to you and asking you to do differing work tasks, I think half the battle is taking a second before you speak, because that’s something that I learned very quickly. Not only in acute environments in healthcare, when sometimes things were going south, patients were very sick, it was very easy to be very abrupt with people that you needed to motivate to get things done a certain way. And I would always take a brief second, and I would just be very direct, very concise. But I think what we’re really speaking to is giving yourself an opportunity to find a reframe instead of reacting. Exactly what the bullying, the teasing, the taunting, the inappropriate requests, what they’re really trying to do is distract you. It’s like it makes it much easier if they have you disarmed so that you’re not thinking. 


[00:11:45] And I always remind people that when we’re in a situation where maybe we’re stressed or we’re hurt or our amygdala, which is our lizard brain overrides our prefrontal cortex and we can’t step in and use executive functioning, we don’t make good decisions. We don’t say the things we want to say. We’re coming from a place of reaction or ego even. And I do find on social media as an example, this is where people, instead of taking 2 seconds and saying, “I’m not responding to this person, they respond.” And it’s like they’ve lit up. It’s just they’ve had an explosion. Now all of a sudden, they’ve got a big problem. And I remind people, and I’m sure you probably do this as well, that whatever’s on social media is forever. As I try to explain to my teenagers, “Don’t post pictures you don’t want available forever. Don’t say things you don’t want available forever.” And so, helping people understand that half the battle is naming the game remove the incentive for them to continue with the behavior, but also identifying what is the impetus for this person. 


[00:12:46] Some people, the trolls, is the best example. They’re not looking to be your buddy. They’re there to just– it’s almost like they create a wonderful mess and then they leave and move on to the next victim. And I think in light of the past three years in particular, as you’ve said, it’s just people are becoming less civil, less kind, less likely to be in a mindset where they are interested in being a partner, being harmonious. What they want to do is incite stress and disorder wherever they go. They want to incite people to overreact. They want to incite people to not hold their tongue and say things that they don’t perhaps would not have otherwise in another circumstance probably meant to say. And then it just creates more problems.


Sam Horn: [00:13:30] And here’s the good news, is that we can be the pattern interrupt, even if that is all true and that is the case, our role and responsibility is to be a force for good. Now, let me give you a real-life example of how we can do exactly what you said is to resist the urge, to say what’s on the tip of our tongue, to take a moment and say something that’s mindful rather than mindless is that my aunt Kay volunteers for a hospital. And she did this even during COVID and I said, well, “What was it like?” She said “Stressful.” I said, “Put me in the scene of a stressful situation where someone took their anger or frustration out on you.” Cynthia, she didn’t even have to think about it. She held up her phone. She said a woman ran into the ER holding up her phone saying I just got a text from my daughter. She was in a car accident. She’s in the ER, I need to get in and see her. Well, Kay called the ER, the nurse told her someone was already with the daughter. And you remember the rules. It was one visitor per patient or no and she had to give that bad news to the mother. And the mother lost it and is screaming at Kay.


[00:14:37] Now people are taking notes. Over on the left, put these two words, how rude. Because if we say, “How rude, why are they blaming me? This isn’t my fault; I didn’t make the rules.” Do you see how it takes us down the rabbit hole of resentment and resistance? Instead, Kay asked herself four words over on the right. You know what they were? “How would I feel if my daughter were in the ER and I couldn’t get in to see her?” And Cynthia, It moved her from impatience to empathy, from contempt to compassion and from there’s nothing I can do to, let me see if there’s something I can do. She called the ER back. She said, “Who is with the daughter?” It was the Uber driver who had brought the young woman in. Kay was able to explain the situation to him, thank him, he left and the mother was able to get in with the daughter all because your word reframe, “How would I feel instead of how rude?” And it gave her the incentive in that situation to figure out what is something she can do, instead of there’s nothing I can do. 


Cynthia Thurlow: [00:15:44] Why do you think so many people struggle with the concept of empathy? 


Sam Horn: [00:15:48] Hmm. What a lovely phrase and question. I think it’s because it’s not taught. It’s that I think that parents think about how do we teach empathy to our kids? “How would you feel if someone stole your toy? How would you feel if someone wouldn’t invite you to play with their group?” We try to teach empathy. However, as you’ve pointed out over on the left, a lot of the predominant feelings these days is impatience and irritation. It’s we’re on the road and someone cuts in front of us, and the default is, “Why did that [onomatopoeia]?” So, I think part of our busy, busy world is a default of irritation and impatience. And the reframe to empathy is to ask ourselves how would I feel if I were in their situation? How would I feel if this were happening to me? I don’t know what’s going on with them. And the seconds it takes to ask ourselves those questions, we may not like or agree with their behavior, we may understand where it’s coming from, which gives us the incentive to be a little bit more compassionate instead of reacting with contempt.


Cynthia Thurlow: [00:17:00] No, I think that’s such a good point. I feel like in many ways, it wasn’t when I became a nurse or a nurse practitioner, but when I became a parent. I viewed the world so differently. And I think that in many ways, we have tried to ensure that our kids are growing up to be attuned and sensitive to their peers and loved ones. But I do think that in many ways, when we’re talking about empathy, I feel like when I became a parent, it opened up a whole new side of my heart. I mean, I was always a loving, kind person, but my mindset every time I would volunteer in a classroom because I have two teenagers now, but I volunteered in their classrooms, and there was always a kid that usually another little boy that couldn’t sit still, couldn’t listen, would create all this mischief. And little boys are active and moving and sometimes it’s hard to keep their attention focused. 


[00:17:52] And one day, my youngest son said something to me about this little boy, and I said, I get the sense that little boy probably doesn’t have at home the things that you have based on what this little boy had said to me.” And I said, I think that you have to be kinder and more understanding that he probably may not be in an environment where he gets to have a warm meal and a warm bed. He may not have two parents that are home with him. He may not have the structure in his life that he needs, and I don’t think he wants to not behave. I think he’s struggling to exist in this environment, even at first or second grade. And so, for me, I feel like the switch flipped. When I became a parent, I viewed things very differently. I kept saying, that’s someone’s child and I know how much I care about my children and how much I care about the health of all children. But all of a sudden, becoming a parent, it was like a switch just flipped for me. And I viewed everyone, whether they’re an adult or a kid. I’m like, “That’s someone’s child that’s out there.” I don’t think that’s not what that parent wants for that child, but we all have to be a little bit kinder, a little bit more patient, a little less apt to react, to take a second and to think, I was like, “We’re not animals.” We’re designed to have the ability to have that higher level executive thinking. And I think a lot of people forget that.


Sam Horn: [00:19:13] You know, Dalai Lama said, “Whenever possible, be kind.” It is always possible. [chuckles] And see, we may agree with that in theory, and yet in the reality of our rush, rush world. Many of us, we’re running from the moment we get up, get the kids up, get off to school, head to traffic da, da, da…. all day long. So once again, the automatic reaction often is one of irritation. So, how can we be kind? When you were talking about that young boy in your class, in one of my Tongue Fu! workshops, there was a woman who had six special needs kids in her class and she did not have a TA. She had 28 kids in her class, six with special needs and she found herself constantly irritated and resentful of them for disrupting the classroom. 


[00:20:02] And then there’s a documentary and it has the strangest name, it’s called “Fat City.” However, what it is like is that the cameraman pretends he has ADHD. So, the camera is like, over here and then here and then here, and said, “This is what it’s like to have ADHD. This is how your brain works. This is how your eyes are darting around.” And the light bulb went off in this teacher’s mind. And once again, instead of seeing these children as disruptive for the first time, she had put herself in their shoes and imagined what their world was like. And it is a way to fast forward through frustration, because when we put ourselves in their shoes, almost anytime we’re frustrated, we’re only seeing things from our point of view.


Cynthia Thurlow: [00:20:55] Yeah. And I think I remind my children all the time how blessed and fortunate they are for many reasons. But I always say sometimes our life circumstances, we have no control over, what family you’re born into, where you’re born, what part of the country or what part of the world you live in, you have no control over that. And so, you’re incredibly fortunate if you grow up with these couple of things. If you have this, I mean, that’s way more than the average person has. And so, trying to help my kids develop an appreciation for how fortunate they are, but also having the opportunity, we’re now in a new part of our state. We lived in Northern Virginia for a long time. We’re now in a new part of the state and there’re lots of wonderful pros and then there’re a couple of cons. 


[00:21:37] And I tell my kids all the time, I think you’re going to better prepared for college because you picked up in the middle of middle school and you moved. Imagine if you spent birth to 18 in one place and then you went off to college. I think that would be a little bit of a harder transition. Obviously, these are very minimal things that they’ve had to deal with. But I think in so many ways, we’re so fortunate that we grow up the way that we do and we don’t even realize it. So, when you see the way other people live, it’s like all of a sudden, “I don’t have anything to complain about. I actually am incredibly, incredibly fortunate.” 


Sam Horn: [00:22:08] See, I can only imagine that people listening are thinking, I agree with this in theory. Sometimes it’s a little harder to do in the real world, [chuckles] “You’re not thinking of this. You don’t understand where I work. It’s like you have no idea what it’s like.” So, words matter. And words really are the river that runs through the book of Talking on Eggshells. Because over on the left is the theory or the idea or the philosophy, and people are going, “Yeah, yeah, yeah that makes sense. How do It?” Well, here’s an example, let’s imagine somebody does something wrong. They’ve made a mistake or we have to give feedback. And a quick example that shows the difference of what we usually say when we’re giving feedback and somebody’s made a mistake or done something wrong and how once again it takes us down the rabbit hole of resistance and resentment and what we can actually say that sets up a ripple effect of rapport and respect. So, ready for the example? 


Cynthia Thurlow: [00:23:06] Yes. 


Sam Horn: [00:23:07] I was visiting my son Andrew in New York and his one-year-old son Hero was crawling across the floor and he pulled himself up on a guitar that was on a guitar stand in the corner. He started banging on the strings. Now, over on the left, Andrew could have said, “No.” He could have yanked the guitar away. He could have said, “Stop banging on the guitar,” all of which would have made it worse. [chuckles] Over on the right, he said one word. Do you know what it was? “Gentle.” Cynthia, I saw Hero’s face transform in front of me and he reached back to the guitar and went, strum, strum, strum. And Hero made music in that moment because instead of criticizing his behavior, Andrew coached it. Instead of shaming it, he shaped it. Instead of Hero losing face over that situation and feeling bad, he actually learned from that situation on how to do it better.


[00:24:05] And to me, those are the words when somebody is doing something wrong is to get rid of the word should, to get rid of the word stop, and to get rid of the word don’t. Because if we say, stop hitting your sister, they’re going to keep hitting their sister. [laughs] Don’t interrupt me, they’re going to keep interrupting us. So instead of stop it’s, start. Instead of don’t, it’s do. And to paint the picture with words of what we do want instead of what we don’t. And that’s how we give feedback in a way that people can listen to it and learn from it and do better instead of just making them feel bad. 


Cynthia Thurlow: [00:24:43] Now, were your parents that way with you and your siblings? I know that you talk about growing up and what that was like. You had a brother and a sister, and I’m curious, is this something that you developed in response to how you were parented or how did this process come around for you? Because to me, that really typifies your son learning from you. How do we find this reframe? How do we redirect what my one-year-old son is doing? And just that one word gentle. And how clear his son understood that, like, “Oh, okay, I know what I need to do now.” 


Sam Horn: [00:25:21] So, we grew up on a ranch in a very small town, more horses than people. And I’ll always remember that the cattle got out. We got a phone call like at 2 o’clock in the morning and cattle had broken through the fence and we’re out on the county road. So, well, my dad woke us up. I had a brother, an older brother and sister, and the bellyaching and the blaming began, Cynthia. [laughter] It’s like, “Well, you’re the one who don’t look at me. I wasn’t the–” and my dad said, “You can bellyache or you can get busy [laughs] that won’t get him blaming, won’t get him back in the pasture. Let’s all pitch in, let’s find him, let’s get him back in, let’s fix the fence and then we’ll figure out in the morning how to keep this from happening again.” 


[00:26:00] So, if people are taking notes, put blaming. It’s finger pointing and over on the left-hand column, put find fault. Well, you’re the one who dropped the ball, don’t look at me, I didn’t get– No, instead of finding fault, find solutions. Or instead of bellyaching, get busy. And once again, that’s theme that goes through this is though, how can we figure out. Well, JFK said it best. He said, “Our task is not to fix the blame for the past, it’s to fix the course for the future.” And you see when we shift people’s attention to that now we’re pulling together on how to prevent this or handle this more effectively instead of back and forth about who’s to blame and whose fault it is.


Cynthia Thurlow: [00:26:48] That divisiveness. I mean, it can be so persistent, pervasive and problematic. And I love that you kind of wove that story about your family. I do remember reading that in the book and thought, what a wise dad to kind of redirect, “Okay, I know it’s 02:30 in the morning, you’re tired. We need to be solutions oriented because right now the blame game is not going to help us get the cattle back into where they need to be.” Now, when we’re thinking about finding solutions, I think a great deal about all of us that have businesses, we’re in a customer service-oriented world, right? 


Sam Horn: [00:27:22] Yeah.


Cynthia Thurlow: [00:27:23] How do we address and it’s inevitable, you’re going to get feedback, hopefully most of it’s positive with an occasional bit of constructive criticism. But how do we deal with people that are complainers and they’re out there. There are people that are just persistently expressing themselves in a way that’s oftentimes not positive. How do we redirect or find a solution to addressing their concerns, but also not feeding into it?


Sam Horn: [00:27:51] If people are taking notes, put down complain. What can we do when people complain? And I’m going to say something that flies in the face of what we think would be the right thing to do. Put in the left-hand column, explain. When people complain, don’t explain because explanations come across as excuses. They actually make people angrier because they feel we’re not being accountable. So over on the right, put the A, train. A for agree, A for apologize, A for act. Say we’re late picking someone up, “You were supposed to be here an hour ago.” “Don’t blame me. I’ve been in traffic all this time.” “Why did you call me? I didn’t know if you were in some ditch somewhere.” See, back and forth we go, look what happens if A for agree, we say two of the most powerful words to turn a conflict into cooperation. You’re right, I was supposed to pick you up an hour ago. Because most of the time, people complain they have a legitimate reason to do so. We don’t argue with it. We acknowledge it. 


[00:28:54] And then the second is we say and not but I’m sorry that happened, but it was this department. I’m sorry that happened but our policy no, no, no. And [laughs] we say, “I’m sorry you ended up waiting so long.” Now, sometimes people say, “Why should I apologize? It’s not my fault or I didn’t do anything wrong.” [chuckles] Cynthia, you’ve heard the phrase, “We can be right or we can be happy.” [laughs] See, I think we can say, “I’m sorry you didn’t get that package as promised. I’m sorry that you didn’t receive a return call.” And it doesn’t mean we’re the one who made it happen. It means we’re putting ourself in their place and acknowledging their inconvenience so they feel seen and heard and understood. And then the third A is act, and I’ve got that information you had requested, and in the future, I’m going to build in a cushion for Murphy’s Law. The A train expedites complaints, explanations aggravate them. 


Cynthia Thurlow: [00:29:58] Yeah, it’s interesting. When I was reading through that section of the book, I kept thinking, there are so many people that we interact with on a day-to-day basis. And sometimes this might be the stage of life I’m in, but sometimes I’ll just say to people when I’m trying to provide, I’m like, “I’m a business owner myself, but I’m just going to give you some feedback in a very polite, constructive way.” And sometimes they’re so taken aback, and I just say, “Half the battle is just acknowledging what has happened.” Like you said, “I understand that the package arrived late. I understand that the reservation was not taken at the time that it was signed for.” I said half of it is just acknowledging what’s happened and how much that can allow people to not be looking at things from a place of anger. They’re like, “Okay, this has been acknowledged. Okay, let’s move forward.” And I think in many ways, again, with the way that our culture is kind of evolving into it’s almost as if people forget for a second, like, beating up on the person emotionally, beating up on the person on the other end of the phone or the person at the restaurant or whatever. I mean, there’s no purpose in doing that. There’s really no purpose. 


Sam Horn: [00:31:04] Everything you just said, if people over on the left put adversary, over on the right, put ally. Over on the left, put side against side, over on the right, put on the same side. And that’s a lot of what this language in the right does. Instead of once again arguing who dropped the ball. Arguing it’s not my fault. Arguing when we agree or acknowledge with what’s happened and then we move forward, we are on the same side instead of side against side. Want to know what to do if someone accuses us of something that’s not true? 


Cynthia Thurlow: [00:31:41] Yes. 


Sam Horn: [00:31:42] [chuckles] Okay, so people put that down on the left. It’s like someone makes some accusation it’s not right or fair or kind and over on the left, put the word deny, because once again the default is to deny it. In fact, I’m speaking at a leadership conference and a woman put her hand up, and she said, “Why are women so catty to each other?” Cynthia, I knew if argued, I don’t think women– look all right, we’re kind of proving their point. So instead of denying, you used this word a few minutes ago, we redirect it and here are the words we say, “Do you know what I found? We do not repeat the negative accusation, because if we repeat it, we reinforce it.” We say, “Do you know what I found? Women are real champions of each other. I wouldn’t have this job if someone hadn’t recommended me.” Or there’s another way, say someone you’ve been talking about customers. Say someone says, “You don’t care about your customers.” We do too care, uh-oh. You see how it goes down? [laughs]


[00:32:43] So instead of arguing or taking exception to what they’re saying, say these four words, “What do you mean?” Because they may say, “Well, I’ve been standing in line here for 15 minutes, and no one’s even looked up.” Oh, the real issue. We can now address that instead of reacting to the attack. Say someone says, “You don’t love me anymore.” I do too. How can you–? look what happens when we say, “Well, what do you mean? Or why do you say that?” What makes you– Well, we haven’t been on a date in months. Ah, the real issue. You never listen to me. I do too. No, what do you mean? You have your head in your phone. aah, those words have the power to surface the real issue. So, we can address and often fix that instead of arguing with the accusation about whether or not it’s true.


Cynthia Thurlow: [00:33:38] It’s interesting. I have teenagers and so now we have even better conversations, but now they become very real conversations. One is applying to college right now and that has opened up a can of worms for a lot of different reasons. And so, he was upset one night recently, and I said,” Let’s talk about this.” And it was his perception of how his dad and I were reacting to a couple of universities he wanted to apply to. And I said, “Can you help me understand what it is that you’re frustrated with.” And then he explained himself, and I said, “Oh, I think part of this is perhaps your dad and I weren’t more clear about these few things.” You know we live in a state where there are great state universities, but like most states now, they’re admitting more people from out of state. So, the game is now that you have to apply to multiple schools, even ones outside the state. And I said, “I hope you get into your first choice. I hope you end up in Virginia, selfishly.” As your mom, I hope you end up in Virginia. But if you end up Indiana or you end up in Georgia, that’s okay too. Wherever you end up is where you’re supposed to be. 


[00:34:44] And he said, “Oh, I thought it meant you didn’t care,” because you were like, “Oh, apply to all these schools.” And I said, “No, it’s a numbers game,” but your dad and I just want you to have the most opportunity to get into– so you have a choice is ultimately what we were coming down to. But it’s amazing how even with the teenagers, the boys, even with them asking them, “Can you help me understand what it is that is frustrating you?” Because I can see that you’re upset and I can see that you’re frustrated. And then they don’t feel quite so defensive because the normal reaction is, “What are you talking about?” Automatically, it’s like you have to really be thoughtful about your response, especially with your loved ones, because it’s so easy in many instances for us to react out of frustration or anger or just you’re tired and guard is down and you say something in a way that you didn’t mean to say it. And that’s never the intention. I think sometimes many of us do a great job outside of our home and not as great of a job with our very close loved ones. [Sam laughs] 


Sam Horn: [00:35:45] You know and I hope people write down what you just said, “Put conflict on the left and put clarifying conversation on the right.” And as you said– so a 62nd story is that a young woman who had a job, was up for promotion and then was told she was in danger of getting fired. And now over on the left being conflict averse, she normally would have left crying, would have gone home, would have rehashed, “I can’t believe this. Why?” And would have isolated herself and gone down the rabbit hole. And instead, her therapist had given her those powerful words you just said. She went back to her manager the next day and said, “Could you please help me understand how I was up for promotion at the beginning of the week and I’m in danger of getting fired?” And then the manager explained that a customer had complained. She remembered the situation. She was able to let her know what happened. The manager ended up thanking her and giving her the promotion. Look at the different scenarios of isolating, rehashing, going down the rabbit hole of, like, “I can’t believe you said that, that’s so unfair to could you please help me understand?” 


Cynthia Thurlow: [00:36:56] Yeah. I mean, just the way that you direct the conversation has so much to do with the end result, and I think the older I become, the more I realize that clarifying– I’m married to an engineer. The engineer is very, very conscientious about the way that he phrases things and it’s not surprising. It’s the way his brain works.


Sam Horn: [00:37:16] Yeah.


Cynthia Thurlow: [00:37:17] I think some engineers can be the opposite, but he’s very thoughtful and methodical when he’s talking about things and I’ve learned a lot in communication patterns with him. Take a pause, think before you speak, think about how it can be interpreted. You want to make sure that you still have effective communication, because once that shuts down, once someone’s already decided that they’re not interested in looking at things from your perspective or taking into account the way that you may have perceived those actions, that can lead to a lot of miscommunications that can otherwise be avoided. 


[00:37:50] Now, we were talking about this before we started recording, and as an entrepreneur, I know this is a concept that you are well familiarized with, and it’s one that I am becoming much more well familiarized with. How do you handle requests for free advice? [Sam laughs] And this is something that comes up with greater frequency. And I always say, with the expansion of a business, you understand there are sometimes other nurses, nurse practitioners who will reach out. They’ll just say, “I’d love to pick your brain.” I’m just using that as an example.


Sam Horn: [00:38:19] Yeah.


Cynthia Thurlow: [00:38:20] How do we handle those kinds of opportunities, but also ensure that we’re being respectful of our own boundaries and our own needs? Because as a reform, people pleaser in the past, sometimes I didn’t do such a good job with this, and so it’s something I have to actively work on. 


Sam Horn: [00:38:37] I’m so glad you brought this up, because whether we’re a doctor or a lawyer or a coach or an author, especially if we’ve had some success, people will want to pick our brain, which can we just all agree never to use that phrase? [laughter] Is that an inelegant phrase or whatever? And it’s close sister or brother is, “Can I buy you a cup of coffee.” [laughs] And so now, Cynthia, you and I, both, we believe in giving back. We want to contribute to people in our profession. We want to help people who are early in their career. So, I’m not talking about being draconian and just saying, “No, I figured out by myself, you can– no, no, no.” Over on the left, put no rules, and over on the right, put rules. Because, see, most of us don’t have any rules around this, which means that often we’re caught off guard. And maybe this is a friend, maybe this is someone that we want to– however, when they say, “Can I pick our brain?” If we do not have a clearly defined rule, we will often under the pressure of the moment because we don’t know what to say, say sure and then we end up resenting them. 


[00:39:48] And no rules is a prescription for resentment and feeling taken advantage of. And I’ll always be grateful to my friend Mariah Burton Nelson, who said, “Sam, people can’t walk all over you if you don’t lie down.” [chuckles] So. look over on the right about rules. And I got real clarity about this years ago because I was pretty successful speaker and author, and I was having a lot of people. So, here’s my rule is that, number one, when someone asks to pick your brain, you never say yes in the moment. And here’s why? Because if you say yes in the moment, you have just set a precedent that you are available anytime they want to pick you, ask you a question. Dangerous precedent, slippery slope. So, if someone asks, “I need your advice, I want to know.” You say, “Let me get my calendar and see if I have time next week.” Because now you’re letting them know you have a busy schedule. You schedule things. You don’t just willy-nilly say “yes” to whoever wants your time and attention whenever they want it. 


[00:40:55] So, number one, you schedule it and then you say, “I’ve got 15 minutes available on Tuesday at 9 o’clock or on Friday or 03:00 which works better for you?” Now, we have just put a frame around that 15 minutes, because I believe in giving people 15 minutes of input on their book, on their speaking career, on their launch or something like that. Now, at the beginning of the phone call or the meeting, whatever it is, the first words out of our mouth are, “What shall we focus on to make the most of our 15 minutes together?” Do you see how we put them in control of the conversation and in a very clear and diplomatic and firm way, we let them know we’ve got 15 minutes. Now, about 2 minutes before the end of 15 minutes, we interrupt and we say, “We’ve got about 2 minutes left. What would you like to focus on before we wrap things up?” And once again, do you see, this is diplomatic, I’m not being draconian about this. 


[00:42:05] Now, when the 15 minutes is up, we say, “I am so glad we had an opportunity to talk about your book, about your career, about that interview, etc.” And if they say, “Oh, just one more question. [laughter] Oh, but I’m not finished. It’s like, oh, this is so valuable. Can we keep going?” Then you say, “I will be glad to give you my business manager’s information. She can send you our consulting information. You’re welcome to select a package that works best for you. Best wishes with that book.” Do you see how this is a balanced way of giving with boundaries in a way that has them respect us and respect us instead of just pleasing people doing what they want and then end up resenting them in the process because we didn’t have a clear boundary or rule. 


Cynthia Thurlow: [00:42:56] That’s so beautifully gracious. And as I was kind of reading that section in the book, I was like, “Oh, so timely.” And then reaffirming to hear that again, to hear you say it out loud. And then we actually put some things in place within my business specifically for that, because well-meaning people would reach out. And I tell my team, “I don’t have 30 to 60 minutes to sit down and chat about all the things.” That’s not a good use of my time [chuckles] unless we’ve agreed upon a degree of compensation and support.


[00:43:25] Now, Sam one of the things I love best about you is you have this prolific amount of forethought and recall for quotes. You love using quotes. And so, one of the favorite ones that you started your book with was, “A teacher affects eternity. He can never tell where his influence stops.” And so, I think about you when I read that, I thought, this is very much something I think of in terms of Sam. But with hundreds of quotes that you have accessible seemingly at any point in the time and conversation, do you have some favorites that you love to use the most or ones that are most poignant or the most impactful that you use in your work? 


Sam Horn: [00:44:10] First, thank you for bringing that up. And you’re right. Years ago, when I was a small town, once again, I was the 8th grade valedictorian. Big deal, small town. And so, I gave my little 10-minute valedictory address to my dad who ran AG education for the state of California. And when I finished, I said, “What do you think?” And he knew I wanted honest feedback. And he said, “It’s an okay talk. You just didn’t say anything I hadn’t heard before.” This was a little bird leaving the nest and so forth. And he said, “It is our responsibility if we ask people for their time and attention to introduce something they haven’t heard before.” So back in the days of Readers Digest, remember how they have these little one-word quotes, etc. If I saw something that got my eyebrows up, I would tear it out, I would write it down. And the key to remembering quotes is to think of where you would put it. Where would I use that? What point in this book, what chapter, what idea in a presentation? And then to repeat it, you put it in a beat so it’s easy to repeat. You put it in a beat to make it easy to repeat. 


[00:45:23] So, a couple of quotes from the Talking on Eggshells book one is from Joyce Meyer and she said, “Life may give you a cactus. You don’t have to sit on it.” [laughter] So see, everything we’ve been talking about, Cynthia, is a cactus. Someone’s blaming us for something that’s not our fault. Somebody makes a mistake, drop the ball. We don’t have to sit on it. Here are options, alternatives that can help us be proactive instead of reactive. And Esther Hicks said, “My happiness is on me, so you’re off the hook.” Ooh, isn’t that good? And Pema Chodron said, “Do not let people pull you into their storm, pull them into your peace.” So, do you see all of these quotes lend itself to the juxtaposed cactus. Get off the cactus storm, pull them into their peace. It’s like other people are responsible for our happiness. No, we’re responsible for our happiness. And in that way, we’re constantly shifting our behavior and our beliefs and our attitudes and inactions in a way that we’re a pattern interrupt and a force for good. 


Cynthia Thurlow: [00:46:36] I can’t think of a better way to have ended the conversation Sam, what a pleasure to have had you on the podcast. Please let listeners know how to connect with you, how to purchase your book, how to reach out to you on social media if they are looking to work with a wordsmith, word sleuth, [Sam laughs] someone that helps with public speaking. I certainly have benefited from working with you as well. 


Sam Horn: [00:46:56] Well, thank you. They’re welcome to go to my website. It’s easy to remember samhorn.com. And information is there, how to work with me if you’ve got an important presentation coming up or you’re thinking about writing a book or want to start your own business. And I also hope that people follow me on LinkedIn because you and I are writers, Cynthia. We love to see our life as our lab and then to write about our experiences and our epiphanies and share them. So, I hope people follow me on LinkedIn, because that’s where I write about the people I’m meeting and the insights I’m having hopefully in a way, that’s a rising tide platform that adds value for all involved.


Cynthia Thurlow: [00:47:37] Absolutely. Always an invaluable resource for sure.


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