Friday, January 30, 2009

Kick it up a notch

I have been training groups for many years now, but each and every one teaches me something new - and what I learned from my most recent group was truly magical.

I was teaching a very engaged group of employees at a state university how to communicate with customers last week, and was talking about what I call the three "octane levels" of acknowledgement:

1) The first is observation, where you simply observe the other person's feelings: for example, "I can tell by your tone of voice you are pretty upset about this."

2) The second is validation, where you make it clear the other person's feelings are valid: for example, "No one likes to pay an extra fee for this."

3) The third and highest level is identification, where you personally identify with the person's agenda: for example, "I would be upset if this happened to me too."

The higher the octane level, the better the other person feels. You can't always use the highest octane level, of course: for example, when someone says, "I was so mad I smashed my fist against the wall," you can't respond with, "I often feel like smashing my fist too." But you can always say things like, "This situation obviously bothered you a great deal. Tell me about it." When you choose the right octane level, you start connecting with people with people instead of arguing with them.

So here is where the magic came in. Normally I ask people for an example of this, I get one, and we move on. This time, the audience was so engaged, people were building on each other's examples and making it better and better - as TV chef Emeril might say, they were kicking it up a notch.

I had thrown out a scenario for them where someone was trying to transfer their credits from an unaccredited Bible school to this fully-accredited university. Normally, of course, most people would respond, "I'm sorry sir, we can't do that." So first, someone raises his hand and gives a pleasant but mild acknowledgement like "I can see this issue is important to you." Next another person raises her hand and says, "You put in a lot of hard work to earn these credits."

Before long, people were really getting in the spirit of this and saying things like, "You clearly worked hard and learned a lot of new things. Now let's explore some options for turning that good work into an accredited degree at our school, such as testing and prior learning assessment." And you could feel the tension drain out of the room with a situation these people often struggled with in real life.

So the lesson for you - and me - is to take your own most difficult customer situations, get your team thinking about good acknowledgements for them, and start workshopping them as a group until they are polished and perfected - and then teach everyone to use them. And watch everything change about your customer relationships.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

We're #1 and celebrating! (And you get the presents)

Who is more popular than Ken Blanchard and Dilbert? At the moment, yours truly. Following a very successful webcast for my friends at Parature Software yesterday, there has been a run on people purchasing my latest book What to Say to a Porcupine, and as of yesterday afternoon it ranked as the #1 customer service book AND the #1 business humor book in the United States on

To celebrate, I am going to make the same offer to my faithful blog readers that we made for people attending the Parature webcast: purchase your own copy on, forward a copy of your Amazon receipt to, and we will send you a free companion mini-course by return e-mail.

This complimentary mini-course will help you use Porcupine as a creative training tool, and includes a free sample fable, student and leader guides, a team exercise, and a PowerPoint presentation. And it will help turn your next team meeting into the most fun you have ever had learning world-class customer skills!

Thanks everyone for making this fable collection the top customer service book in the nation - and stay tuned for more great things in 2009!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The new book: a sneak peek

AMACOM Books has just released its spring/summer 2009 catalogue, including my next literary blockbuster How to Tell Anyone Anything - so now you can finally get a sneak peek at the cover, shown here. (I think they did a great job, as always!)

The book has a scheduled release date of June 2009. Can't wait to learn its secrets? Its companion training program has been in release for over a year and has become my most popular live workshop - visit my training website at Point of Contact Group for more details.

Meanwhile, stay tuned to for more information on a fresh, new approach to handling your most difficult interactions at work. Here is the catalog copy, courtesy of AMACOM:

How to Tell Anyone Anything: Breakthrough Techniques for Handling Difficult Conversations at Work by Richard S. Gallagher

No one likes to be criticized. But when feedback is necessary—whether it’s with a boss, someone we manage, or another co-worker—it takes great communication skills to successfully get the message across with feelings and relationships intact.

Drawing from the latest in psychology on how best to connect with others, How to Tell Anyone Anything steers readers away from the common mistake of focusing on what’s wrong, and shows them instead how to provide clear, constructive, positive messages that create real behavior and performance change. Complete with illuminating examples and a unique step-by-step process, the book gives readers powerful insight into how we all react naturally to criticism—and how to transform interactions that might become verbal tugs-of-war into collaborative, problem-solving sessions.

RICHARD S. GALLAGHER (Ithaca, NY) is a popular corporate trainer and public speaker who specializes in the mechanics of workplace culture and communication. He is the author of several books including Great Customer Connections (978-0-8144-7308-5) and What to Say to a Porcupine (978-0-8144-1055-4).

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A rare political blog entry

You’ve probably noticed that I never make political comments on this blog. There is a good reason for this. I respect everyone’s views of the world, and personally consider myself to be apolitical. To paraphrase my old high school classmate and social commentator Stephen Carter, my own views on specific issues are diverse enough that no political party would probably want me.

That said, this week we are not only about to inaugurate our first African-American President of the United States, but the first President since John F. Kennedy who stands out as a great communicator: someone who seems to have the knack of speaking to our interests, acknowledging diverse points of view, and connecting us with our nobler instincts, particularly in a very challenging economic time.

The ability for the words we use to get people to believe in something larger than ourselves is truly magical: I’ve seen it happen in the workplace, as a counselor in training, and now on a much larger scale as we welcome a new leader. And while it has been fascinating to watch this Presidential campaign unfold over the last year, it has been even more fascinating to deconstruct the way Barack Obama speaks to people.

At a more societal level, we have perhaps seen the country finally make a right turn away from an era where fear and negative campaigning determine the outcome of an election, from either party. Hopefully we are starting to learn that the partisans of either stripe that you hear on talk shows and cable news channels are never going to solve our problems, because it is hard to fix anything when you marginalize 49% of the people you are speaking to. Let’s hope for a new era of consensus building, and perhaps on a more personal level, a fresh look at how we speak to each other. Good luck and Godspeed, President Obama.