Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Our Christmas letter - 2010

As we reach another holiday season – my 56th, to be exact – Colleen and I are so blessed and thankful to have each other, our good health, the love of our families, and the warmth and fellowship of you, our good friends.

The two biggest news items this year involve Colleen. First, it's become a clich̩ for years that "Colleen is thinking about writing a novel," but this year (drum roll) Colleen is writing a novel Рand is about 50,000 words into it so far Рand it is incredible! It is a psychological thriller based in upstate NY, and she is doing a meticulous amount of research for it. What I have read so far is truly incredible. Stay tuned.

Second, Colleen is now officially retired, according to Social Security, but far from playing shuffleboard. (As her husband, I joke that she is the only senior citizen who still looks like Shakira.) The other big news is that Colleen is on Facebook, jumping in with both feet and reconnecting with family and friends. If you aren't linked to her already and would like to, visit her at or connect through my page,

It has been a great year for me (Rich) as well. On the speaking front, I logged 42 paid gigs covering 20,000 air miles and over 5000 attendees in 2010. As a writer, I ghosted a national top 100 business book, developed several white papers and articles for technology and healthcare clients, continue to do monograph work for the National Cancer Institute, and recently landed a five-year contract to do more of the same. I am proud – and sometimes amazed – at being self-employed for over a third of my 30+ year career, and am thankful to the good Lord and my great clients every day.

Perhaps my proudest moment was developing and teaching a week-long communications skills program for Cornell's ORIE graduate students, taught in my late father's old building of Hollister Hall, that CU plans to continue with me next year. On a more personal note, I am now just a few weeks away from a lifelong goal of finishing my graduate work as a psychotherapist at Northcentral University, and putting "MA, MFT" after my name – a journey that began over five years ago, volunteering on a crisisline.

Some of you who know me well may be thinking, "what, no new book?" (Fair enough, I did have ones published in 2008 and 2009.) Fear not, I actually did complete a new project this year, a business fable entitled "The Last Customer." It is about what happens at a failing restaurant when people start treating everyone like their last customer, with a little divine intervention. A year after I started writing it, it still makes me laugh, and the ending still chokes me up – so either it's really good, or I choke up easily. My agent is shopping it around as we speak.

So how are you? We love to hear from you, and cherish the support and friendship between us and you through good times and bad. Hope you have a happy and blessed holiday season, and a joyful 2011.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Thoughts on tough times

Every time the economy takes a dive, we read stories like this one about people who had great jobs, nice homes and cars, never missed a payment – and then lost everything, after losing their jobs and sending out hundreds of resumes with no response.

I have my own perspective on these stories. Partly because I've been there. Each time I've started my own business, I've gone through long dry spells with no work. I remember all too well what it's like to be down to the last 50 bucks in your checking account, and to have life seem like an endless refrain of "no, thank you." Thankfully, I emerged from those times to become successful.

But part of my perspective also comes from thinking differently. While taking absolutely nothing away from the lousy hand you've been dealt, when I look critically at who gets by and who doesn't – and for that matter, where my own success lies – I often see differences in how people think. So humbly, here is my advice:

-Ask friends what you normally say about your situation. (Really, ask them – because none of us are good judges of what actually comes out of our mouths.) Do you lay out rational options, or are you "Oh-my-God-ing"? Most people I know who remain stuck have a high ratio of Oh-my-God-ing versus thinking their way out of the situation.

-Do you *act* positive? I realize you don't feel positive. You feel like crap. As would anyone in your situation. But do people's faces light up when they see you? Do you make them feel better? Do you benefit them as much as they benefit you?

-Who are your models? Who is already out there doing a fantabulous job of the life that you would like to have? And what are you learning from them? If the answer is "no one," keep thinking.

-How much time do you spend cultivating relationships with successful people, as opposed to blindly sending out resumes? This is the back door where opportunities happen, versus the front door where 500 other people are lined up. And P.S. cultivating relationships doesn't mean asking for work, it means cultivating relationships.

If you learn anything from this blog, please go back and re-read the previous paragraph. Most of my current income comes from relationships I developed long before I ever worked with them – and will continue long after I work with them. To me, success is a by-product of how many people you make happier in some way.

-Have you thought past what you've always done? Most successful people I know, myself included, have had to completely re-invent their careers every so often. If you are honestly doing everything else on this list and still getting nowhere, you just might be looking for love in all the wrong places.

Finally, one more suggestion. Go to a business networking meeting sometime, just to observe people. See the ones who exude confidence and act comfortable in their own skin? And see the ones who are so desperate that they practically have "hire me, puh-leez!" written across their forehead?

Now listen carefully. Whenever I've taken pity on people in the latter group and hired them for something, I've usually gotten burned. Perhaps they were unemployed for a reason. Perhaps their work ethic didn't match their level of desperation. Perhaps they convinced themselves they could settle for something that they really couldn't. Trust me, you don't want to smell like these folks – especially around anyone who has hired more than a few people.

Above all, don't give up on your goals. I realize these are tough times, and sometimes bad things happen to good people. But you are still worth a great deal, and you deserve to ultimately find those things that make you happy. Good luck and keep plugging.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Easy Peazy

It's time again for my quasi-annual diet. So far, I am off to a good start, losing four pounds so far this month. And here is the best part: I haven't really been trying to diet.

My good friend Maureen Anderson, host of the syndicated Career Clinic radio show, recently got in touch with me about a diet where she simply eats the right things, in ways she enjoys, and her weight takes care of itself. (And she has what sounds like a heck of a book project planned in the near future – stay tuned.)

So I decided to take a page from her book, and tried a new breakfast drink: a cup and a half of skim milk, a half cup of uncooked 1-minute oatmeal, and half a banana in the blender every morning. It is creamy, delicious, fat-free, and very satisfying. So now, with perhaps the best-tasting breakfast I have had in years, I seem to be losing weight. We'll see how it goes from here.

But I didn't really blog about this to share diet advice. Rather, there is a life lesson in here that really resonates with me.

Most advice I read about dieting – or finances – or success – or anything else good in life seems to invariably get out the hair shirt. Give up your burgers for carrot sticks and thin gruel, and you'll lose weight. Pare your expenses to the bone and you'll get rich. Keep your nose to the grindstone and you'll succeed.

I honestly think these people are lying to me. Here's why:

• Whenever I've tried to diet by eating bland, unsatisfying food, I've never really lost weight. It just made life seem insufferable until I gave up. But now that I am finding ways to make my diet even more delicious with the right foods, I'm starting to lose.

• When I tried to "work harder" at jobs I didn't really enjoy, I just did mediocre work a little faster. Making a living doing what I love has being going great guns for a long time.

• Whenever I tried to save money by doing without, I never got anywhere. (For example, how many movies do you have to skip to scrape up, say, the down payment for a house? About four billion.) Making more money in the first place, doing what I enjoy, seems to work a lot better for me.

Now, realistically, logic would tell me that the hair shirt types have a point. Clearly, you need a certain amount of self-discipline to succeed. We all know people who crash and burn because they have no self-control. And we all know people who are self-disciplined and get ahead as a result.

But here is my theory – I think that both of these kinds of people are outliers on the curve. Because most really successful people I know don't seem to spend most of their time doing things that are hard. Instead, it's lots and lots of easy. Their path is filled with pleasure, and their pleasure ultimately leads them where they want to go. And as I look back over the ups and downs of my own 55 years and counting, that's what seems to work best for me too. What do you think?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Magical Year

42 speaking engagements. 5000 attendees. 20,000 air miles, and several thousand more by car. Marriott Silver Elite status. A chapter in the National Speakers Association's first-ever book. My own YouTube channel. And a very happy dry cleaner. I have just closed the books on my 2010 speaking calendar, and for someone who once viewed public speaking as a "hobby" on top of my career as a freelance writer, this has truly been a magical year.

I've enjoyed every minute of it. Even, in a perverse way, the cancelled flights and the 6 AM wake-up calls. My hope is that most of these 5000 people learned some new, high-content skills about how to communicate in the workplace, especially in their most difficult situations. Meanwhile, I have learned a lot from you too. Here are some of the lessons I've taken away from you this year:

1) Simpler is better. For years I wrote (and spoke about) pithering 300-page books on how to communicate, but what led to an explosion in speaking gigs? A book of fables on what to say to a porcupine. I seemingly have a six-step process for everything, but now I am slowly learning to boil a lot of great content into really simple, powerful takeaways for everyone.

2) There is safety in numbers. If you are uncomfortable speaking in public (I am not), large audiences can seem intimidating. As for me, I like big crowds. Especially when I get to wander through them with a cordless mike like Phil Donahue, or the right line gets everyone exploding with laughter. And when you throw out a tough question, the "wisdom of crowds" of two or three or five hundred people often leads to some truly incredible answers. I enjoy every audience, but for me there is nothing like the energy level of a big room.

3) Laughter always works. Take the time I was demonstrating a technique for how to take control of a conversation, and the woman I chose to work with kept talking and talking. And talking. Finally, I turned my back to her and told the audience, "I've never ever said this before in fifteen years of speaking: I give up!" Or when I tell people how the communications skills techniques I teach fall short at home, when my darling wife points at me and says, "A-ha, that's on page 37!" Or best of all, when you can get people laughing at each other. I put a lot of time into the content I am teaching, but at the end of the day, people remember what a good time they had.

4) Never stop learning. Like a pitcher's fastball, one's skills improve with practice. This past year I have done everything from paid coaching to a graduate research project (measuring my rate of speech and hand gestures after watching videos of top speakers) to improve my platform skills, and it shows. I plan to keep working at this, because after all, I work for you!

There is another side to learning as well, and that is new content that benefits you. All you people who have come up to me after a talk and said, "say, we really could use a workshop on X" – I am listening. So thank you all for your ears in 2010, and stay tuned for some more great programs in 2011!

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Big Question

Do you have a conflict with a boss? A spouse? A co-worker? An ex? And do these conflicts seem unsolvable to you?

Often I find myself in the middle of conflicts like these as a counselor. And over time, I have found a simple question that often changes everything about these conflicts when I ask it. I call it The Big Question. Here it is:

"Is the other person simply a bad person?"

If the answer is "yes," all you can do is set boundaries for yourself. But if the answer is "no," this question can lead you to the common ground where the solution lies.

You see, every conflict fundamentally boils down to a dialogue that goes something like this: "Me, me, me, me, me." "No, me, me, me, me, me." "Yeah, but me, me, me, me, me." And soon we get entrenched in our positions and start building a "villain story" about the other party: "He is out to get me." "She won't listen to common sense." "They are constantly stabbing me in the back."

In reality, we all have a powerful survival instinct that leads us to push back against people who confront us, criticize us, or disagree with us – listen carefully – no matter how right they are. Which means that the laws of physics work against you every time you go, "Me, me, me." So most conflicts normally continue until one party or the other finally goes, "OK, I see: you, you, you." So let's see how this ties in with The Big Question:

-If you believe that your mother is simply meddlesome and judgmental for the sake of pure evil, you may never convince her to stop. But if you realize that she is worried about how well her grandchildren will turn out, then the two of you have something to talk about.

-If your boss is simply a ruthless taskmaster, you may have no option other than to leave. But if you know that he feels people don't respect him or listen to him, there is light on the path.

-If your husband married you for the sole purpose of making you feel worthless, you probably won't stay married much longer. But if underneath it all he needs down time while you need attention, there is hope.

Sometimes people are, in fact, bad people. When someone is sexually harassing you, stealing from your company, or posting compromising pictures of you on the Internet, you don't need to communicate better with them. For some situations, the right answer is to take them to court, talk to your HR department, or simply say "No more."

But in reality, most people aren't just bad people. And if they aren't, chances are that you know it. So ask yourself The Big Question, and take the first step to putting your conflicts behind you.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Whirlpools and Wolfsburgs

(Photo courtesy of Volkswagen)
In my generation, we were brought up to be Calvinistic. Work now, play later. Save for the future. Delay short-term gratification for the greater good. Yada yada yada.

I would like to suggest that you re-think that ethic. And I feel I have a bunch of psychologists lined up behind me on this one. Allow me to explain.

According to cognitive psychology, we are what we think about ourselves. Nothing more, nothing less. The only real difference between you and the next guy or gal are your thoughts – not your job, your education, or your case of lumbago. So when you treat yourself really well, the message it sends often carries over to the rest of your life.

I was thinking about this point earlier this month as I was soaking in a whirlpool tub in Albany, NY. It was the end of a long week on the road, the night before my umpteenth speaking engagement this year. I had covered 5000 miles and spoken to 500 people that week. But in this moment, I was so relaxed that I could practically float away. And it struck me that the extra $90 I paid out of my own pocket for a Jacuzzi suite was probably the best investment I had made all week.

But here is what is much more important, in my view. As I sat there being pleasantly pounded by warm jets of water, I was also rewarding myself for a lot of hard work, and sending a signal that I believed in myself. And when I strode on stage the next morning with a jaunty, FDR-like sense of confidence and got rave reviews for my talk, I probably more than earned my 90 bucks back in good publicity.

This reminded me of 1996, a year into my fledgling self-employment, when my consulting work all dried up and my old 100K-mile car started acting up at the same time. I stopped by a dealer in hopes of trading for a modest old car, but what caught my eye instead was a drop-dead gorgeous, loaded new Honda Accord with a special two-year lease. Looking in the mirror that night, I realized this was a test of faith – and I will never forget the feeling of having had no work in three months, having no idea when I would ever work again, driving off the lot in the nicest car I had ever owned.

I eventually kept that car for more than seven years. But just like the whirlpool, it wasn't just a matter of having a nice car. It was a signal to myself about flourishing and not just surviving. It was built-in behavioral modification: every time I slipped behind the wheel, I was an important person who was going to be successful. And you know something, it worked.

Of course, you don't have to buy a car to have the same kind of impact. Back in the 1980s, as a software engineer living in Los Angeles, I put aside ten or twenty bucks every week to have a real blowout lunch somewhere. There was something about sitting under the fountains of the Hotel Meridian or the Newport Hilton every week, patting myself on the back, that made it easier to go back and write code - and if you ask me, probably had more than a little to do with the management career that blossomed soon thereafter.

This week I had another one of those moments. Two and a half years ago, when my previous car's lease was up, I sprung for a nice VW Jetta, but always lusted after the turbocharged, 200 HP Wolfsburg Edition (which back then, only came in dull colors that needed more Prozac – my blog about that debate is here). I heard that VW wasn't making the Wolf in 2011, and decided it was now or never. I found a beauty among the handful remaining, silver with white leather seats, and after a small check and a painless trade-in I am now happily zooming around upstate New York going "who-hoo!"

Of course, we all need to do the right things in our lives. Work hard. Live within our means. Give to charity. Don't be a wastrel and neglect the future. I try to do all of these things. But looking back on what has most affected my mental health – and my success – over the years, I'd like to add one more thing to the list: whether it is a rich chocolate dessert or a new sports car, go treat yourself to something really nice once in a while.

Friday, October 15, 2010

On Brooks Conrad and learning to fail

I am a huge baseball fan, and there is no finer time of year than the playoffs. It has a totally different vibe than the regular season. Especially when you are there live: compared to the relaxed cadence of a normal Sunday afternoon ballgame, a playoff game has an edgy urgency, in front of a packed house that hangs on every pitch.

Given the knot I feel in my stomach sitting in the stands as a fan, I can only imagine what it is like being one of the 18 men out there in the arena. Some of them are probably locked in doing a job they have done well for years. Others, being human, get caught up in the tension of an atmosphere where one team ultimately succeeds and the other goes home in defeat. And more often than you think, games are decided by human errors that you rarely if ever see during the regular season.

I was thinking of that tense playoff vibe this week reading about Brooks Conrad, a 30-year-old career minor leaguer who suddenly found himself on baseball's biggest stage. Thanks to injuries to two of the star players on the Atlanta Braves' depth chart, he ended up playing second base in a key playoff game – and committed a record three errors, the last of which bobbled a routine play that turned a certain victory into a last-minute defeat. Atlanta bowed out of the playoffs shortly afterward, and after the game Conrad stated that he wished he could "dig a hole and go sleep in there."

So picture this: you have devoted your entire life to becoming a baseball star, enduring years of bus rides and bad food, and finally make it to the top – only to see your moment in the sun drowned out by a chorus of boos, and your name going into the wrong side of the history books. Red Sox great Bill Buckner experienced it when a routine ground ball rolled through his legs to keep the Sox from winning their first World Series in nearly 70 years, and Buffalo Bills kicker Scott Norwood gained a lifelong nickname of "Wide Right" when the Bills lost a Super Bowl on his missed last-second field goal.

So what fascinates me in cases like these – where people fail on some of life's biggest stages – is where they take their lives from there. Some take it on the chin and move on. Like 1993 World Series goat Mitch Williams, who became a respected sports broadcaster, or Buckner, who had a long and distinguished tenure as a baseball coach. Others did not fare so well, like when baseball's Donnie Moore committed suicide three years after surrendering a climactic home run in the playoffs.

What is the difference? In my view, something I call "leaning in" to mistakes. When I was training to become a therapist, I went through an exercise where someone would intentionally criticize my therapy work in front of a group, and I was instructed to simply acknowledge or agree with him. ("You're right. I really did mess that up. In fact, you should have seen me last week – I was even worse! That must have been a really bad experience for my client.") Then the group points out how well you come across by openly discussing all of this criticism.

This was a life-changing experience for me. In a very real sense, my "new toy" over the last three years has been learning to lean into other people's criticism without getting defensive. It works beautifully for other people as well, even in their worst moments. Williams, for example, has made it a point to freely acknowledge and talk about his mistakes in the World Series for years, to the point where he became a welcome and respected figure in the same Philadelphia he lost the Series for.

Nowadays I am often on stage in front of large audiences, sometimes hundreds of people. The vast majority of the time it goes swimmingly. Other times I kick it wide right. Like the time I invited someone on stage to role-play an angry patient with me, and she just got angrier and angrier as she taunted my well-rehearsed techniques. Or the time I name-checked the wrong sports team in the wrong city and was drowned out by a chorus of boos.

I have found that when I lean into these situations with gusto, they usually turn out just fine. The angry person, for example, soon taught both me and the audience a lot about what it's like about her work with challenging people like drug addicts, and it was a great learning experience for all of us. And the sports gaffe led to a productive discussion on what their team does right. Ironically, I feel my worst mistakes often lead me to rave reviews and more business by the time I'm finished.

So smile, Brooks Conrad. Own what happened and lean into it. And then come back next year – or ride off into the sunset – proud of having gotten into the arena to make these mistakes. You'll be fine.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The launch of a great new book

Hi everyone - Rich here. If you have seen my posts and tweets lately, you know that I've been helping to promote the launch of a great new book: Healing the Corporate World, from my friend and fellow corporate escapee Maria Gamb.

This book resonates with me on a very personal level. I see so much stress in the workplace today, and at the same time have seen workplaces whose values take them - and their teams - to an entirely new level. I have managed very successful values-based teams myself, and studied and written about them in my own book The Soul of an Organization a few years back.

There are some great free gifts for you, including my own full-length 2004 book The Perfect Company, if you purchase Healing the Corporate World on its launch day Tuesday Oct. 12. But more important, the business world needs this book, and has needed someone with Maria's experience and platform to deliver this message. Thanks and enjoy!

New Author Takes on What's REALLY Ailing the World of Business
New Book Healing the Corporate World by Maria Gamb arrives Tues Oct 12th

"Something is wrong."

These are the first three words that appeared on the page when Maria Gamb first sat down to write her book about what is ailing modern business today.

Maria Gamb, former Fortune 500 executive with over 20 years of experience in the corporate world, and author of the new book Healing the Corporate World: how value-based leadership transforms business from the inside out, knew that stress was endemic in corporate life. She also knew the impact it was having not only upon individuals, but upon entire companies, if not the world as a whole. But rather than settle for the typical approaches to "stress management" so prevalent today, Maria had a different idea altogether as to what the real problem was, and what was needed to rectify it.

By all accounts, Maria was experiencing a highly "successful" career for many years—at least to the naked eye. But inwardly, Maria, a highly sensitive and intuitive woman, with a great belief in the human spirit, felt something was intrinsically wrong with the way businesses were being run in our modern world. Stress wasn't the problem; it was merely the natural symptom that arouse as a result of much deeper issues. Competition, fear, blame, feelings of helplessness, and a sense of not being "seen" had all-too-often become the norm rather than the exception, especially in corporate life. And no amount of stress management would ever make stress go away until these issues were addressed—not only at a personal level, but also at a global level.

She felt it was time to talk about how we were going to transform the business world and heal a seriously ailing system.

Understanding that real change could only come from within, with each person taking personal responsibility for his or her own thoughts and actions, Maria decided to write a book that would serve as a call-to-action to the business community entitled Healing the Corporate World: how value-based leadership transforms business from the inside out.

Maria wrote this book with a passion to start the ripple of change that will do exactly what the title says: HEAL the corporate world. By "healing," she doesn't just mean to rescue our culture from economic crisis, but rather to heal the people and relationships within organizations so they can become healthy, flowing systems for change and creativity that are founded upon values, innovation, personal responsibility and authentic leadership at all levels of the business structure.

And while the title suggests a focus on corporate life, Maria's intention is that the book is NOT just for CEOs, senior managers or even corporations—she sees it as a book for anyone who works, from middle-manager to a new employee on a team to the self-employed and small business owner. Her intention in writing the book is that the principles would be applicable to anyone who wanted to create a more human-focussed society by transforming the way we do business.

The official Amazon launch of Healing the Corporate World starts at 12:01 AM Pacific, Tuesday October 12th. To celebrate the release of this "inspiring and visionary book" (Ernest Chu, bestselling author of Soul Currency), when you purchase Healing the Corporate World on the day of its launch, you can receive a complete library of personal development gifts from dozens of leading authors, business professionals, speakers on the subject of business and self-improvement (including a full-length copy of Rich Gallagher's book The Perfect Company, a Forbes Book Club selection in 2004).

To purchase the book and claim your bonus gifts, go to

When you look at all the bonus gifts, don’t worry about not having enough time to download them all. Maria assures me that as long as you purchase the book during the launch, you’ll have access to the download page until October 31st.

I hope you'll check out Healing the Corporate World on Tuesday October 12th, so we as a society can begin to apply these values-based principles in our work-place, and help start the process of healing for everyone.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Core values and organizational change: Q&A with author Maria Gamb

Today I have the great pleasure of being the host on Day 10 of the Virtual Blog Tour for Healing the Corporate World by author Maria Gamb.

Written by former Fortune 500 executive Maria Gamb, who spent more than 20 years trailblazing businesses valued at upwards of $100 million, Healing the Corporate World is a cutting-edge book examining the deep, and usually unspoken, ailment of the modern corporate world, offering solutions for healing at a personal, financial and even spiritual level. By showing the reader "the four cycles of transformational leadership", Maria provides business leaders, from solo entrepreneurs to corporate senior executives, practical answers on how to transform their organizations from the inside out, and become "Change Agents", consciously creating their own reality.

Yesterday, Maria visited Bryn Johnson at For today’s stop on the tour, I decided to ask Maria some questions about the core values behind workplace change.

* * * * *

Rich: Hi Maria! After my own book The Soul of an Organization came out (about how cultural values change organizations), the number one question I got was "Great! I'll change! Now, how do I change my boss?" What would your answer be?

Maria: I love this question! LOL I get it a lot. Here’s the cold hard truth: Your boss isn’t the problem, you are. I can feel the anxiety rising as you read this! Here’s what I mean. You cannot and should not try to change anyone. It’s none of your business and it’s not your job. Your job is to work on yourself; personally and professionally, to become the best leader, team member, colleague, wife, husband, parent or other. By working on yourself and letting go of what I call “ego behaviors” you come back to your true self. That kind, compassionate, caring person who helps others, contributes the best they can and is open to creativity, innovation and expansion without being attached to “being right” or “getting even” with that boss who you may not like very much.

Often times the things we see in another person are the very things we need to work on changing or improving on our own leadership. That irritating boss is actually probably going to be one of your best teachers!

Rich: Are there core values you feel are universal? Or do they vary from organization to organization?

Maria: I believe that core values are indeed universal. Just about every one of them comes back to 3 grounding principles – they are rooted in love - the care of others, compassion - the connection to others and acceptance - the engagement of others. Most people haven’t considered it this way, but it is so. An organization will tell you which of the 3 is of most importance to them by the values they select. Values of any organization are usually a result of challenges and lessons of those setting these standards.

More than just the values set by an organization; each individual needs to consider what their value-stand is on a personal level. These are their boundaries and rules of engagement. How they choose to operate in this world. And what they believe is important to creating their own happiness and success as well. The power of the organization IS in its people.

Rich: What do you feel the potential is for global and not just individual change along the lines of your book? Is there a "tipping point" where everyone starts to follow?

Maria: The “tipping point” is the realization that the power really does lay with the people – they are far more powerful than they realize. What I am sharing in this book is that it IS up to them to start the momentum and movement in how business is conducted. The shift is going to come from the “middle” – where the most manpower, resources and yes, influence lay. Every small contribution causes a ripple, which leads to a tidal wave. This is a phenomenon Dr. Ernest Lazslo calls the “Butterfly Effect”.

People forget their actions, decisions and the choices they make not only affect them. They are more far-reaching and global than they know. In business this is even more profound depending upon the kind of company you have or work within.

Additionally, these turbulent times have brought us back to fundamental values of trust, integrity and transparency. There is a great need for collaboration, which maximizes resources. The creation of new jobs and businesses are reliant upon creativity and innovation. In short, we, globally, are looking to create security and success. Using principles of cooperation rather than competition is what are required. Those who can embrace this will succeed and thrive. As momentum builds people will jump on board of those who move in this direction. People are unhappy, unfulfilled and as others move towards creating a more fulfilled life and livelihood others will be more inclined to follow rather than feeling like a victim.

* * * * *

I hope you enjoyed this interview with Maria Gamb and that you’ll check out her new book Healing the Corporate World, which is coming to Amazon on Tuesday October 12, 2010. You can receive a complete library of beautiful personal development gifts when you buy the book on the day of its launch.

In addition, Maria is hosting an exciting FREE 4-day telesummit entitled “Transforming Business from the Inside Out” on October 4th - 7th with a distinguished panel of 9 of today's most innovative authors and speakers (including me!) on becoming the 'Change Agent' in your business, in your life and in the world!

If you’d like to attend, all you have to do is request a “launch reminder” about the book, and you’ll receive all the information to attend. If you cannot make the live event, you can download the audio at your convenience.

To find out how to buy Maria’s BOOK and receive these gifts, including the FREE pass to the 4-day online telesummit, go to

You can read all about the TELESUMMIT and the guests at

Be sure to follow Maria tomorrow when the next stop on her Virtual Blog Tour is Yvonne Perry blog at

As usual, please do feel free to share your comments and thoughts below. I love reading your feedback.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Rational Entrepreneur

Usually, I don't consider myself smart enough to take on the folks at the Harvard Business Review. But this article, passed along by my good friend Barry Moltz, caught my attention. It describes entrepreneurs as being in the grip of a compulsive disease, from which most fail miserably.

You see, I've always thought of being an entrepreneur as a very sober, rational choice, while having a job seems risky and crazy to me.

Take my case. I am one of five children, all with engineering degrees. And the only one to be self-employed since my great-ancestor John Gallagher sold pots and pans from a cart in Portland, Maine in the 1800s. I've now spent more than a third of my career working for myself, most of it selling my own services (writing) or content (books, speaking, webinars, etc.).

From where I sit, I have seen so many of my friends and family members lose their jobs over the last couple of years – most after long tenures of working really hard. Good people whose only crime was making too much money, being 52 years old, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time when some executive decided to "align the company with our future strategy." Many of them had to wait months to get back to work again. And the percentage of smart people I know who have gone through this is, to me, stupefying.

Me? I don't have a job that can get whacked at any time. I have 20 or so clients. If one client or three happen to drop out, big whoop. And much of my work is booked in advance or on contracts, so it doesn't feel all that insecure to me. Plus, I rather like the boss. I even get to kiss the vice-president every day.

Perhaps this is a terminology issue. If being an entrepreneur means launching the next Silly Putty or creating a new social media paradigm, perhaps it is a disease that carries a high risk of failure. But if it means selling things people normally buy, whether it's dinner or freelance writing, I feel it's a very rational, practical, and risk-averse mindset - especially as we age.

Does that mean that I feel everyone should go out and be entrepreneurs? Nope. If the thought of living in a world of cash flow rather than paychecks makes you blanch, keep punching in with my blessings. Ditto if you love your job. And double ditto if you aren't sure what you would do and where your clients would come from.

It does mean, however, that I don't think - I'm looking at you here, Harvard - we should look at entrepreneurs like some strange species of zoo animal. I personally think we're pretty normal myself. If not a little moreso.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Do-It-Yourself Family Therapy Kit

I sometimes joke that when I am not busy defusing angry people on stage as a public speaker, I get in the middle of family arguments. I am about to graduate soon as a marriage and family therapist, and actually, I enjoy it tremendously. It is gratifying work where couples and families often move from a place of anger and pain to re-discovering one another again, with a little guidance.

At the same time, I have to be honest with you: what I do is really pretty simple. There is more science behind it than you might think. And you can do it yourself in your own relationship. Looking back on several hundred therapy sessions, I could boil many of them down into five simple rules:

1. No criticism. Ever. Really. Before my first session with a family is over, I tell them my mantra: you can never successfully criticize anyone for anything, ever. There are few less successful undertakings than trying to convince someone else they are wrong.

We all have a hard-wired survival instinct to push back against criticism – listen carefully – no matter how right it is. Get this and everything starts changing.

2. Ask for what you want. So now what happens with all those grievances you have with your loved ones: the crumbs in bed, the bad attitude, the affair two years ago? Here's what you do: ask them for something specific and actionable. And remember, NO criticism.

I can read your mind right now. You are saying, "Look, I've asked my partner over and over and over to stop doing X, and she keeps doing it anyway." No you haven't. You've been complaining to her in a tone of voice that would curdle milk, and she's responded with human nature. So try it again: "Agnes, honey, I would love it if you could do X. It would make me so happy. Where could we go with this?"

Maybe the other person will say yes. Maybe they will say no. Maybe the problem is unsolvable, like when she wants children and he doesn't. Either way, you'll be talking productively, instead of watching the other person respond passively or aggressively to your gripes. So ask them to go mountain climbing, see a movie with you every week, or kiss you passionately. Then watch what happens.

3. Ask what they want. What makes your kid happy? What is your partner most worried about? How do they feel about the X that you are asking for? Knowledge is power, and most of us spend too much time wondering what to say to someone and not enough time wondering what to ask.

4. Cheer the other person on. Do you have a rotten kid, or a complaining spouse? Pop quiz – how often do you compliment them, or say things that accept them for who they are, or comfort their mistakes? There is a stronger correlation between these things than you might think. People are capable of amazing transformations when they feel loved and supported.

5. Create your own great life. In grad school, they teach us a spectrum. At one end people are "enmeshed" – highly reactive and dependent on others for their emotional well-being. At the other end they are "differentiated" – loving and secure, but not needy. We want you to be more differentiated and less enmeshed. So start being a great partner or family member by making yourself happy.

Is that all there is to it? Well, not always. But as long as you both care, and aren't beating each other with sticks or recovering from trauma, this is actually a pretty good summary of where a family therapist might lead you. Try it for yourself, and watch some amazing things start to happen with the people you love.

Monday, August 30, 2010

How to stop criticism in its tracks

Are you constantly being criticized by people? Perhaps bosses, or spouses, or parents, or friends? And do you feel worn down by it?

Here is a neat little tool I recently developed for my therapy clients. It is a worksheet where you plug in the right words, and then watch the other person's criticism go down the drain. It is based on very powerful, evidence-based principles of strength-based communication.

It came into being when I would instruct people to "acknowledge" or "validate" the other person, and they had no idea how to go about it. So I would whip out a sheet of paper and write down a step-by-step procedure, and suddenly everything became clear. Try it yourself and let me know what you think!

The criticism-stopping worksheet

Step 1. Begin your response with, "Well, of course!"

Step 2. Describe the worst possible thing the other person might be imagining. Don't hold back!

Step 3. State your own case. Use facts, stay positive, and never, ever use the word "but."

Step 4. Ask "What do you think?"

Here are some examples of how it works:

Mom: What a stupid idea you have about majoring in acting!
College student: Well, of course! I'll bet you worry that I am going to end up a starving actor who hangs around your house drinking beer in my underwear until I'm 43. In reality, I am planning to see how I can use the acting skills I learn to succeed in business, while I try to build a career. What do you think?

Boyfriend: Sheesh – here you go with another crazy business idea!
Girlfriend: Well, of course! The last business I tried failed miserably, so you are probably worried that I am going to crash and burn again – and take our finances with it. Here is how I am planning to gradually bootstrap this business this time (...) What do you think?

Wife: You never pay attention to me. You are always in front of your computer.
Husband: Well, of course! You probably feel like I am married to my career instead of you these days. I have been pretty busy, but perhaps we should schedule a "date night" every week just for us. What do you think?

So what do you folks think? Welcome your comments!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Corporate communications: Talk to the hand

An old joke among my fellow engineers goes something like this: A man goes up in a hot air balloon on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. Soon he gets caught in a big gust of wind and becomes completely lost. Seeing a person on the ground, he descends and calls out to her, "Where am I?" She responds, "You are in a hot air balloon." He replies, "You must be an engineer, because you just gave me an answer that is technically correct, but completely useless."

Now, here is my own hot air balloon story. Recently, an over-the-counter medication that my wife and I use regularly went completely AWOL. We could not find it in any store, and every major online retailer was mysteriously out of stock as well. But we hadn't heard anything about it being discontinued, so I e-mailed the company.

The response I received did note that "we are aware of the problem," but the rest of it was corporate twaddle about how they "appreciate the time I have taken to contact them" and "would be happy to assist me in the future." I will not reprint it here, to protect the guilty, but I will translate it into plain English: We are too stupid to know when, where, or if you can purchase our products, or to even acknowledge you directly.

Shortly before that, I called another large company after discovering the PFFFTTT of a broken inner seal on their orange juice. This time I was subjected to a lengthy interrogation – including being asked no less than three times if I really, really didn't have an alternate contact number – and was then ordered to keep the product in my refrigerator until I received a letter from them. This week I finally received the letter, which magnanimously informed me that I was now free to discard my own orange juice.

The lesson in both stories? Most organizations don't realize there is a simple way to turn their customers into raving fans, sitting right under their noses: change the scripts they use to deal with the public.

The word "script" strikes fear into the hearts of many customer advocates. But to me, there is great joy in good scripts. Back when I was director of customer services for a large NASDAQ software firm, great scripts that used people's names, paraphrased their concerns, and used solution-oriented language formed the bedrock upon which we built high service ratings and strong sales growth. Unfortunately, most organizations use robotic scripts that sound like they could care less, like the ones above.

Another important reason for good scripts: your own front line people. When someone like me, who is unfailingly polite, comes away feeling annoyed by transactions like these, I can just imagine how customers with lower EQs react. This is probably why your staff sound like robots who would rather be doing their taxes than working for you.

Let's close with a rare good example. A few months ago, some goof managed to hack my Apple iTunes account and charge themselves a gift certificate. When I finally figured out how to e-mail Apple (which is like trying to call the Pope), I received a response that began, " I understand you are concerned about purchases that were made with your iTunes Store account without your permission or knowledge. I realize how upsetting this can be for you. Thank you very much for reporting this to us." Wow. Perfect. And probably being cut-and-pasted just like all the other corporate responses I get. See what a difference the right words make?

(P.S. Shameless plug department: Do you want corporate communications that help your customers adore you, your employees love coming to work, and your sales go through the roof? Connect with me (gallagher -at- for a nice no-sales-pressure-whatsoever chat, anytime!)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Five Life Lessons I've Learned from My GPS

Last month, I finally joined the 21st century and purchased a GPS system for my iPhone. And now that I've been using it for a few weeks, I have discovered something amazing. It is not just a travel accessory – it has also become sort of a spiritual advisor.

Here are some of the life lessons I have learned from my GPS:

1) Slow down. Picture this. My wife and I are having a great time at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware last week on vacation. So great that we lose track of the time. And now here we are sitting in a traffic jam at the beach, 120 miles away from a Phillies game starting in less than two hours, for which I had $70 worth of tickets. So I drive like a maniac to get there, as my GPS continually updates our precise arrival time, and save ... a whole two minutes.

I am one of those type-A people who is constantly rushing through life. And what the GPS is telling me is that all that cortisol squirting through my bloodstream is really for naught. I may as well relax and enjoy myself more, because rushing the rhythm of life doesn't help me anywhere near as much as I thought.

2) Trust in a higher power. Years ago, getting somewhere required me to be in control of everything. I had to purchase maps, look up routes, get directions (yeah, I know, men never ask for directions...), and then keep track of the route along the way. But now, I have to put my trust in the GPS. I set a goal, it tells me only where to turn next, and I have to follow it.

In life in general, I also often feel that I have to be in control of everything. But I really am not. There is a saying that "man plans, God laughs," and I need to laugh along more. Life itself only gives us directions one turn at a time, and I am slowly learning to trust that each step will lead me to a good destination.

3) You get to do things over. What happen when I ignore the pleasant, detached voice of my GPS? It simply tells me what to do next. No criticism, no raised voice. It doesn't even tell me it is recalculating the route, like some models used to do. It just pleasantly tells me where I can turn next to get back on track.

So what would happen if every boss, every parent, and every spouse suddenly started acting like a GPS? Never criticizing, never saying "I told you so," just patiently telling the people they love how to get back on track again? I think the world would be a much better place.

4) Stay charged up. GPS systems need a lot of power, and I cannot use it for very long without plugging it in to be charged. This is a good reminder that I too need to stay "charged up" with good food, quality sleep, and positive people as I careen through one busy day after another.

5) Think big. What would you do if you knew that you could never get lost? That you could find your way out of any situation? That you couldn't fail? Would you take on bigger and better things than you are now?

Like most people, I used to have terrible stage fright. Nowadays I speak comfortably to audiences of hundreds of people all the time - and in fact, even one talk I gave to 5000 people felt like another day at the office. What changed? The simple belief that I cannot fail. Whatever happens on stage, living in the moment and not worrying seems to get me through it. And this is turning out to be a great perspective to have for just about everything in life.

So to my surprise, it turns out that I am getting directions from my GPS at several levels. Where is yours leading you?

Sunday, August 01, 2010

The real "Secret"

If you follow my blatherings on Facebook or my blog, you probably know that I am no slouch as an author nowadays. In recent years my books have been pretty successful on Amazon, nominated for major awards, published in several languages, yada, yada, yada.

Now, here is something you didn't know. I am only the second best writer in my household.

Here is why you don't know that. My darling wife writes jaw-dropping fiction. She has a talent for painting incredible landscapes of tortured psyches and the human condition. She could take a simple trip for pizza in a small rural town and turn it into an existential masterpiece. And her plots are intricate but refreshingly inventive. If you were to read one of her books you would be gripping the arms of your airplane seat, or staying up way too late turning the next page.

Except that she hasn't completed a book yet. Why? Because she never pictured herself as a successful author. She would say things like, "people say that we're all just mosquitoes in the middle of the ocean." And she turned messages like that into an unspoken belief that she was never good enough, so why bother. Which is why we average five published books apiece nowadays – ten for me and none for her.

Of course I love her madly, novel or no, so no pressure from my end – but with time and encouragement, she is finally starting to see the gifts that I have always seen. Today she is finally working in earnest to complete her first real novel project. It is going to be incredible, and what I have seen so far is incredible already. So stay tuned.

But this brings up another point for you – yes, you – to think about. The difference between Colleen and I is not our writing talents. (If it was, we would be living nicely off her royalty checks.) The difference is the mental images we hold of ourselves. I always saw myself as a successful published author, even 20 years ago when I was like Father Mackenzie, writing the words to a sermon that no one will hear. So I acted like a success, and made choices presuming that I would be one. And guess what happened?

So now, I look at all the other big goals in my life. Moving back to Ithaca in the 1990s, when we were tired of living in big cities. Escaping the corporate grind. Becoming a full-time writer and speaker. Each of these goals were things that I pictured clearly in my mind for a long time. Between that and studiously ignoring my friends' well-meaning "reality" ("Everyone starves in Ithaca." "You can't quit your job in a recession." "No one makes a living as a writer."), all of them came true.

This was true for much more than career goals. Like becoming a homeowner in the overheated Los Angeles housing market of the 1980s, when everything seemed out of reach, by being patient and finding the right condo and the right deal. And then there were more personal ones. Like when I dreamed at age 18 of meeting a soulmate, right down to the dark, curly hair and the wire-rimmed glasses – and how we met and fell in love soon after. Looking back on those days, Colleen surprised me recently by saying that before we met back then, she had imagined someone just like me as well.

The bestselling book "The Secret" talks about what they call the power of intention – you will attract what you think about, and the universe will align itself to provide it. For an Irish Catholic like me with an engineering degree, its premise is frankly a little too spooky, kooky, and get-rich-quick-y for my tastes. But here's where I think the real secret is: when you hold a goal clearly in your mind, universe or no, *you* will start making all those tiny, subconscious choices that will ultimately make your goals happen.

This isn't a new concept. I first read about it decades ago in the 1960s book Psycho-Cybernetics, where plastic surgeon Maxwell Maltz talked about how you can put your subconscious mind to work on any goal you can imagine for yourself. And by golly, it seems to work pretty well for me. It is still in print after all these years, and I've just picked up a new copy to re-read. Maybe you should too?

Thursday, July 29, 2010


I am not much for labels.

Some of you may know that I am now working two days a week as a psychotherapist, to finish my graduate work, and I hear all sorts of labels there. Sometimes clients borrow them from our profession: My roommate is bipolar. My son has borderline personality disorder. She's a narcissist. He's a nut.

Other times these labels spring from the client's life. My son's girlfriend is a tramp. My daughter is married to an ex-convict. My boss is a control freak. My long-suffering husband is a saint to put up with these rotten kids. Or perhaps worst of all, I am a loser.

If we are honest with ourselves, we see labels as things that helps guide us away from the rocks on the shore of life. Like a speed limit sign or a construction roadblock, they are supposed to lead us away from bad things and toward good things. So we use them as a shorthand to put all of the other people in our lives into neat, little boxes, in hopes of making us safer and happier.

Now, here is why I want you to stop using them:

First, labels aren't what we call "actionable." They do not tell us anything or help us change anything. There is no therapeutic intervention for being married to a "bum" or being a "nut," for example.

Second, they are often wrong. One of the great things about therapy is that we are trained to hear all sides of a story, from all of the players involved. So more often than you might think, the "tramp" daughter is settling down with someone she loves after a couple of conflicted relationships, the "saint" father constantly criticizes his children, and the "rotten" kid is intelligent, sensitive, articulate, and acts very nicely around people who do not constantly put her down.

Third, they do not tell the whole story. Does calling someone "bipolar" also let you know that they are creative, caring, and a faithful partner? Does "ex-convict" accurately reflect the reality of someone who works hard every day and loves his children? Do "saints" ever make their families completely miserable every day by creating an atmosphere of disrespect?

I see just one good use for labels: when they help people understand something that they can fix. So if we diagnose someone's child as having ADHD, for example, they may move from being "bad children" to someone with a treatable medical disorder. Pointing out that a couple is in what we call a "pursuer-distancer" relationship may help them learn to communicate better. And someone who suffers from a severe anxiety disorder may find it liberating to learn their problem has a name, and a way out of it.

So what can we do without our comfortable, familiar labels about people? Talk about specific behaviors and specific reactions. Learn to articulate how you feel and what your boundaries are. And above all, try to understand and respect everyone you cross paths with, including yourself. If you can succeed in doing that, I have a label for it: wonderful.

*P.S. Important disclaimer: the examples in this article are generic and do not reflect my actual clinical cases.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Dear retail store

Here's why I don't buy things from you anymore.

Today I was at a bookstore getting some professional books for my graduate work. Yes, I could have ordered them online, like I usually do. But I read them first in your store, and wanted to be fair about it. So here I was at your checkout counter with about a hundred dollars worth of books.

But instead of simply ringing up my copy of Psychotherapy for Fun and Profit, you started asking me a whole bunch of questions. It went something like this:

"Do you have our membership card?"
"Sorry, I do not"
"Would you like to purchase one? It is only $25."
"No thank you"
"But you would save $14 on your purchase today if you bought one"
"No thank you"
"So tell me, do you live around here?"
"Well, then, you would certainly save money if you purchased this card. You are more than halfway there already with today's purchase."
"No thank you. Really."
"Don't you buy enough books to make this worthwhile?"
"I usually purchase my books online"
"Well, your membership will save you money on our website as well"

For a moment there I honestly wanted to be helpful. I wanted to explain sympathetically that there were too many cards in my life already, and that the thought of netting $7.63 a year didn't really excite me. But then I wondered, philosophically, what has led us to the point where businesses routinely subject their paying customers to interrogations like these? I thought it was their job to serve us, not the other way around.

So I just stood there with a quizzical expression on my face, and you then let out a deep sigh and continued blathering on about how you couldn't understand why I wouldn't want to save money, as you finally rang up my purchase. And I will leave it as an exercise to the reader how anxious I am to return.

Of course, I realize this isn't really your fault. Or the fault of the boss who pressures you to act this way. Or even the corporation that probably makes your job dependent on selling enough of these memberships. It is really the fault of the law of unintended consequences.

You see, once upon a time, some brilliant person at your headquarters discovered that by hassling Every Single Paying Customer to purchase these memberships, their revenue went up. And so upper management probably gave this person a raise, and then ordered you folks on the front line to annoy people as, silly us, we would try to buy your books.

Of course, this makes us buy more online so that we don't have to deal with Dracula behind the counter. Which leads to market declines you blame on everything from the economy to your debenture financing. Which leads you to pressure your staff to sell, sell, sell even more, as we retreat further to cyberspace and develop even less patience for being "sold." See where this is heading?

As a postscript, I had this conversation with nearly *every* store I went into today, each of which wondered why I wasn't using their specific Discount-a-palooza card. I am still not sure why they haven't figured out the idea of just discounting their products and treating me nicely. But while they ponder that, I am heading back to my computer.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Just the facts, ma'am

The biggest surprise about studying to be a marriage and family therapist isn't how often friends want to talk to me about their relationships. Rather, it is how I have completely lost my ability to answer them.

It's not because I am getting more stupid with age. (Please don't all comment at once. :) It is because we do exactly the opposite of what friends do. When you are having a conflict with someone, a friend will normally clasp their head in their hands and say, "Wow! What a horrible person the other person is! And how right you are!"

MFTs, on the other hand, are often accused of being neutral in a conflict. Actually, we are much worse than that: we take everyone's side. The lofty clinical term for this is "multidirected partiality." In plain English, it means that we try to teach everyone how everyone else sees the world – and then leverage that to build new relationships and better ways of problem solving. So a lot of what we do involves helping people see the other person's position and speak to its interests. We do this not to kiss up to people, but rather because, clinically, it is pretty much the only approach that works.

This isn't what friends want to hear, of course. And I certainly understand and respect why. Emotionally, it is much more satisfying to have someone take your side against the bad guy or gal, and that is what friends are expected to do. So while I certainly express lots of empathy for people, the minute I actually start to answer their questions I am on thin ice. Because I am trained to get them thinking about how to engage in dialogue with these dirty, rotten, horrible (fill in your own adjective here) people.

So does this mean that friends can't ever ask me for advice? Really, I don't mind. Just as long as they realize that they probably aren't going to like my answers. (Oh, and while we're at it, you should also never ask a budding psychotherapist how they are doing, because they will probably tell you! That's why we are no fun at parties either.)

Meanwhile if, lucky you, you don't know me well, here is a small example of what we teach people. It is a powerful technique called "reframing." It means that you stop labeling the other person, and start boiling down your interactions with them into cold, hard facts. For example:

• "He is a goof-off" becomes "He is two days later with his projects than most of us."
• "She is a control freak" becomes "She makes sure we finish all of the paperwork"
• "My boss is stabbing me in the back" becomes "My boss feels free to share his opinion of me with others, just like I do"
• "My co-worker is always angry" becomes "When my co-worker says X, this is how I respond"

To try it out for yourself, just stop saying the things on the left, and start saying the things on the right. Then watch what happens. It helps a lot, right? That's what my clients tell me. And do you see why my friends think I've grown three heads when I suggest a heaping helping of it?

But it *is* extraordinarily powerful. Think about it: when a coach tells a team they "choked" or "stunk," those words are not only scary but useless. There is no such thing as an anti-choking procedure or a non-stink drill. What actually happened is that they dropped a critical pop fly in the eighth inning, and that can be dealt with. Move from criticizing people to troubleshooting facts, and you will be amazed at what you can address and resolve. Good luck!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Take two!

If you've read my past blogs, you know that if you ask me what I do for a living, I might stand there tongue-tied. Because I do a lot of things. But for much of the last 15 years, except for a stint in the early 2000s managing a call center, there have been two main ones. I generally make about half of my living writing for people and half as a public speaker.

Which got me thinking about the whole career identity thing that most of us have. The majority of us are encouraged to be X, and be a good X – whatever X is. Often, we define our sense of self around what we "do," as opposed to who we are. Like my parents, who had a typical Fred-Flintstone-and-Wilma relationship where he had his career in engineering and academia, and she was a homemaker.

I had a couple of X's in my career too. First was a technical career that took my wife and I all over the United States, and later a management career leading call center and software development teams. I did well in those fields, even winning awards and serving on government advisory committees, but truth be known, I can't look back on those days as a time where I couldn't wait for Monday morning.

So one of the best things that ever happened to me was in late 1994, when word got around that layoffs were coming at the big software firm I was at. I went to the CEO, said, "Ooooh, me, me, me, pick me!", and left with a one-year consulting retainer – as well as the knowledge that from then on, I would have to eat what I catch. Along with the discovery that, for the first time in my life, Mondays were something to really look forward to.

But that wasn't the best year of my life. 1996 was. The year that my consulting retainer ended and all my other work ground to a halt for almost six months. Was that scary? Surprisingly, not as much as I thought. Suddenly I had time to really think, and started spending afternoons at the Glenwood Pines enjoying a Pinesburger, taking in a great view of the lake, and starting to sketch out a series of notes for what I really wanted to do.

It turned out there were lots of things I wanted to do, including writing for people and training. Some of those notes eventually became my next book Smile Training Isn't Enough, as well as laying the groundwork for my first training program. And more important, I started making connections with other people. By the time 1996 ended, I had earned enough to get by from more than a dozen different things – and started to get the sense that while I no longer had a career doing X, I could, in fact, learn to fish.

Now fast forward 15 years later. Those notes at the Pines eventually became the basis of nearly everything I do today, and I enjoy every minute of it. And as I look around me, a lot of other successful self-employed people I know are also "ands": writers *and* speaking coaches, therapists *and* professional photographers, etcetera. They aren't hung up on being just one flavor, and neither am I. Which leads me to the lesson I want to leave with each of you from this blog:

Stop thinking of yourself as someone who only does X. God gave you 168 hours every week, and you can spend them however you wish. And life is too short not to start going after all those little "x"s you've always wanted to do. Perhaps they will turn into a career – or, as in my case, more than one of them. Take two, or three, or five of them if you wish. Move toward the things that really give you pleasure, invest your time in them, and great things will happen. Good luck!

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Podcast: Difficult workplace conversations on The Career Clinic

Last month, I had a great interview on the nationally-syndicated radio show The Career Clinic(R), hosted by Maureen Anderson ( We talked for a full hour on how to handle some of your most difficult workplace conversations, using concepts from my latest book How to Tell Anyone Anything: Breakthrough Techniques for Handling Difficult Conversations at Work (AMACOM, 2009).

This was no softball author interview. Maureen, a fellow AMACOM author herself, regularly hosts guests ranging from bestseller Harvey Mackay to What Color Is Your Parachute? author Richard Bolles (one of her mentors), and in my case she went right for the tough questions: How do you fire someone? What do you say to someone who is gunning for you at work? How do you have a "strength-based" conversation when someone just blew off something really important, and you're pretty angry about it?

So how did I do? Well, you'll just have to listen - here's a link to a podcast of the full show (18MB): But I will say that (a) I've rarely had more fun on an interview, (b) you will learn a lot of new things you can use right away in your own tough workplace conversations, and (c) I did get invited back. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Giant Ice Ball

Do you ever have one of those days where you can't seem to do anything right? I just did. Today seemed like a never-ending case of brain lock, with client issues, grad school, bills, you name it. If there was a way to do something stupid with anyone, I was certainly able to figure it out.

Thankfully no major harm was done. Even more thankfully, I am not beating myself up about it. For one thing, I just came off the road and often have a day or two of brain freeze afterward. For another, I've been incredibly busy, which is always music to the ears of any self-employed person, but it also means that, well, I've been incredibly busy. And finally, I'm human like everyone else.

Which leads me to an important communications skills issue: what do you tell yourself when you mess up? And what do you tell others when they mess up?

According to psychologists, we construct reality from the words we choose. Tell yourself you are a failure and, by golly, you are one. Look in the mirror and say you are the greatest, and you're right again. You see, your subconscious cannot differentiate between real experiences and imagined ones, and so it hangs on your every word.

So, against that backdrop, here is one of the greatest things I've ever heard - something I've been telling myself (and occasionally others) ever since:

First, the context. Back in the 80s I once accepted a job offer and then almost immediately had cold feet. It brought my homesick wife back East, but aspects of the work itself were far out of my comfort zone. But I sucked it up and moved there. And then, two weeks before I was supposed to start, got offered another job out of the blue that I was much more comfortable with. So now, here I was going from office to office at the first company, with my tail between my legs, explaining my decision to everyone.

Many of these people were not happy, and understandably so. Some gravely intoned how disappointed they were. Some were subdued. Some were clearly upset - like the person who lost a hiring bonus for attracting me. But then I finally got to the office of one of the company founders, and his words have stuck with me ever since:

"Rich, I believe in the giant ice ball theory. Thousands of years from now, the world will turn into a giant ice ball, and no one will care about any of this. Good luck at your new job."

He was right. Today, a quarter-century later, the world still hasn't turned into a giant ice ball yet, but no one cares anymore.

Today that ice ball is one of my best friends. Last year I was on the losing end of a contract bid that would have set me up nicely for years. This year a new interpretation of state law threw a major monkey wrench into my graduate clinical work. And I had a serious auto accident that smashed up my relatively new car. How did I react to all of these things? A lot better than you might think. In fact, in each of these cases I said "darn" briefly, and then reflected on how good I really have it and went back to work.

Same goes with many of the routine frustrations that come with my line of work, from late payments to cancelled flights. I'm not always perfect, but most of the time people are surprised to find that I'm not really upset with them when things go wrong. Why? Because I have a giant ice ball in my back pocket.

So try the giant ice ball on for size with your own situations. See how you feel, and see where it leads you. I'll bet life will become a lot cooler in more ways than one.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

My big sales secret

Last year was a good year for my consulting practice. And while I was doing my taxes, it struck me that my income came from nearly 20 sources. Each a client with a story to tell. This got me thinking about how many of these client relationships spring from one core sales secret. Here it is:

I don't sell. Ever.

Seriously. If you've ever met with me, you probably noticed that I could care less whether I make the sale. I don't "close." I don't "overcome objections." I don't have a "sales cycle." Instead, we talk honestly about what you need, and what I can offer you. If I am not an outstanding choice for you, in your judgment or mine, I am happy to suggest other options. And then we'll shake hands.

Likewise, if you work with me, you may have noticed I am not constantly angling for more work. There is a thoughtfully chosen reason for this. I believe you are an intelligent person who knows what you need and when you need it. And I want you to feel every bit as welcome coming back to me three years later as you do three weeks later.

Is this a stupid, naive, or lazy way to sell? No. Here's why:

Think about all the people you've met who really wanted to make the sale. People whose partisanship toward their product or service was obvious. People who would probably never, even on pain of torture, suggest something other than themselves. Do you trust them? Would you go to them for impartial advice? Do you seek to create long-term partnerships with them? Well then. I'll bet that any purchases you made from them were despite their so-called sales efforts, not because of them.

You see, many of my clients are people I've partnered with for a long time. I cherish these partnerships, whether they use me every week or once every couple of years. They already know I am really good at what I do, and even when they don't cross my palms with silver I value being colleagues with them. Most of them probably would have gone running for the hills if I was constantly - or, for that matter, ever - foaming at the mouth to sell to them.

I learned this philosophy from, of all people, a car salesman. For years and years, Jeff has always patiently let my wife and I test drive one car after another, never presses us to make a decision, and knows his products cold. He never asks us stupid questions like, "Are you prepared to buy a car today?" or "What would it take to get you into this vehicle?" That's why we've purchased close to $100,000 in cars from him over the years, and hope to purchase $100,000 more. And why he's always busy every time we see him. If Jeff's employers ever make him read a sales manual, they're toast.

There aren't a lot of Jeffs out there, either on the car lots or in my profession. But I do feel there is a reason that he and I both seem to do really well most of the time: people like dealing with us. So stop caring about making the sale. Throw out most of what you've read on selling, and start thinking about building relationships. And above all, completely blow people away when you work for them. Then all sorts of good things will start happening to you.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Rich Gallagher unplugged: A truly "lights out" presentation

This week I was the guest of the Albany-Colonie Regional Chamber of Commerce, as the keynote speaker for the annual business awards breakfast. Five minutes before I was scheduled to speak, the power went out, plunging the meeting room into darkness except for candles that were fortuitously lit at each table.

One great thing about having done this for 15 years is that nothing surprises me anymore. (In fact, this was my second power failure as a speaker!) So with no PowerPoint, no microphone, and no lights, we all moved forward and had a great time anyway. Here's a clip from the event:

Friday, April 09, 2010

The ministry of communications

Normally you don't have to look very far to find examples of people who don't communicate very well. Or worse, seem to have no clue how their public statements will be taken by people. But frankly, I expected much better lately from Pope Benedict and the Vatican.

First of all, I am no Pope-basher. I am, in fact, a devout Catholic who grew up wanting to become a priest, albeit open-minded enough to respect everyone's faith and support things like gay rights. And it is from exactly this position as both a Catholic and a communications skills expert that I find myself increasingly gritting my teeth: Catholicism has been taking a beating in the public eye lately.

Which leads us to the latest issue to rock the Church - its response to how it handled pedophile priests decades ago, often shuffling these child abusers to other parishes to keep molesting children, and bottling up these cases for years at the Vatican. As more details come to light, and as they circle closer to the Pope's own past, the Vatican has been issuing a raft of heated denials as well as condemnation of the press.

However you feel on this difficult and sensitive issue, from a communications skills perspective we are simply hearing too much about the Pope and not enough about the children. The Pope is not just the CEO of some big spiritual corporation. He is the Vicar of Christ. And as Christ's representative on earth, he is supposed to at least try to sound less defensive than your Aunt Mabel from Yonkers. Think about how some of the recent headlines about the Vatican might sound if Christ had uttered them:

"Christ decries press conspiracy against Him"
"Christ claims subordinates shielded abusers, not Him"
"Christ silent about abuse crisis during Easter Week"
"Christ calls accusations 'absolutely groundless'"

Not exactly what you would expect to hear from someone who willingly gave Himself up on a cross, right? While I can't speak for Him, I picture Him weeping for the children. I see Him doing everything He could to tend to them. Above all I see Him following His signature trait from the New Testament, which is doing the right thing, whatever the cost, and not caring a whit about how people judged Him personally. So for starters, if Christ is your boss, we expect you to sound a lot more Christ-like. Especially when we are talking about children who were sexually abused.

So what would I say in a situation like this? Here is how I might advise the Pope, not that he is asking me. First, man up and take ownership of what happened. If, as we are learning, US bishops begged your office to defrock child abusers and there was no action taken for years, then as Ricky Ricardo would say, you have some 'splainin to do. Do it. Second, stop blaming other people: it is not the press's fault this is an issue, nor can you lay this at the feet of some vast anti-Catholic conspiracy. It is ultimately your problem to deal with, and hopefully learn from.

Finally, and most importantly, don't just sit on your throne and ignore the rest of us. We are talking about abused children here, not to mention people leaving the Church in droves. Unless you want to risk going down in history as the Pope who made Catholicism irrelevant in the 21st century, you need to show remorse, humility, and a genuine horror at whatever you were part of, and then learn from it. Not just the "this is bad and we wish it hadn't happened" apologies issued to date, and the ecclesiastical butt-covering that has followed. That's a little like me trashing your car and then saying, "we understand the horror of damaged cars."

Ultimately, I feel that this crisis will end the same way that apartheid, the Holocaust, and so many other atrocities ended: when the victims forgive us. That will ultimately depend on the words and actions of the people at the top. For this to happen, their communications need to be a little more Divinely inspired, or at least pass muster with any lay corporate communicator. Good luck and God bless.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Let's do lunch!

When I lived in Los Angeles in the 1980s, a common phrase in the entertainment industry was "let's do lunch." Its meaning had little to do with sitting down to eat - rather, it was a sarcastic play on Hollywood-speak that really meant "drop dead - I'll probably never be in contact again."

Seems like we're doing a lot of lunch lately. I was just going through this past week's correspondence, and the number of people who never responded to me - or worse, glowingly promised things and then went ostrich - is truly amazing. There are a lot of people out there whose mommas never taught them to answer e-mails or phone calls.

Now, of course, there are times when no response is absolutely called for. If I am trying to sell you something and you aren't interested, you don't owe me a call. (I don't do cold-call telemarketing anyway. Ewww.) And I'm not even counting all those people who are late paying my invoices or following up on projects with me - that's life in the self-employment lane.

I'm thinking more about people who breathlessly ask to meet with me and then disappear off the face of the earth. Those special ones who send me an e-mail, leave off the attachment, and never respond to my request to send it again. And then there are all those garden variety I'll-get-back-to-you-next-week-but-not-really types. Yada yada yada.

Mind you, this isn't most people. The vast majority I deal with are absolutely wonderful folks who are generally as responsive as I am. But there are a few who are the communications skills equivalent of people who leave the seat up, and they seem to come in waves. This week just happens to be a bigger wave than usual.

So, is society really getting more rude? I'll call you next week about it. Promise.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The theory of relativity

Normally, getting five hours of sleep in a stale-smelling budget hotel room isn't my idea of a good time. But last night it was like ambrosia.

You see, my 50-minute connecting flight home from Detroit to Ithaca last night turned into a four-hour ordeal, much of which I spent cramped in seat 5C of a small regional jet, before the flight was finally cancelled. First it was a gate delay, then de-icing, then concerns over the weather for landing. We were actually loaded on and off the plane a couple of times until they finally decided to rebook everyone at 1 AM.

So what struck me, as I now walked through the vast emptiness of Detroit Metro Airport with my hotel voucher in hand, was how *good* a bad situation suddenly felt. Sure, I had looked forward to sleeping in my own bed and seeing my sweetie that night. But after being on a hot, crowded plane full of cranky people, it felt absolutely delicious to bathe in the silence of an empty terminal, stand in the cool night air waiting for a hotel shuttle, and then finally have a space that was mine, all mine, for a few hours of rest.

This got me thinking how every situation is relative, on a small scale or a large scale. Even when we were stuck on the plane, small changes like the engines starting up or the ground crew coming on board triggered major mood shifts, where I would leap in an instant from being sore and tired to being awake and alert. Same with those little points of contact that strangers develop in a cramped space, from knowing smiles to shared stories. What first seemed like an endlessly bad time was, in fact, a collection of vividly changing moments.

But for some people, these moments of relativity seemed completely lost on them. One man on our flight, for example, was a bundle of anger and nervous energy who seemed primed to explode. While most of us bore up under the delay with relative good humor, he jumped out of his seat repeatedly to complain to the lone flight attendant, cut in front of everyone when we lined up for rebooking, pounded his fist on the counter, and bent the ear of anyone within arm's length about what a horrible experience this airline was causing.

Which got me thinking about a deeper level of relativity. The night before, arriving in Louisville for my speaking engagement, my cab driver asked politely if I'd had a good flight. I responded in kind by asking how his night was going, and he drew a deep sigh and shared that he was worried about his family in Haiti. Asking if everyone was OK, he said that some were and then, softly, that some were not. I shared my condolences and offered my prayers, but for the most part I frankly didn't have words that could adequately respect his quiet dignity in the face of loss.

So to be honest, last night I was wondering what would happen if Mr. Pain-in-the-Ass from our flight were to talk with that cab driver from Haiti. Would he rejoice that the wife he was constantly complaining to on his cell phone was alive and would see him in a few hours? Marvel in the privilege of being in a warm hotel bed with clean sheets? Perhaps even learn that creating connection and compassion might help him feel better about his own situations?

I don't know. But I do know that keeping things in perspective helps me a great deal. That's why I smiled at a beleaguered gate agent that night and joked, "No stress in your life tonight!" before worrying about where I would end up for the evening. Why I didn't mind lugging the bags on my shoulders through yet another concourse. And why, ultimately, I felt a sense of peace and comfort being alone on a cold and late night in Detroit. Everything is relative.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


55 is a strange age.

For one thing, you aren't young anymore, but you aren't really old. A little over 15 years ago I was still in my 30s. A little more than 15 years from now, God willing, I will be in my 70s.

I have no idea what it feels like to be 70, but 55 really doesn't feel very different from 35. Except when my ophthalmologist suggests that I need to start looking at trifocals. Or I look down at my waist. Of course, I can do something about the latter problem, and I plan to. Starting next month. Maybe.

For one thing, my generation's 55 somehow doesn't seem as old as my parents' 55. Checking out my Facebook friends, for example, a lot of people my age look pretty much the way I remember them from college. And when I was young, I presumed that by this point in my life I'd be married to (and still in love with) some white-haired old lady. Instead, I'm married to a 61-year-old who still looks like Shakira. Lucky me.

For another thing, there is something to that whole wisdom thing. When you've been through the same experiences enough times in your life, you get used to them. When I got that first dent on my brand-new 1979 Mercury, it felt like a disaster. A few months ago, when a high-speed collision with a deer smashed up my new Volkswagen, I realized that I could care less about cars - just very sorry for the poor deer and very thankful for walking away in one piece.

The same logic applies to lots of other life experiences. I like to think that I wake up every morning feeling the same way I did when I was young, but in reality it's a different me that opens up a large utility bill or waits on an hour-long line for airport security. But I still react the same way to a beautiful sunset or freshly baked biscuits.

Best of all, no one cares what I'm doing with my life anymore. I am in the twilight of my career. Which means I can do whatever I feel like doing nowadays.

For example, some kids grow up wanting to be a fireman. I always wanted to be a psychotherapist. I even had a dual major in engineering and psychology at Cornell. But I succumbed to the lure of a booming technical job market in the 70s and 80s, and never could figure out a way to tell my family and friends - or my mortgage - that I really wanted to stroke my chin and say, "Tell me how you feel about that ..." Now, thanks to the magic of being 55 - and three years of grad school - I've starting practicing this year as a real shrink under supervision.

Of course, I'll still speak, train, and write for people, just like I always have. Because I like doing those things too. And that's the point. No one cares. And if I want to be a fireman next year, by golly, I'll do that too.

All told, if I had known what things would be like, I would have turned 55 a long time ago.