Our mission statement, copyright notice, and cast of characters.

Audio Game
Displaying empathy to a customer.

Group Scoop
Concern for Customers
Here's why we don't display empathy.

New Supervisors by Catherine Tencza
Making lists, one item at a time.

Online Activity
Single-Item Surveys
Inch wide and a mile deep.

Reading More with Les
Productive Conversations and Facilitative Knowledge by Les Lauber
Two more useful books for your library.

Brian's Words
Empowerment Dance by Brian Remer
An important insight in exactly 99 words.

99 Seconds
Formula for Happiness
The FOG of happiness.

99 Words
Lead the Group, Manage the Room by NancyAnn Jambor
Training involves leading and managing.

From Thiagi
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To increase and improve the use of interactive, experiential strategies to improve human performance in an effective, efficient, and enjoyable way.

Editorial Roster

Editor: Sivasailam (Thiagi) Thiagarajan

Assistant Editor: Raja Thiagarajan

Associate Editor: Jean Reese

Editorial Advisory Board: Bill Wake, Les Lauber, Matt Richter, and <type your name here>

Copyright Info

The materials in this newsletter are copyright 2007 by The Thiagi Group. However, they may be freely reproduced for educational/training activities. There is no need to obtain special permission for such use as long as you do not reproduce more than 100 copies per year. Please include the following statement on all reproductions:

Reprinted from THIAGI GAMELETTER. Copyright © 2007 by The Thiagi Group, Inc.

For any other use of the content, please contact us ( for permission.

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Audio Game


An important skill for customer service representatives is the ability to show concern and empathy during telephone conversations. Instead of giving participants a checklist of suggestions and having them apply these suggestions in roleplay practice, this activity requires participants to analyze best-practice examples of displaying concern during telephone conversations and applying the key features.

Basic Idea

Four teams of participants listen to different audio recordings of telephone conversations with customers. Based on these analyses, participants create sets of guidelines, first within the teams and then across the teams. They apply the items from the checklist during roleplay sessions.

Index Tags

Telephone conversations. Concern and empathy. Customer service conversations. Modeling. Best practices. Analyzing audio recordings.


To discover, discuss, and apply best practices for displaying concern and empathy in customer service conversations on the telephone.


Minimum: 8
Maximum: Any number
Best: 12 to 20
(Participants are organized [and reorganized] into teams.)


30 minutes to 1 hour.



Make audio recordings. You need four sets of audio recordings of customer service conversations on the telephone in which the Customer Service Representative (CSR) clearly and effectively displays concern for the customer. Each set of recordings should last about 10 minutes and contain several authentic conversations.


Round 1. Working within Teams

Brief the participants. Explain the importance of displaying empathy and concern during customer service conversations.

Set up four listening stations. Set up an audio player in four different rooms if possible. If not, set them up in four different corners of the room to minimize interference.

Divide participants into four teams of approximately equal size. It is not critical if a team has one more or one fewer participant than the other teams. Assign each team to one of the four listening stations.

Ask teams to listen to the recording. Instruct the team members to take notes on the customer service representative's part of the conversation and identify how she displayed and demonstrated her concern for the customer.

Ask teams to analyze the techniques for displaying concern for the customer. After the audio recordings end, encourage team members to share their notes and come up with a checklist of best practices for demonstrating concern for the customer.

Round 2. Working Across Teams

Re-organize participants into new teams. Explain that you are going to facilitate sharing of best practices among different teams. Create new teams that consist of one member from each audio station. If you have extra participants (because some audio stations had one more participant than the others), add them to one or more of the new teams. You will end up with some teams having two people from the same audio station, but this should not present any problem.

Ask the new teams to share their checklist items. Begin by asking each team member to share the best practice she observed in the audio recording. Encourage participants to continue sharing and consolidating their checklists. Invite participants to discuss apparent contradictions in the behaviors of the Customer Service Representatives.

Round 3. Roleplaying in Triads

Divide participants into groups of three and assign the roles of a customer, customer-service representative, and observer. Within each triad, invite participants to make up typical customer service scenarios and roleplay a conversation in which the CSR incorporates different best practice behaviors to display concern and empathy. At the end of each roleplay segment, invite the observer and the customer to provide useful feedback to the CSR. Rotate the three roles and repeat the roleplay sessions.

Group Scoop

Concern for Customers

Recently, one of our readers sent an email note about the difficulties in getting call center people to display concern for their customer's issues. After talking to a few customer service representatives, I came up with an application of the Group Scoop for identifying different reasons for the reluctance to display concern and empathy. This activity can be followed by a debriefing discussion about how to make it easier and more rewarding for customer service people to display concern and empathy during telephone conversations.


To explore different reasons why customer service representatives are reluctant to display their concern for their customers during telephone conversations.

Index Tags

Call centers. Concern. Empathy. Reasons for reluctance.


About 40 minutes. You can easily expand or contract the game to fit the available time.



In the following description, the steps of the game are printed in regular type, while sample segments from an imaginary play of the game are printed in italics.

Prepare a set of cause cards. Before the training activity, prepare a set of Here's Why cards. Each card should contain a probable cause for the Customer Service Representative's reluctance to show their concern during telephone conversations. Prepare at least two Here's Why cards for each anticipated player. If you cannot come up a sufficient number of Here's Why cards, use duplicates.

Ramona is conducting a workshop for staff members at a call center. Twenty participants have signed up for the workshop, including a few supervisors. The day before the workshop, Ramona prepares 40 Here's Why cards.

Get Started. When participants are ready, announce, “I'd like to conduct a group activity that will help us discover why many of us are reluctant to display empathy and concern when we are talking to our customers on the telephone.”

Ramona catches everyone's attention and gives her introductory presentation. Participants look like they are ready for action.

Ask players to write Here's Why cards. Hand out four blank index cards to each player. Ask them to write a statement from a typical customer service representative about why she is reluctant to display concern and empathy toward a customer. Give a couple of sample statements to get the participants started.

The workshop starts at 8:30 a.m., and Sam arrives 5 minutes late. He sees the others writing busily. Ramona gives him four blank cards and asks him to write his statements about probable causes of reluctance to display empathy and concern. Sam thinks for a moment and comes up with these statements:

Re-distribute the cards. After about 3 minutes, collect the Here's Why cards from all players. Add your prepared cards to this pile. Mix the cards well and give three cards to each player. Ask players to study the causes and arrange the cards from the most probable to the least probable.

Ramona collects the cards from the players and adds her own collection. She mixes the cards and gives three to each player.

Sam studies the three cards he receives and arranges them in the following order:

Exchange cards. Arrange the remaining Here's Why cards on a large table at one side of the room. Tell the players that they may discard cards from their hands and pick up replacements. Players should not to talk to each other during this phase of the game. At the end of the exchange period, each player should have three Here's Why cards that may or may not include cards from the original set.

Sam takes his cards to the table and rummages there. He discards two of his cards and picks up the following:

Swap cards. Instruct players to exchange Here's Why cards with each other to make their hands better reflect their personal opinions. In this phase, any player may exchange cards with any other player; every player must exchange at least one card.

When Ramona announces the beginning of the exchange, Sam wanders around until Mark stops him. Comparing cards, Sam sees one that says, “The customer is constantly yelling at me. I can't bring myself to display empathy.” He bargains with Mark until Mark agrees to exchange this card for Sam's card that says “That's not who I am.” Before Sam can find someone else to swap cards with, Ramona calls time to end this phase of the game.

Form teams. Ask players to compare their Here's Why cards with each other and to form teams with people holding cards that they like. There is no limit to the number of players who may team up together, but a team may keep no more than three cards. It must discard all other cards, and the three cards it retains must meet with everyone's approval.

Sam goes around the room checking with others. He runs across Vicky, who has excellent cards, and they decide to team up. The two set out to find other kindred souls. Peter wants to join them, and they agree, provided that he drops the card that says, “Displaying empathy makes me want to throw up.” In a few more minutes, the team recruits two other players. They study the combined collection and reduce it to these three:

Preparing a Poster. Ask each team to prepare a graphic poster that reflects the three final Here's Why cards. This poster should not include any text. After 5 minutes, ask each team to read its three cards, display its poster, and explain the symbolism.

After some discussion and debate, the team decides that Sam should be the artist and the others give him ideas. During the “show-and-tell” period, Peter reads the three cards and Vicky assists Sam in explaining the poster.

Awards. Identify winning teams in each category like these:

Sam's poster receives an award for the most appropriate illustration.

Game Plan for Concern for Customers

Here's a ready-for-reference summary of the game.

Step Facilitator Participants
Preparation (20 minutes) Prepare a set of Here's Why cards.  
Write Here's Why cards (3 minutes) Distribute four blank index cards to each participant. Each participant writes four reasons why CSRs are reluctant to display concern and empathy.
Distribute Here's Why cards (3 minutes) Mix Here's Why cards from participants with your cards. Give three cards to each participant. Each participant arranges her three Here's Why cards in order of personal preference.
Exchange cards at the table (3 minutes) Spread the remaining Here's Why cards on a large table. Each participant silently discards cards from her hand and picks up replacements.
Exchange cards with one another (3 minutes) Give instructions. Each participant exchanges at least one card with other participants.
Form teams (5 minutes) Give instructions. Participants form teams of any size. Each team reduces its cards to three.
Create posters (6 minutes) Distribute flip chart sheets and felt-tipped markers. Each team prepares a graphic poster that reflects its three selected cards.
Present posters (5 minutes) Select teams in a random order. Each team reads its three cards, displays its poster, and explains the symbolism.
Distribute awards (3 minutes) Distribute different categories of awards.  


New Supervisors
by Catherine Tencza

In last month's TGL, we introduced a card game called Dozens and showed how it can be used with different content areas (such as outsourcing and critical thinking), and invited readers to contribute their own content for the cards.

Within 24 hours, we received an email note from Cathy, one of our active readers:

Your newsletter came at just the right time. I'm putting together a one-week training program for new supervisors, and I think I'll use Dozens as an introductory activity, as an advance organizer for course content, and to break the ice.

Here are 24 content categories for the cards in Cathy's New Supervisors game:

Send us your content for your own Dozens games. We will share it with other readers of our newsletter.

Online Activity

Single-Item Surveys

During the past six months, I have responded to several online surveys, each with hundreds of items. These surveys usually measure general employee satisfaction or the specific impact of a training program. Sometimes, the lengthy surveys are used to collect needs analysis information.

In contrast to these complex surveys, I have used a single-question approach that can be completed in a few seconds. This rapid survey presents a single open-ended question. (You can see examples of these questions below.)

The key to the success of the single-question approach is the Law of Large Numbers. This involves getting as many people to take the survey as possible.

Designing a lengthy survey is a time-consuming affair. However, the closed questions in most surveys make it possible to analyze the responses quickly, objectively, and easily. In contrast, you can create a single-item survey in a matter of minutes. You will require a lot of time, however, to analyze the content of the open responses and to organize them into useful clusters.


The open-ended question for the single-item survey requires the identification of “the one most …” You can generate three types of questions.

1. Questions related to problems

2. Questions related to solutions

3. Questions related to opportunities

Administering the Question

The key to the effectiveness of a single-item questionnaire is to ensure a large number of respondents. Here are three approaches that we have used to achieve this goal:

  1. Launch an email campaign and send out the question (and instructions) to all possible respondents.
  2. Use the OQ (Open Questions) format so people can respond quickly and easily at a web page.
  3. Use a chain-mail approach to motivate each person to respond to the single item—and forward the questionnaire to other potential respondents.

Here are three factors that encourage enthusiastic participation in a single-item questionnaire:

An Application—and a Request

I'd like to apply the single-item technique for collecting feedback about the usefulness of my online newsletter.

Please take 5 seconds to answer this question:

What one change in our newsletter would dramatically improve its usefulness?

Here are a few responses that we have already received:

To respond to the question, visit this OQ page (opens in a new window) and type your short answer. You may include your name or keep your response anonymous.

I will combine all responses and analyze them statistically. I will implement your ideas as quickly as possible.

Please participate in this rapid survey right now.

Reading More with Les

My friend Les Lauber is one of the most voracious readers I know. I have blackmailed him into reviewing a couple of useful books every month. Here is his second set of reviews.

Click the book covers to order them through Amazon. (We receive a small commission if you do this.)

Productive Conversations and Facilitative Knowledge
by Les Lauber

[Book Cover] Stanfield, R. Brian (ed.) (2001). The Art of Focused Conversation. Gabriola Island, BC, Canada: New Society Publishers.

I like books that are practical and have real-world application. This book does that. You get 48 pages of explanation of how to use the Focused Conversation model. In addition, you get the skeletons of 100 conversations that you can adapt and use.

In the 21st century, those workplaces that share information to create value for themselves and their customers have a competitive advantage. On page 14 of the book, Stanfield writes “These days most people are tired of blaming and demanding; they want to solve problems. They want to go beyond input to push an innovation through and take responsibility for making the desired change.” The focused conversation model is a technique for capturing the wisdom of a group and helping participants become accountable for doing more than complaining or “giving input.”

The model's four parts consist of asking and answering questions. The questions at the objective level begin to uncover facts about the topic being discussed. The reflective questions uncover how the group is relating to the facts discussed in the objective level. The interpretive level allows the groups to discuss implications and options. The decisional level then creates action based on the discussion. This book also contains hints and guidelines for leading focused conversations: what to do when someone gives a long answer or when people start arguing or when someone dominates the conversation, and much more.

I've used several dozen of the 100 conversations in various work settings. I have gotten especially good value from the conversations on evaluating a seminar, planning a study group, coaching a colleague, mediating a difficult situation, and reflecting on a chaotic meeting.

[Book Cover] Stanfield, R. Brian. (2002). Workshop Book: From Individual Creativity to Group Action. Gabriola Island, BC, Canada: New Society Publishers.

I grabbed this book immediately when I saw it. I have been using the facilitation models from its companion piece, The Art of Focused Conversation, for nearly six years with outstanding results. I knew this book would provide me with similar benefits.

Focused on moving from discussion to action, this book describes the Consensus Workshop, which is a method for capturing the perceptions of employees, allows them to process their multiple perceptions, moves them to decisions, and awakens the passion to achieve goals.

The book is organized into four parts:

The method itself is straightforward, and the book provides enough details to get you off and running in the first 49 pages. The richness of the explanations found in the next part helps you understand why the method is so powerful. The third part is invaluable because its suggestions (on such challenges as dealing with difficult behaviors in a group or developing your personal style) apply to many contexts outside this specific technique. This part alone is worth the price of the book for anyone who facilitates groups. The fourth part lists applications, both for working meetings through a series and adapting the method for groups of various sizes from 1 to more than 100.

I like this book a great deal. As a stand-alone book, it provides the reader with several tools and techniques to successfully facilitate groups to consensus and action. As a companion piece to The Art of Focused Conversation, its power increases exponentially.

Brian's Words

Brian Remer is Creative Learning Director at The Firefly Group ( ). In addition to writing 99 powerful words every month for this column, Brian invents games and interactive strategies to expand learning and deepen insights.

Empowerment Dance
by Brian Remer

Empowerment Dance

Linda was a great boss. More like a coach than a supervisor, she helped me strive for my potential and offered me opportunities to learn and grow professionally and personally. Acutely aware of power differences, she didn't discriminate between me and her office assistant, Isabel.

One day, Isabel confided, “Linda's always trying to get me to go to these fancy retreats but I just want to stay here and type.”

Wow! You can offer to empower but people have to be ready and want to make changes for themselves. It's a complex dance. Who leads, who follows?

99 Seconds

Formula for Happiness

A 99 Seconds presentation lasts for less than 99 seconds. For more details about this format, check out the April 2002 issue of our newsletter.

One effective type of 99 seconds presentation introduces a formula or mnemonic. Listen to an audio version of a 99-seconds session that uses both a formula and a mnemonic.

For non-auditory learners, here's a printed version:

Transcript of the Audio Recording

How happy are you?

Here's a simplified formula for your happiness based on Martin Seligman's brilliant work.

Happiness = F + O + G

In this formula, F stands for flow. Flow happens when you are working on a challenging task for which you have the right level of skill.

O stands for optimism and hope about your future.

G stands for gratitude and contentment for your past.

So here's the prescription for your happiness:

F: Be in a flow state.

O: Be optimistic about your future.

G: Be grateful for your past.

Notice that the three letters in the formula spell the word fog.

May the fog of happiness surround your future.

99 Words

The idea behind 99 Words is to provide useful content (including the title) in exactly 99 words—no more, no less.

NancyAnn Jambor, Special Programs Coordinator, SW Washington Child Care Consortium, Educational Service District 112, writes this month's 99-word contribution. Nancy's current position (and her professional background) includes consultation, a lot of adult training and education, plus project development.

Where's your contribution? We are eager to publish your 99-word piece.

Lead the Group, Manage the Room
by NancyAnn Jambor

Lead the Group; Manage the Room

“Leaders do the right thing; managers do it the right way.”

Peter Drucker's comment offers a challenge. Do trainers' roles and responsibilities make them leaders or managers?

I have discovered the trainer/facilitator role is as much about leading as about managing. Leading the group means providing content and process integrity, from start to finish. Managing the room ensures an acknowledging and welcoming learning environment. Stellar trainers commit to servant leadership, and have the skills to effectively manage dynamics that encourage learning. Cultivate the yin-yang of both/and and reap the benefits.

From Thiagi

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