how to run a book club

Support for Compassionate Geek Book Group Leaders

Welcome to the book club page for The Compassionate Geek and The 5 Principles of IT Customer Service Success. This page is filled with tips on how to run a book club, along with recommended videos and discussion topics for the group.

A Compassionate Geek book club is a great way to follow up on Compassionate Geek IT Customer Service training.

The key to a successful book club is to get the participants to do most of the talking. You might even consider assigning each participant to lead a meeting. That forces them to be better prepared.

Ask many open-ended questions (questions that cannot be answered with a one-word answer). Ask how the different concepts might relate to specific situations in your workplace.

a book cover with the word compassionate geek
a man in a suit wearing glasses with It customer service success in it

When you’re finished reading The Compassionate Geek, here’s a link to a list of recommended books for IT professionals wanting to continue honing their people skills: Recommended Reading List

An Exercise for Participants

Here’s a simple exercise I’ve been doing recently as part of my onsite training programs that should also work well in the book club. After each new concept, ask the participants to write down one simple way they will implement that concept within the next 24 hours. Give them 60 seconds to do it. Then have them tell it to the person next to them, or, in the case of a small group, have them share it with the group. For example, if you’ve been discussing compassion, have them each write down one simple way they’re going to show compassion to others within the next 24 hours and then share it with the group. Emphasize to them the importance of keeping it simple and small so they’ll actually do whatever it is they write down.

You can do that with each of the principles, with how to say “no”, with email communication, stress management, and any of the other skills/concepts in the books.

Please Stay in Touch

Please let me know how your book group is going. Feel free to check in with me with any questions. I want it to be successful for you. Please bear in mind that I’m often doing speaking engagements and traveling, so my responses may take as much as 24 hours. You can find me @doncrawley, via email at, or call me at 206-988-5858.

I’m still working on developing more materials for this page. If you’d like to form a book group, please email me at and I will gladly support you with your book group.

The Compassionate Geek: How Engineers, IT Pros, and Other Tech Specialists Can Master Human Relations Skills to Deliver Outstanding Customer Service


After reading the prologue, have your group discuss why customer service matters, both to the organization and to them as individuals.

Ask the participants to describe the characteristics of good customer service providers and bad customer service providers, based on their past experiences. Have them think of all customer service providers, not just those in technology.

Use a whiteboard or flip chart to create lists of the words they use to describe the good providers (heroes) and the bad providers (villains). Then show the video below.

Customer Service Heroes and Villains

Chapter One: The Foundations of Service

In the book, I talk about four traits of customer service masters. As I worked with different groups, I became convinced that five traits exist, which I call the 5 Principles of IT Customer Service Success. Show the following video, then ask the participants to identify one small action they will take within the next 24 hours to implement each of the principles.

For Reflection and Discussion

  • When was the last time you actually worked with the product(s) you support?
  • How have you shown compassion toward others during the past week?
  • When do you find yourself most compassionate? How about least compassionate?
  • Think of someone to whom you simply can’t relate. Try to be empathetic toward that person. What would it be like to be in her or his situation?
  • Think of someone for whom you have no respect. Maybe it’s a co-worker or a relative. Now, think of things you can do the next time you’re with that person to treat him or her with respect, as one human to another. How can you maintain your own self-respect in the process?
  • In anticipation of your next conversation with someone close to you, perhaps your spouse, your child, your sibling, or a close friend, how can you ensure you’re really listening to what she or he is saying? What can you do to ensure you’re really listening and not just going through the motions.


  • Set up a test lab where you can experiment with the product(s) you support.
  • Perform an act of kindness for another person that no one knows about but you. Make it someone you don’t like.
  • Volunteer to help someone less fortunate than yourself, perhaps at a homeless shelter, food bank, or children’s hospital.
  • Find someone who believes completely differently from you, perhaps on politics or religion. Ask that person to explain their feelings to you. Promise that you won’t interrupt, argue, or pass judgment. Tell him or her that you’re working on being a better listener and want to make sure you understand her or his point-of-view. Listen to what that person has to say, asking questions for clarification, and explain it back to their satisfaction. Look for common ground.

The 5 Principles of IT Customer Service

Chapter Two: Practical Emotional Intelligence

This is a good time to discuss how some people are more successful in their lives and careers than others due to their emotional intelligence skills. A big part of how to run a book club successfully is in getting everyone to participate in discussion.

For Reflection and Discussion

  • When have you let your emotions control your actions to your detriment?
  • When have you felt proud of your ability to maintain your composure during times of stress?
  • Are there times when it’s appropriate to let your emotions dictate your actions?
  • Have you ever misjudged another person’s emotional state? What went wrong? How did you misjudge them? How could you do it differently in the future?


  • Think about the times when you’ve reacted poorly to emotions in others. Think about what you did that didn’t work. On a piece of paper, write down how you want to react the next time you encounter a similar situation. Remember to evaluate your reactions based on effecting a positive outcome for you, your customer or end-user, your colleagues, and your company.
  • Try Viktor Davich’s idea of meditating for just eight minutes each day for fourteen days in a row. At the end of the two weeks, ask yourself how you feel at the end of the meditation session. How do you feel overall?

How to Use Emotional Intelligence to Improve Customer Service

Chapter Three: What to Do When the User Isn’t Right

For Reflection and Discussion

  • Recall the last time you called a company, got disconnected, and had to go through the call tree and queue all over again. How did that make you feel?
  • Think back to a time when you were trying to get support for something and the support agent didn’t find out which version of the product you were using. You ended up getting support for the wrong version and wasted your time with a solution that wouldn’t work.
  • Have you ever had a support agent end a support session without confirming resolution? What did you have to do to get the issue resolved?


  • Do a role-play with a colleague and work through each of the six steps. Practice until it becomes second nature.
  • Set up a test lab using a tool, such as VMWare or VirtualBox. Install the software you support and experiment with some of the same scenarios your users might encounter.
  • If you don’t work in IT, ask your boss if you can have access to some sample products to better familiarize yourself with them. See if you can re-create some of the more common problems customers call about.
  • Set your alarm for fifteen minutes earlier than usual and start leaving fifteen minutes earlier than usual to allow time for bad traffic, crowded trains or busses, or a raised drawbridge. Get the frantic out of your life! It’s amazing how, when we’re early, things are so much more calm.
  • Take an online class or watch a series of training videos. My company,, and many of our competitors offer free training videos on a variety of subjects. Set up your lab, find videos to watch, and follow along in your lab.
  • Take a class at the local community college.

Why Things Go Wrong with Customers

Chapter Four: The Art of Listening Well

For Reflection and Discussion

  • Have you ever been talking with someone while he or she is texting or Facebooking? How did that make you feel?
  • How would you listen differently to a person if you wanted to understand her or him instead of just mentally preparing a response?
  • Has anyone ever finished sentences for you and completely changed the meaning of what you intended to say? How did that make you feel?


  • Find a friend you respect but feels differently from you on an important issue. Ask him or her to explain how they feel and promise that you won’t interrupt or challenge what’s being said until your friend is convinced that you completely understand how she or he feels. Ask questions for clarification, but do not let your feelings influence the conversation.
  • Ask your spouse, partner, significant other, or close friend how his or her day was. Ask questions to gain a deeper understanding and avoid talking about your day. (Caution: For some people, they’ll be suspicious and wonder about your ulterior motives!)
  • The next time someone tries to talk with you, stop what you’re doing. Close your laptop or turn off your tablet, face the other person, and focus completely on what she or he is saying. If you really need to finish what you’re doing, say so and say you want to give the other person your full attention as soon as you’re done.

10 Ways to be a Better Listener

Chapter Five: Making Sure They Know You Care

For Reflection and Discussion

  • Have you ever dealt with someone who was “strictly business” in their demeanor? Did you feel a connection with that person? If not, what could he or she have done to create a human connection with you?
  • Do you ever find yourself thinking negative thoughts or dwelling on the negative things in your life? How does that affect the things you say to those around you? What about your actions? Are they affected by your negative thoughts?
  • Has anyone ever tried to be funny with you, but ended up saying something unintentionally hurtful? How did that make you feel?


  • Create an email signature including your name, title, and contact information.
  • Review your email exchanges to see if you might be coming across as unnecessarily cold, brusque, or even rude.
  • Try to be more aware during your next support session of how the other person is reacting to you. See if there are some things you can do to be more understanding and reassuring.
  • Think about what you can do to give your customer or user a “baker’s dozen.” Maybe it’s printing out a tip sheet for the software or product you support. Some people keep small chocolates to share with co-workers or customers.
  • Consider setting up a wiki to consolidate and share information.

8 Ways to Show You Care

Chapter Six: The Challenge of Different Generations

For Reflection and Discussion

  • Think about your recent interactions with people from different generations. How do they see the world differently from you? Is there something to learn from their view of the world compared to yours?
  • Reflect on your view of the world compared to your parents? What do or did your parents think of your music? What do you think of a different generation’s choice of music? Have you ever said the words, “That stuff’s not music”?
  • What were the landmark events that occurred during your formative years? How might those events have affected your view of the world?
  • Have you ever noticed that particular communication methods don’t work with a different generation from yours?


  • Ask a member of a different generation for a musical suggestion that he or she thinks you might like.
  • Spend time with a really old person. Spend time with kids.
  • Spend time socially with someone of a different generation. Go out for a cup of coffee.
  • Refer to the list of significant events found earlier in this chapter and research events with which you are unfamiliar.
  • Interview someone from a different generation about their views on work, politics, social issues, morality, and society.

Setting a Standard for Respect and Civility

Chapter Seven: Communicating Through Email, Texting, and Instant Messaging

For Reflection and Discussion

  • Consider your text exchanges. Are you trying to text with people who might prefer another means of communication?
  • Think about the last time you tried to find contact information for a business contact, but there was nothing in any of your communications to help.
  • Have you ever dealt with a support rep who assumed you had a particular level of knowledge, but you didn’t?
  • Have you ever dealt with a support rep who used very casual language and shortcuts in a business setting? Did that feel right to you?
  • Think about any pet peeves you have that may not bother other people. Might those pet peeves influence your decision if you were in a position to hire someone?


  • Create a customized email signature for the bottom of all your emails. Include your basic contact information, office hours, and other information that your end-users or customers can use to simplify the process of contacting you or otherwise obtaining support.
  • Review past emails and written communication for grammar and spelling errors. Looking at past mistakes can help prevent new ones.
  • Ask a colleague to review some of your past emails for grammar and spelling errors.
  • Review the above section on commonly misused and abused words to ensure you don’t make those common errors.

How to Communicate Successfully Using Email

Chapter Eight: How to Say No Without Alienating Your End-User

For Reflection and Discussion

  • Think about the times when someone has told you “no” without offering an alternative or workaround. How did that make you feel?
  • Think about the times when someone has told you “no” and offered an acceptable alternative or workaround. How did that make you feel?


  • Think of some of the requests your users or customers make of you where you have to say no. What are some possible alternatives or workarounds you can offer that might help solve their problem or issue?
  • Still thinking of the customer or user requests from the previous question, what are some of the language choices you could make to soften your responses?
  • What are some things you might do to prevent your customer or user from feeling like you left them hanging, even when you have to say no?

How to Say “No” to a Customer Without Being a Jerk

Chapter Nine: Stress Management

For Reflection and Discussion

  • What are the things that cause you to feel stress? What can you do about them?
  • As tough as your own challenges are, there are probably other people in the world facing and overcoming much greater challenges. Read the stories in chapter ten about people who persevered and overcame their challenges. Then, come back to this reflection point and see if your perspective has changed.
  • Think of someone you know who seems to rarely be affected by stress. Do you notice any differences between how she or he deals with stressful situations and how you deal with similar situations?
  • Do you ever find yourself worrying about things over which you have no control? Can you think of ways to accept those things in your life?


  • Create a Get Out of Stress Free card
  • Make a list of the things you eat during the day. If your diet consists of a lot of processed foods, artificially flavored or sweetened drinks, or high-fat content foods, consider modifying your diet to include more fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, and water. Pay particular attention to the amount of water you drink every day. We’ve all heard the recommendation to drink at least eight eight-ounce glasses of water per day.
  • Enroll in a yoga class, an exercise class, or a meditation class.
  • Go for a walk in the park.
  • Volunteer at a homeless shelter.
  • Volunteer as a mentor for a high school student.
  • Listen to calming music.

Stress Management for IT Professionals

Chapter Ten: Overcoming Obstacles

For Reflection and Discussion

  1. Think about someone, other than yourself, who’s beaten the odds.
  2. Think of someone, from your own life or someone else’s, who has overcome adversity through perseverance and tenacity.
  3. Is there a big challenge facing you today that you can break down into smaller chunks?
  4. Have you ever been afraid to ask someone for something? What’s the worst thing that would have happened if you had asked that person for help?
  5. What does grace mean to you?
  6. Name three things for which you’re grateful.
  7. Are there things in your work or personal life that you can’t control, but which still cause you to worry and fret. What good does it do to worry and fret over things you can’t control? Can you think of ways to let go of those things that are beyond your control?

Overcoming Obstacles


Much of this book centered on changing our view of the world. Some people go through life seeing beauty in spite of extreme difficulty or the cruelty of others. Other people go through life seeing ugliness in spite of the beauty around them.

What is the benefit of seeing ugliness? What do you get out of it?

What is the benefit of seeing beauty? What do you get out of it?

What difference does it make?

Can our point of view influence our level of happiness in our life? Can it affect how fulfilled we feel?

Inspirational, pianist, Holocaust Survivor, Alice Herz-Sommer – 109 years old

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