5 Books to Improve Your Communication Game

Man walking down library aisle

No matter what your profession or passion, for many of us, the way we communicate—both with others and with ourselves—is key. And in reflecting on our own tendencies, strengths, and weaknesses as they relate to communication, my guess is that many of us could benefit from a lesson or two in the arts of negotiation, persuasive language, positive self-talk, and taking feedback gracefully and, when necessary, with a proverbial grain of salt, as well.

An added bonus of brushing up on how we communicate? Most of these skills tend to transcend relationships and can be just as useful with family and friends as with colleagues, supervisors, and direct-reports.

Here are five books—each one comes highly recommended from a member of the team here at Idealist.org—that offer actionable insights on how to best practice and improve your communication skills.

Verbal Judo: The Gentle Art of Persuasion, by George J. Thompson

Verbal Judo is the classic guide to the martial art of the mind and mouth that can help you defuse confrontations and generate cooperation, whether you’re talking to a boss, a spouse, or even a teenager.

Our favorite quote: “Motivate others by raising their expectations of themselves.”

Just Listen: The Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone, by Mark Goulston, M.D.

Barricades between people become barriers to success and happiness, so getting through is not just a fine art, it’s a crucial skill. Readers learn how to listen effectively, shift an angry or aggressive person into a calmer, more receptive state, and use empathy jolts to bridge a communication gap.

Our favorite quote: “Understanding a person’s hunger and responding to it is one of the most potent tools you’ll ever discover for getting through to anyone you meet in business or your personal life.”

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler

Crucial Conversations offers the reader tools to prepare for high-stakes situations, transform anger and hurt feelings into powerful dialogue, make it safe to talk about almost anything, and be persuasive, not abrasive.

Our favorite quote: “People who are skilled at dialogue do their best to make it safe for everyone to add their meaning to the shared pool…[they] do their best to ensure that all ideas find their way into the open.”

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way we Live, by Brené Brown

Daring Greatly is not about winning or losing. It’s about courage. In a world where “never enough” dominates and feeling afraid has become second nature, vulnerability is subversive. And, without question, putting ourselves out there means there’s a far greater risk of getting criticized or feeling hurt. But when we step back and examine our lives, we will find that nothing is as uncomfortable, dangerous, and hurtful as standing on the outside of our lives looking in and wondering what it would be like if we had the courage to step into the arena. Daring Greatly is a practice and a powerful new vision for letting ourselves be seen.

Our favorite quote: “Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”

Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well, by Douglas Stone

We swim in an ocean of feedback. Bosses, colleagues, customers—but also family, friends, and in-laws—they all have “suggestions” for our performance, parenting, or appearance. We know that feedback is essential for healthy relationships and professional development, but we dread it and often dismiss it. Thanks for the Feedback explains why getting feedback is so crucial yet so challenging, and offers a powerful framework to help us take on life’s blizzard of off-hand comments, annual evaluations, and unsolicited advice with curiosity and grace.

Our favorite quote: “Feedback-seeking behavior—as it’s called in the research literature—has been linked to higher job satisfaction, greater creativity on the job, faster adaptation in a new organization or role, and lower turnover. And seeking out negative feedback is associated with higher performance ratings.”

Have you read any of these books?

Do you agree with our take, or perhaps you walked away with something entirely different? Maybe you wouldn’t recommend any of the above, and instead, have your own silver-bullet book on effective communication that you’d like to share with our network. Tell us what you think!

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As a seasoned communications professional with 15 years of nonprofit experience and 6 years of experience creating engaging content and copy, I love the idea that a thoughtfully crafted piece of content can spark social change. Here at Idealist Careers, I'm eager to offer job seekers, game changers, and do-gooders actionable tips, career resources, and "social-impact lifestyle" advice.
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    • Ashley
    • March 27, 2017

    The Art of Communicating by Thich Nhat Han is fantastic.

      • Alexis Perrotta
      • April 26, 2017

      Thanks, Ashley! Favorite chapters for any readers who may be looking for a reference rather than a cover to cover?

    • Jason Patience
    • April 25, 2017

    I would also recommend, “TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking” by Chris Anderson. I’m about 3/4 of the way through the book and have found it very useful

      • Alexis Perrotta
      • April 26, 2017

      Thanks, Jason! There is absolutely a formula to those engaging and incredibly accessible talks. Come back and let us know some of your big take-aways from the book when you’re all finished!

        • Jason Patience
        • April 27, 2017

        Will do!

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