9 must-read books to make you a stronger communicator

Deliver the right message in conversations, emails, and presentations
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The single biggest problem in communication is when someone has the illusion that they have communicated – but their message did not get through. IT leaders need to convey an incredible amount of information to succeed in their roles. However, getting those messages across effectively can be a challenge, particularly with the many demands on people’s time and attention, the varied forms of media you must employ, and the sometimes charged or difficult nature of the communications you have to deliver.

Thankfully, there is plentiful advice on being a better communicator. We’ve gathered some of the best books out there to help IT leaders deliver the right message, the right way, at the right time – whether you’re having a difficult discussion with a subordinate, delivering critical data to the C-suite, presenting at a conference, persuading a peer, or simply sending a status update via email.

Unleash the Power of Storytelling: Win Hearts, Change Minds, Get Results

By Rob Biesenbach

Book description (via Amazon): “The market is flooded with a dizzying array of books, experts, and resources on business storytelling. This book cuts through the hype to clarify and demystify the storytelling process.

“Unleash the Power of Storytelling” offers step-by-step instructions for finding, shaping and telling powerful stories. You’ll learn about the essential ingredients that go into any good story and how to avoid common storytelling pitfalls.”

Why you should read it: Humans are emotional beings, and narratives appeal to that, enabling them to receive and digest information more easily. Effective storytelling, however, often can take practice. This practical how-to explains why stories work, offers a simple three-part template for crafting a narrative, and includes tips on refining stories and delivering them effectively. It also contains examples of how to use a narrative approach in various situations like company meetings, job interviews, and presentations.

Like Biesenbach’s approach? Check out his other book, 11 Deadly Presentation Sins: A Path to Redemption for Public Speakers, PowerPoint Users and Anyone Who Has to Get Up and Talk in Front of an Audience, for 100 tips on saving yourself from PowerPoint hell.

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Five Stars: The Communication Secrets to Get from Good to Great

By Carmine Gallo

Book description (via Amazon): “Ideas don’t sell themselves. As the forces of globalization, automation, and artificial intelligence combine to disrupt every field, having a good idea isn’t good enough. Mastering the ancient art of persuasion is the key to standing out, getting ahead, and achieving greatness in the modern world. Communication is no longer a ‘soft’ skill―it is the human edge that will make you unstoppable, irresistible, and irreplaceable―earning you that perfect rating, that fifth star.”

Why you should read it: Carmine Gallo, the author of Talk Like TED (another great communication read), turns to Aristotle’s three-part formula for persuasion, to which he says all great communicators from the founding fathers to today’s most successful business leaders adhere: ethos (credibility), logos (logic), and pathos (emotion). He also brings in neuroscientists, economists, historians, billionaires, and business leaders of companies like Google, Nike, and Airbnb to show illustrate just how it works.

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Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone

By Mark Goulston

Book description (via Amazon): “Getting through to someone is a fine art, indeed, but a critical one nonetheless. Whether you are dealing with a harried colleague, a stressed-out client, or an insecure spouse, things will go from bad to worse if you can’t break through emotional barricades and get your message thoroughly communicated and registered. Drawing on his experience as a psychiatrist, business consultant, and coach, author Mark Goulston shares simple but powerful techniques readers can use to break through the stubborn and hardened outer layers of coworkers, friends, strangers, or even enemies.”

Why you should read it: How do you get people to listen? Psychiatrist and business coach Goulston offers tools and techniques for breaking down communication barriers whether dealing with “defiant executives, angry employees or self-destructing management teams.” Goulston brings his experience in training hostage negotiators to bear offering instruction on how to build empathy, de-escalate conflict, and get buy-in.

We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter

By Celeste Headlee

Book description (via Amazon): “Today most of us communicate from behind electronic screens, and studies show that Americans feel less connected and more divided than ever before. The blame for some of this disconnect can be attributed to our political landscape, but the erosion of our conversational skills as a society lies with us as individuals.

And the only way forward, says Celeste Headlee, is to start talking to each other. In ‘We Need to Talk,’ she outlines the strategies that have made her a better conversationalist – and offers simple tools that can improve anyone’s communication.“

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Why you should read it: Public radio host Headlee has had plenty of difficult conversations – often live and on their air. Here, she shares a number of her best tips for true engagement with other humans in even the most contentious or uncomfortable situations, such as checking your bias at the door, hiding your phone, avoiding multitasking, being ready to learn, and never repeating yourself.

Power Questions: Build Relationships, Win New Business, and Influence Others

By Andrew Sobel and Jerold Panas

Book description (via Amazon): “Skillfully redefine problems. Make an immediate connection with anyone. Rapidly determine if a client is ready to buy. Access the deepest dreams of others. ‘Power Questions’ sets out a series of strategic questions that will help you win new business and dramatically deepen your professional and personal relationships. The book showcases thirty-five riveting, real conversations with CEOs, billionaires, clients, colleagues, and friends. Each story illustrates the extraordinary power and impact of a thought-provoking, incisive power question.“

Why you should read it: A powerful question, the authors argue, can transform any conversation. It can even make the difference between great success and failure, as they illustrate with the example of how Steve Jobs’s single motivating question led to breakthroughs in the development of the Mac. In another example, an unasked question cost a major company a huge project bid. Sobel and Panas serve up 337 “essential questions” matched to 35 common business-related situations, whether you’re seeking to refocus a meeting or understand someone else’s goals and motivations.

Stephanie Overby is an award-winning reporter and editor with more than twenty years of professional journalism experience. For the last decade, her work has focused on the intersection of business and technology. She lives in Boston, Mass.