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13 Best Communication Books for Stronger Social Skills & Relationships

13 Best Communication Books for Stronger Social Skills & Relationships

If you are having trouble communicating with your family and friends, you are not alone. Communications, whether it is written or oral, is one of the most complicated and feared skills.

Regardless of how powerful or smart some people may appear, many harbor insecurities around how they write or how they communicate in front of other. But effective communications skills is a must for the individual and the company. In fact, companies are better positioned to thrive when they have a clear message and communications strategy that outlines who they are in the world, what they want to be known for and what sets them apart. And executives who can move others to action with their words are beloved.

Often when we think of skills, we focus on hard skills. But being able to communicate well is one of the most important soft skills you can develop and it is also a key determinant to success. Think of your doctor, dentist, lawyer, accountant, sitter, or your child’s teacher. Your relationship with these individuals, and your confidence in them, is influenced by how well they communicate.

Arguably, communications can make or break the company or the leader. Fortunately, there are a ton of resources to help you improve in this area. A host of communications books focus on everything from how you write, how you speak, how you communicate with your family and friends, and how you use communications to advocate for issues important to you.

The books are impactful whether you are a born communicator, or whether you are an introvert or an extrovert. They will help whether you are struggling to find and assert your voice in personal or professional relationships or whether you are struggling to maintain appropriate boundaries at work and home. I have broken the list up into books that are especially centered around communicating at work, and books that apply to your communications and social skills at work and at home.

Books on Communicating at Work

1. Never Eat Alone

    Never Eat Alone is one of my favorite books. Author Keith Ferrazi highlights the importance of cultivating mutually beneficial relationships and makes a strong case for how those relationships can propel one to extraordinary success.

    For someone like me, who is part introvert and part extrovert, the book is a reminder to be intentional in building relationships. It is easy to rely on the people with whom I already have a relationship but expanding one’s circle is not only a good idea, it’s essential to career and professional growth.

    What I love most about the book, is Ferrazi not only tells you what to do, he walks readers through “how to do it.” There are several practical tips for cultivating relationships and powerful anecdotes on how doing so can change one’s life.

    Get the book here!

    2. On Becoming Fearless

      Ariana Huffington’s “On Becoming Fearless” was also transformative. She covers everything from becoming fearless in the workplace to passionately pursuing one’s personal calling.

      The truth is fear is a common reality for many of our lives. We allow fear to keep us from reaching for our dreams, keep us from speaking our truth, or remain in unhealthy situations.

      Drawing from her own experiences, Huffington walks readers through strategies for confronting and overcoming fear.

      Get the book here!

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      3. Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget: A Strategy Guide

        If you are interested in learning strategies for promoting your work and ideas, my own book is an excellent resource.

        The book highlights case studies from actual social justice campaigns and the strategies me and my team used to place important issues on reporters’ radars. The book also focuses on how to cultivate relationships with reporters, who can have an outsize impact on how the world, including your audience, views you and your work.

        Get the book here!

        4. How to Win Friends and Influence People

          Written in 1936, Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” is a timeless treasure. It is one of the best selling books ever.

          The book focuses on strategies for creating and maintaining powerful relationships. This is key because your success is directly tied to the relationships you cultivate and the power of those relationships.

          He discusses principles such as appealing to what is in your colleague’s interest rather than focusing narrowly on your own self-interest, the importance of memorizing the names of others, and the lost art of listening.

          Carnegie focuses on the power of being genuinely interested in other people, which is critical. The book is a reminder that people will accept your advice, act on your recommendations if they like you and IF they believe you like them. They will not follow you based solely on your leadership position or your rank in an organization.

          There are so many communications gems in this book, that it deserves an article unto itself. Suffice it to say, this is a book you should buy yesterday. It is seriously that good.

          Get the book here!

          5. Words that Work

            Frank Luntz’s “Words that Work” is the last book I’ve read on communications. It is juicy. Luntz brilliantly describes that people hear what you say through the lens of their own experience.

            Communication is less about what you say, and more about what people hear. It is therefore important to focus on what people are likely to hear to sidestep saying the wrong thing or having your message misconstrued. This is why certain words are deeply triggering for certain communities.

            Once you use triggering or loaded words, nothing else you say matters. Your audience will get stuck and miss your entire message.

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            Again, this book is a must read for all people who value communications and whose job depends on communicating well.

            Get the book here!

            6. Crucial Conversations

              I am learning that we live in a society where telling the truth, especially unsolicited truth, is not always welcome. In fact, it takes tremendous courage to be direct and tell the truth.

              In my profession, I routinely am asked to give feedback when people I work with have media interviews. A person’s ability to improve, with the media or otherwise, is directly correlated to the coaching and feedback they receive, but that doesn’t necessarily make telling the truth easier.

              When commentators, reporters or even political leaders tell the truth as they see it, they sometimes face harsh criticism. However, no relationship works without each party having the freedom and the space to tell the truth in love.

              “Crucial Conversations” is a road map to having difficult but necessary conversations in the workplace and at home. If you are seeking to improve your social skills or communicate unpleasant information, “Crucial Conversations” is a must-read. The fact is most of us are coached not to tell the truth, so training in this area is beneficial.

              Get the book here!

              7. Leadership Presence

                “Leadership Presence” by Belle Linda Halpern and Kathy Lubar is a gem. I was introduced to this book during an executive coaching session 10 years ago. I was struggling with how to develop gravitas and how to communicate while having force of presence.

                This was one of the books my coach, Sheryl Phillips, recommended. What I appreciated most about this book is the importance of nonverbals in communication and the strategies it offers to develop leadership presence.

                Get the book here!

                Books on Communicating at Home

                8. The Power of Now

                  Eckart Tolle’s “The Power of Now” was transformative. He outlines how to remain present with one’s thoughts and present situations.

                  There have been many times when I have reacted to things that happened in the past or things that could possibly happen in the future. Such ruminations are a major contributor to internal suffering. They also inhibit us from being fully present in the lives of our family and friends.

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                  For this reason, I strongly recommend the age-old and evergreen, The Power of Now.

                  Get the book here!

                  9. Five Love Languages

                    We are all created in the image of God. We express our love and God’s image differently.

                    In Gary Chapman’s “The Five Love Languages,” Chapman explores the importance of understanding not only our own love language, but our family and friends’ love language as well. The book identifies the five love languages as “words of affirmation,” “acts of service,” “receiving gifts,” “quality time,” and “physical touch.”

                    For instance, my love language is two-fold, “quality time” and “acts of service.” If a person wants to communicate their love for me, they should both spend time with me and perform acts of service. My sister on the other hand values time. She is giddy when I invest time with her and her family. When I have attempted to offer gifts in lieu of time, our relationship suffered. The best way for me to express love to her is to offer uninterrupted time. That means time when I am not doing other things such as playing on my cell phone, working or otherwise being physically present but mentally occupied.

                    You cannot have a healthy relationship at work or home without understanding what the people around you need to feel valued and respected. For this reason, I strongly recommend The Five Love Languages.

                    Get the book here!

                    10. Boundaries

                      Dr. Henry Cloud’s “Boundaries” is a timeless relationship book. It is essential because boundaries inform people how they should and should not behave in your life.

                      For persons who have suffered childhood abuse, it can be difficult to establish or know when one’s boundaries have been violated. However, you cannot have a healthy relationship without creating guardrails that keep you safe and inform people how they can show up in your life.

                      Often, anger is an indication that a boundary has been violated. When I have peeled back the onion, I sometimes realize that I was not clear with boundaries.

                      Get the book here!

                      11. The Four Agreements

                        Don Miguel Ruiz’s “The Four Agreements” is a must-read for everyone seeking enlightenment and restoration in relationships. It is also essential for persons seeking to end personal suffering caused by endless rumination.

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                        In sum, the four agreements, are to 1. Take nothing personally, 2. be impeccable with your word, 3. don’t make assumptions and 4. always do your best. In addition to the book, the teachings are also available in a compact card deck which offers daily reflections.

                        Get the book here!

                        Books on Written Communication

                        12. On Writing

                          Since I’m a professional communicator, I don’t think it’s possible to write an article on communications and social skills without discussing writing.

                          Regardless of what you do, or who you are, at some point you will need to put ideas and thoughts to paper. From standard office correspondence, to long-form essays, to business documents, and reports, you are bound to write.

                          One of the most inspiring and helpful books on writing I’ve ever read is Stephen King’s “On Writing.” He covers everything from the mechanics of writing to his personal journey with the written word. The book is humorous, easy to digest and inspiring.

                          Get the book here!

                          13. Wounds of Passion: A Writing Life

                            Bell Hooks is one of the most prolific writers of all times. Like Stephen King, she produces full manuscripts the way many of us communicate via text message – nonstop. “Wounds of Passion: The Writing Life” focuses on hooks’s early career as a writer and the process she followed to produce some of her earliest works.

                            Like King’s “On Writing,” Hooks’ book is somewhat autobiographical as it provides insight into her journey and, well, writing life. She documents the trials she experienced, including an abusive relationship, while she was discovering herself as a writer.

                            If you are serious about effective communications, and need help demystifying the process, these books are required reading.

                            Get the book here!

                            While there are several books on this list, I recommend each of them as necessary for developing better social skills and better relationships.

                            Featured photo credit: Josh Felise via unsplash.com

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                            Jennifer R. Farmer

                            An author and trainer specializes in helping socially-conscious entrepreneurs, celebrities and activists

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                            Last Updated on October 22, 2020

                            8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

                            8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

                            How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

                            Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

                            When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

                            Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

                            What Makes People Poor Listeners?

                            Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

                            1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

                            Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

                            Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

                            It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

                            2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

                            This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

                            Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

                            3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

                            It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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                            I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

                            If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

                            4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

                            While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

                            To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

                            My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

                            Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

                            Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

                            How To Be a Better Listener

                            For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

                            1. Pay Attention

                            A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

                            According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

                            As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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                            I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

                            2. Use Positive Body Language

                            You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

                            A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

                            People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

                            But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

                            According to Alan Gurney,[2]

                            “An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

                            Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

                            3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

                            I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

                            Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

                            Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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                            Be polite and wait your turn!

                            4. Ask Questions

                            Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

                            5. Just Listen

                            This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

                            I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

                            I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

                            6. Remember and Follow Up

                            Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

                            For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

                            According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

                            It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

                            7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

                            If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

                            Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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                            Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

                            Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

                            NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

                            1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
                            2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

                            8. Maintain Eye Contact

                            When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

                            Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

                            By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

                            Final Thoughts

                            Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

                            You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

                            And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

                            More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

                            Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

                            Reference

                            [1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
                            [2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
                            [3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
                            [4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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