11 Books to Improve Communication

11 Books to Improve Communication The Garrett Ashley Mullet Show

JP Chavez messaged me the day before yesterday to ask the following question:

“How does one get better at communication? Specifically in regards to what you are having Josiah do this summer, how do you train yourself to organize your thoughts and distill information, then train yourself to express them in a coherent way?”

As part of my answer to JP’s excellent question, I explained how I have filled out a personal reading list toward the end of understanding the elements of communication better. And as promised, here is my list.

Humilitas: A Lost Key to Life, Love, and Leadership

By John Dickson

                I borrowed this book about a decade ago from a Jeff Lyle, a pastor in Hillsboro, Ohio, after he recommended to his congregation. The major takeaway was that successful leaders in every sphere of accomplishment and achievement consistently embody a high concentration of both confidence and humility. Without confidence, a leader will not put forward a bold idea or proposal for others to see and appreciate, whether by word or deed. But without humility, a leader will quickly lose the trust of those whose attention he has caught, and conceit will cause him to be rejected and opposed for being harsh, inflexible, unapproachable, and a perceived threat. But when confidence is combined with humility, bold ideas can be both put forward and also tried, tested, refined, and adopted more readily by individuals and groups around us.

Good Leaders Ask Great Questions

By John C. Maxwell

                I picked this book because an aunt and uncle of mine who were successful in business thought highly of Maxwell, and he seemed to me well-respected in both the secular and Christian business community as someone who gives good advice grounded in Biblical truth; and the long and short of it from what I recall – having read the book several years ago – is that Biblical leadership requires humility, a sincere desire to serve God and others, and consistent integrity in our words and deeds. And, of course, being a good leader requires having the courage and humility to ask great questions of those around us so as to demonstrate good faith in wanting to make informed decisions and consider the needs and ideas of those around us.

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High

By Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler

                I picked this book to study how to communicate more intentionally when there is conflict or the potential for conflict so as to navigate difficult topics with others in a way that was more likely to bring about a positive outcome while mitigating unnecessary offense. I ended up reading through the book with Lauren to improve how we navigate disagreement and situations where one of us feels offended. Communicating a disagreement about how a situation has been handled, is being handled, and will be handled in the future requires avoiding unnecessarily accusatory language. And couching perceived offenses more carefully can make all the difference in avoiding defensiveness in the person we are confronting or challenging. For example, hyperbole erodes our credibility. We don’t have to say “You always do this,” or “You never do that.” Instead, we could say “Here is what I have observed, and it seems to be a pattern of behavior.” And then, if that perceived pattern of behavior implies a bad attitude or faulty assumptions, we can more successfully get information from the other person as to what is driving their pattern of behavior. And once we have got that information and the person we are challenging feels they have truly been heard, they will be more open to hearing a counterproposal that is more agreeable to all parties concerned.

Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change

By Grenny, Patterson, Maxfield, McMillan, and Switzler

                This book was recommended to me by Paul Turek, a pastor in Sidney, Montana who told me he has read it once a year for several years and has found it helpful in understanding how to shape culture – church culture especially in his case. Sometimes the impediment to interpersonal communication is a misunderstanding of the role culture plays in shaping the receptiveness of individuals who belong to a culture to new ideas which challenge the status quo. But if we can understand how individuals relate to the cultures they belong to, we can better avoid unnecessary trip-wires, and we can more easily perceive opportunities to posit necessary change in a way that is both non-threatening and attractive.

The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups

By Daniel Coyle

                I picked this book as a follow-up to ‘Influencer’ and ended up liking it better as a way of understanding what differentiates successful group culture from unsuccessful group culture so as to communicate better in relation to the cultures – at work, church, in the family, and in broader society. What I learned in reading Coyle is that highly successful groups place a high value on trust, relationship-building, teamwork, continuous improvement, and being committed to the success of each member of the group as well as each member of the group being committed to the success and vision of the whole group. And very often this is accomplished through symbolic acts and rituals – regularly eating meals together, for instance – and a combination of critical feedback toward process improvement and supportive, affirmative feedback to encourage the continuance of helpful habits, attitudes, and behaviors.

The Talent Code

By Daniel Coyle

                I picked this book because I had read Coyle’s book about what makes groups successful and wanted to better understand how to work with skilled and talented individuals. How do those people see the world and themselves and those around them? The perspectives of talented and highly skilled individuals will go a long way to deciding how they perceive me, particularly if they think I am challenging them in some way they feel very confident and strong in. But if I can affirm their strengths genuinely and sincerely, and if I can couch my advice and suggestions for how they may need to amend their way of relating or communicating with those around them, I will have a better success rate at talking with them about opportunities for improvement. And if I understand what drove and still drives talented individuals to become good at what they are good at, I can perceive better the threats and opportunities inherent to communicating with and coordinating with them.

Outliers: The Story of Success

By Malcolm Gladwell

                Similar to my reasons for reading The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle, I picked this book because I had read Gladwell’s book about thinking and wanted to get his perspective on what makes individuals successful or talented so as to communicate better with people who are successful. In short, Gladwell says that a lot of what makes people who are world-class masters at what they do so successful or talented is a combination of chance and happenstance and hard work over an extended period of time. The 10,000-hour rule of proficiency states that a person will become a master at some task or pursuit when they put in that amount of time. World-class athletes, musicians, entrepreneurs, and computer programmers typically got an early start on pursuing that benchmark – early in their childhood. So that leads me to an interest in finding out what the people around me have been doing for a long time so as to better understand what they are good at, even when they don’t necessarily realize what they are good at and how they got so good at it. This also helps in understanding negative habits and attitudes and how they become so deeply engrained. The Biblical admonition to “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is older he will not depart from it” comes to mind here.

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

By Malcolm Gladwell

                I picked this book because how we think – whether intuitively or systematically – is central to how communication happens, whether you’re on the transmitting or receiving end of it. Is making a snap decision based on gut instinct inherently less reliable than being really organized, intentional, and rational? Sometimes yes, and sometimes no. It really depends. But both kinds of thinking are common. And if we can appreciate the different kinds of thinking in ourselves and others, we can better engage the whole mind and heart when communicating – whether speaking or listening.

The Marshmallow Test

By Walter Mischel

                I picked this book because self-control and restraint are so central to being a better listener, and also because communication and influence are so related to our capacity for re-directing ourselves. We cannot hope to influence the attitudes and behaviors of others without understanding self-control and how to get better at exercising it. If we want our communication to be effective, we have to be able to restrain ourselves from wanting to jump on every statement we disagree with. And we also have to understand the limitations of others ability to restrain themselves if we hope to be successful in helping them to make the most of the ideas we want them to consider and possibly embrace.

Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALS Lead and Win

By Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

                I picked this book because Navy SEALS are highly respected for their competence, lethality, and confidence. And highly effective leadership is inseparable from highly effective communication. Part of what is so interesting about this book to me is not just the content, but the way in which that content is organized and presented. Clear, direct, easy to understand – these are all ways I would characterize what Willink and Babin have to say here. They constantly use practical illustrations to make their points. And as often or more often than using examples of when they successfully applied these principles, negative examples of when they failed to apply their hard-learned lessons help to make them believable, approachable, and exemplary. Even just the fact of their sharing times they fell short, and the way they process and transmit those experiences to the reader, helps to lead and set an example for the reader of how to humbly own and admit our own short-comings and foibles. And that builds trust, demonstrates integrity, and sets a tone for communication which lowers the defenses of people who need to improve their own attitudes and habits in high-stakes situations and circumstances.

The Dichotomy of Leadership

By Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

                This book was a natural follow-up to the earlier book by Willink and Babin, and it further reinforces the teaching and commands of Jesus that we first remove the plank from our own eye before we go to our brother offering to remove the speck from his. They wrote the first book and had a lot of folks in business embracing their advice very extremely, and not often enough in a balanced way. And rather than faulting their readers, Willink and Babin decided to go back and supplement their earlier work with calls for balanced, nuanced, and flexible approaches. “Extreme ownership” sometimes requires taking an inventory on how best to encourage others to take responsibility as well, particularly when we are trying to lead and exercise influence over those under our authority or in our sphere. We can do that best when we consistently admit our own faults, mistakes, and shortcomings, and work to correct them.

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