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Top 10 Books for Developing Communication Skills

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

- George Bernard Shaw

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Nonfiction Writing by William Zinsser - 9.5/10

Writing is a skill that needs to be learned and honed. It is also a skill that is required for but often neglected by, nearly every professional. You may not write articles or books for your job, but you likely write emails or perhaps reports and briefings. Writing an email or a report is not the same thing as texting or tweeting, yet that is the style often used. Writing good English allows us to more effectively express information and reach an audience. You may never want to write articles, but learning to write well is a valuable skill that will set you apart from others in your profession.

The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White - 9.5/10

See notes for On Writing Well. While Zinsser addresses various types of non-fiction, such as writing a newspaper column, a book, or a work report, Strunk Jr. and White stick to the basics. The Elements of Style is on my list of early must-reads. It is short and to the point. It contains a series of writing rules, many with examples, that are clear and insightful. Your writing will improve with this book at your side.


Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott - 9/10

I am not a fiction writer and I have no intention of writing fiction, yet this book taught me a great deal about the writing process. Lamott pulls back the curtains and writes about the struggles writers often face. The humor and emotion of the book make it inviting and engaging, even the portions directly intended to help with writing fiction. Anyone looking to improve their writing and write more frequently should grab a copy of this book.


On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Steven King - 9/10

This book is both entertaining and informative. King shares his journey to becoming one of the most prolific horror writers in history. Despite King being a fiction writer, many of his lessons apply to non-fiction writing. King believes writers are separated into one of four categories: the bad ones, the competent writers (may be published, like to read and write), the really good writers, the geniuses (Shakespeare, Faulkner, Yeats, Shaw, Eudora Welty)

King goes on to explain two simple theses that comprise his philosophy on writing:

  1. Good writing requires mastering the fundamentals (vocabulary, grammar, the elements of style) prior to layering on your individual voice

  2. It is impossible to turn a bad writer into a competent one or a really good writer into a genius. It is, however, possible to turn a competent writer into a really good one, provided substantiation hard work, dedication, and timely help are involved. Basically, the only movement possible on the pyramid is from levels 2 to 3. If you are on levels 1 or 4, get comfortable.

My goal is to move from levels 2 to 3. I believe one can ascend from level 1, but it will require extraordinary effort.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain - 9/10

As an introvert who stretches himself to be more extroverted when teaching, presenting, and building a social following, this book provided answers, validation, and more questions to explore. Cain, a self-described introvert, explores the history of introversion/extroversion and the cultural expectations of temperament. She uses research and cases to describe the effect introversion/extroversion has on our careers, relationships, and upbringing. Introversion is not something to be stamped out. Introversion yields many beneficial qualities extroverts struggle to replicate. Successful businesses require both introverts and extroverts.  We should own our temperament, find the best personal fits for work, and learn to understand and interact with individuals that differ from us.

Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don't  by Malcolm Gladwell - 9/10

Talking to Strangers questions our ability to read people. Through research, Gladwell demonstrates most people are terrible lie detectors, despite their subjective beliefs. Our ability to read people, in general, is highly dependent on context. The book does not profess we should mistrust everyone, but rather we should question initial judgments. We must realize that our brain is easily tricked and we avoid conflict. Our brain craves congruency and substantial data is needed to change our minds. It also covers the laws of unintended consequences regarding specific training in human interaction. It is a fascinating read.


The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell - 9/10

Spreading a message is challenging. Many word-of-mount epidemics sprout randomly and seem inconceivable at first glance. Gladwell explores the power of three groups of people - Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen - and the psychological underlay that influences the spread of word-of-mouth epidemics. He introduces the idea of "sticky" ideas (the Health brothers based their book Made to Stick on this idea) to better explain why some messages grab our attention and others don't. For anyone trying to reach an audience - no matter how large - and deliver a message that will stick and be spread, the concepts in this book will significantly help. If nothing else, it is a fascinating read.


Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It by Chris Voss - 9/10

This is a fascinating book exploring the world of negotiation. Chris Voss shares his stories from his life as a hostage negotiator. He blends innovative experiences with updated psychology research. People often think of job compensation and car shopping when the topic of negotiation is brought up. Voss shows many applications of negotiating and how to use strategies employed by the best hostage negotiators in the world.

Talk Like TED - The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the Worlds Top Minds by Carmine Gallo - 8.5/10

I have written about the importance of writing well. Speaking well is often equally important. While Talk Like Ted focuses on presentations, specifically TedTalks, it is applicable to any type of verbal communication setting, including one on one conversations with patients. Our body language, our cadence, our choice of words, our use of stories, and our belief in the words we are saying all influence the effectiveness of the message delivered. Like any skill, this takes practice. This book can provide a solid framework for any time up the presentation and is valuable for both skill speakers and novices with stage fright.

To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others by Daniel Pink - 8.5/10

Sales often have a negative connotation. We think of used car salesmen trying to manipulate us, telemarketers interrupting our days, and spam emails flooding our inboxes. The reality is we all are in sales. When a clinician develops a plan of care and tells the patient how often they need treatment, they are selling. When a new graduate is negotiating a higher salary, they are selling. When a researcher writes a cover letter for a manuscript submission, they are selling. Selling does not have to be a manipulation, and this book describes various strategies that truly lead to a win-win.

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