9 must-read books to make you a stronger communicator

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.“

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.


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.

Book description (via Amazon): “Presentations are meant to inform, inspire, and persuade audiences. So why then do so many audiences leave feeling like they’ve wasted their time? All too often, presentations don’t resonate with the audience and move them to transformative action.

“Just as the author’s first book helped presenters become visual communicators, Resonate helps you make a strong connection with your audience and lead them to purposeful action. The author’s approach is simple: Building a presentation today is a bit like writing a documentary. Using this approach, you’ll convey your content with passion, persuasion, and impact.”

Why you should read it: The so-called storyteller of Silicon Valley, Duarte certainly has a presentation pedigree; she created the slides for Al Gore’s Oscar-winning movie “An Inconvenient Truth.” She argues that great presentations transform audiences to start movements, to purchase products, to adopt new mindsets, to master skills. Her book helps presenters develop content that actually moves people to action by making the audience the hero in the story and the presenter their mentor.


Book description (via Amazon): “After a stint policing the rough streets of Kansas City, Missouri, Chris Voss joined the FBI, where his career as a hostage negotiator brought him face-to-face with a range of criminals, including bank robbers and terrorists. Reaching the pinnacle of his profession, he became the FBI’s lead international kidnapping negotiator. ‘Never Split the Difference’ takes you inside the world of high-stakes negotiations and into Voss’s head, revealing the skills that helped him and his colleagues succeed where it mattered most: saving lives.”

Why you should read it: An IT leader’s job can often feel like an ongoing series of negotiations. Voss and his co-writer share nine effective principles – some quite counterintuitive – to increase your persuasiveness using emotional intelligence and intuition in both high-stakes negotiations and day-to-day conflict.


Book description (via MIT): “Preeminent author and researcher Sherry Turkle has been studying digital culture for over thirty years. Long an enthusiast for its possibilities, here she investigates a troubling consequence: At work, at home, in politics, and in love, we find ways around conversation, tempted by the possibilities of a text or an email in which we don’t have to look, listen, or reveal ourselves.

“Based on five years of research and interviews in homes, schools, and the workplace, Turkle argues that we have come to a better understanding of where our technology can and cannot take us and that the time is right to reclaim conversation: the most human – and humanizing – thing that we do.”

Why you should read it: We’re more connected than ever before, yet in many ways more alone, Turkle explained in her earlier book “Alone Together.” In this book, Turkle, clinical psychologist and director of MIT’s Initiative on Technology and Self, makes the case for what is lost when we choose our devices over face-to-face connections. She also offers advice on how to re-cultivate more meaningful, nuanced human connections.


Book description (via Amazon): “Why is so much writing so bad, and how can we make it better? Is the English language being corrupted by texting and social media? Do the kids today even care about good writing—and why should we care?

“In this entertaining and eminently practical book, the cognitive scientist, dictionary consultant, and New York Times–bestselling author Steven Pinker rethinks the usage guide for the twenty-first century…”

Why you should read it: While the spoken word may get the most attention, many argue that good writing skills are actually what separates the great leaders from the good. Yet there remains a lot of bad writing in business. Pinker says the cause of most of it is not laziness or sloppiness or too much texting, but rather what he calls the “curse of knowledge” – the writer’s inability to put himself in the reader’s shoes and imagine that the reader might not know everything that the writer knows. That’s certainly a danger for CIOs, and Pinker offers some reassurance that good writing can be learned and offers his own lessons on writing well today.