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. 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.
Being able to communicate effectively can make or break the company or the leader. If you are a communications professional, there are a host of resources that can help you improve. In addition to conferences, workshops and webinars, there are a ton of books that focus on everything from how to write, how to pitch the media, how to cultivate relationships and how to navigate difficult conversations. Below are my top eight books to improve your communications game.
Talking the Walk: A Communications Guide for Racial Justice. Hunter Cutting and Makani Themba-Nixon’s “Talking the Walk” book is a how to guide for communicating around issues in racial justice. The book is a resource for persons seeking to interrupt dominant but harmful narratives about people of color and for persons doing media work on issues in racial justice. There are so few guides that focus on communicating about race that this book is a treasure. It is also helpful for persons seeking to learn strategy and strategic communications.
Words that Work. Frank Luntz’s “Words that Work” is the last book I’ve read on communications. Luntz brilliantly describes that people hear what you say through the lens of their own experience. He argues that communications is less about what you say, and more about what people hear. This is why certain words are deeply triggering for certain communities. For instance, I bristle when I hear words such as urban, and riot because they are code for Black, and not “code” in a good way. Every community or group has words that are triggering of course. These just happen to be mine. The point of this book is that focusing on what people are likely to hear is a preventative measure for ensuring your message lands as intended.
It’s worth noting that Frank Luntz and I are not aligned politically. But I believe everyone has something to offer and something to teach. Politics aside, I read this book and saw its genius and for that I’m thankful. “Words that Work” is a must read for all people who value communications and whose job depends on communicating well.
On 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. It is helpful whether you are a professional writer, aspiring writer or someone whose job depends on communicating well.
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, Wounds of Passion is required reading.
Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget: A Strategy Guide. Of course, I can’t write an article on communications as a profession, without including my own book. If you are interested in learning strategies for promoting your work and ideas, Extraordinary PR 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 your audience views you and your work.
Crucial Conversations. 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. Working in strategic communications, 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. You risk backlash and resentment. 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.
Jennifer R. Farmer is an author and strategic communications practitioner for socially conscious organizations, leaders and celebrities. You see her musings and writing here and at Lifehack.org. Follow her on IG/Twitter using @pr_whisperer.