5 Must-Read Books for Difficult Conversations

negotiation communicationby Lesley Nevills

We all struggle at times to be articulate in face-to-face interactions, especially when the conversation is emotional, difficult or strategic. It’s hard to express yourself when you know the stakes or emotions are high. Being good at these critical conversations can enhance your credibility, boost your confidence, build an important relationship, or help get you that promotion or raise.

Luckily, there is help! I’d like to share 5 books that have helped me improve my communication skills over the years. Add them to your library, and you will find them useful at work and in life.

The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins

This book provides a road map to accelerate the time it takes you to add value in a new position during a career transition. It is a great resource for new leaders to help focus your learning and achieve early success in a new role. I found the strategies for communication and relationship building to be very helpful and the chapter on negotiating success gave me some new insights on communication. It includes many useful strategies and resources for accelerating learning, planning critical conversations and driving your own success.

Leadership is Half the Story by Marc Hurwitz and Samantha Hurwitz

Sam and Marc consider leadership and followership to be a partnership and collaborative relationship. The topic of leadership gets a lot of attention in business, but we spend little time on partnership or followership. We have all struggled at times with leader-subordinate communication challenges. This book gave me a new perspective and strategies on how to manage communication challenges at all levels. I came away with a new take on the role of collaboration in our communication. I recommend this one for anyone struggling with peer to peer or leader to follower communication challenges.

Power Talk by Sarah Myers McGinty

If you ever wanted to know how to influence and exhibit more authority in your everyday conversations, this book will help you learn the skills to do it. You will learn the difference between two styles of speaking: center and edge. You project authority and confidence through one style and collaboration and inclusion with the other.

The Definitive Book of Body Language by Allan and Barbara Pease

What are you really saying? Your body language often betrays what you really think and feel about a topic. You can learn to connect better with people, communicate more effectively and learn to use your non-verbal language to achieve better results with your messages. This book can be a real eye-opener for people who may be unaware of the cues they are sending out with their body language.

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler

This book is one I keep coming back to every time I need to plan an important conversation. As the title states, it is full of tools that will have you using it as a resource again and again.

Which books have influenced your communication skills? Please share in the comments!

9 Comments
  1. To address your headline specifically, the best book I ever found for dealing with difficult people is:

    Working with Difficult People, by Muriel Solomon.
    Published in Canada by Prentice-Hall, 1990.
    ISBN 0-13-957382-8 (-9 in paperback).

    The full sub-title reads: Hundreds of Office-proven Strategies and Techniques to Get Cooperation and Respect from Tyrants, Connivers, Badmouthers and Other Difficult People You Must Work with Every Day.

    The techniques are incredibly effective.

    • Thanks for your recommendation Rob. I can’t wait to read it. I love the sub-title. In my experience some of the stickiest situations come up when working with people who are nice — not tyrants, connivers or badmouthers. For some reason, I don’t find myself in conversation with many difficult people. The book you suggest sounds like a great resource if I do find myself in a conversation with a difficult person.

  2. Thanks for the recommendations! I look forward to checking these books out.

  3. Lifescripts by Stephan Pollan is another great book for tricky conversations. The book contains tips and flowcharts for how to direct over 200 difficult conversations from asking a client for a fee increase to dismissing an employee.

    • Thanks James. I love flowcharts and look forward to checking it out – sounds like a helpful resource.

  4. I would add Difficult Conversations by Stone, Patton and Heen. What I like about it is that the authors include many, many examples of the traps we can fall into when the stakes of s conversation are high. It is a very accessible read.

    I will definitely look into your suggestions. While I have read Crucial Conversations, the others are new to me.

    • Thanks Jerilyn, Difficult Conversations would have been next on my list. I went with the books that influence my day-to-day conversations and communication skills. Thank goodness, I have few really difficult ones.

  5. I like all those books, Leslie. Two more I would recommend:

    The Empathy Factor by Marie R. Miyashiro which is a very practical guide to non-violent communication and empathy in the workplace, and
    Everything is Workable – by Diane Musho Hamilton, a skilled facilitator and mediator who is also a Zen teacher. This book is on conflict management (and self management).

    • Thanks for the recommendations Jill. Both sound like excellent resources for improving communication skills.

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