3 Books That Will Improve Your Communication Skills

In an unknown central city in Italy, an aspiring foreign correspondent is taking part in a conference. Listening, mainly, the experiences of established journalists who have fascinatingly travelled all over the world to narrate the stories of others. One of them mentions a name: Ryszard Kapuściński. The girl never heard that name before but surely, she is never going to forget it.

Try to spend thirty minutes with me talking about communication and connecting to people and you will discover that young girl was me, years ago, discovering one of the authors that will forever influence the way I think about communication. Ryszard Kapuściński’s work soon became my obsession: his books contributed to make me a better communication consultant.

The journey that led me to become a communication consultant has been a long road and along the way, I have bumped and stole the knowledge of some inspiring writers, entrepreneurs, communicators. I have read about social media strategies on The Social Media Bible, got inspired on branding through She Means Business, confirmed my observations on the psychology of the body through Body Language for Dummies.

Yet, the concept of communication as I intend it, which is the power to connect to people through spoken and unspoken messages, was generated from books and publications that had little to do with communicating and more to do with connecting to other beings.

So, without further ado, here is the list of the three books that made me a better communication consultant.

The Other, Ryszard Kapuściński

This booklet is a collection of presentations Kapuściński, the first Polish journalist to become a foreign correspondent in Africa, gave throughout his life on the theme of otherness. Ryszard Kapuściński explores the philosophy of others, which focuses on how we connect and communicate with each other. He also builds a parallel between his experience of poverty back home and his ability to empathize with the poor he was meeting during his trips.

What has this taught me about communication?

Our ability to connect to others became my obsession when I discovered that this brief collection of speeches taught me that when meeting otherness I have to keep in mind he or she is the same as me, same fears, troubles, aspirations. This immediately bettered my conversations both online and offline as I asked myself: what would I want to read from someone I don’t know? How would I like to be spoken to? What would I want?

Communication is a two-way street, along which you are required to stop when another is passing by, roll down the window and listen, then speak and listen again. Never forget you are talking to human beings. Whether your communication passes through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn or any other social media, you speak to people like you and me.

We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, Philip Gourevitch

First, the title: it is dramatic, eye-catching, interesting altogether. Again, the book was written by a journalist who narrates the story of the Rwandan genocide from the inside, from his experience of observing the situation and listening to people’s stories. One of Gourevitch’s chapters emblematically starts like this:

“My story from birth?” Odette Nyiramilimo said. “Do you really have time for that?”
I said I had time

What has this taught me about communication?

The power of storytelling. Gourevitch’s book is informative in its content and analysis but is also and foremost a hard work of storytelling. He is able to narrate and explain a tragedy in 353 pages without ever putting at risk your concentration and interest. I was glued to the pages as I absorbed all the information so beautifully presented. It is probably the best way I had to learn about the genocide. But let’s stick to the storytelling. Why is this relevant to communication?

Communication is much about listening as it is about telling stories. Nonprofits tell the stories of the people they support, communication officers tell the stories of their organisations and their work. Often it is challenging to compress all the information in a short space or to pass it in a way that it can have an impact and call people to action. In his writing, Gourevitch is able to merge his extensive knowledge with storytelling by creating a reference to history, stories, metaphors. It takes practice or a specialist but we could all be able to do so. Another one of his chapters starts with the story of Cain and Abel to clarify the relationship between Hutu and Tutsi in a way that Western people, with a religious knowledge, can understand. He writes:

“In the famous story, the older brother, Cain, was a cultivator, and Abel, the younger, was a herdsman. They made their offering to God – Cain from his crops, Abel from from his herds. Abel’s portion won God’s regard; Cain’s did not. So Cain killed Abel”

What I take from this is the importance to create parallels when communicating difficult topics. What would make it easier for my followers to understand? What is my audience more used to?

Quiet. The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain

When Susan Cain finally discovered the power of her character she was working as a lawyer in the corporate world in New York. She was a silent person, an introvert, in a sector that sees as effective people who are outgoing, love groups and talk a lot. That’s when she dropped everything and started researching about the power of introversion. The results of this years-long research lead to Quiet.

What has this taught me about communication?

Susan Cain’s book and her Quiet Revolution Movement taught me more about being an effective introverted communicator rather than communication skills per se. It taught me that it’s OK to love communicating but pulling back from a situation where there are too many voices speaking, to look for quiet spaces alone because to say it in her words, solitude is a catalyst for innovation.

My communication practice is based on listening and my listening derives from my necessity to know and think and this derives from my ability and urgency to stay in my head. This is how I produce. If you see yourself a bit like this, stop thinking you have to change. Of course, it is ok to be more extrovert from time to time but never underestimate your added value to the team. We need a different type of people in communication to really be effective and you are making the difference with your quiet, reflective approach. And if you are unsure whether you lean more towards the introvert or extrovert type takes Susan Cain’s test.

Connecting to others in a genuine way, storytelling, and strength of my temperament when doing my job: these are the three main skills I have learned from these three publications. Thanks to them I perform better and I hope you will too. If you’d like to share your empowering readings please do so or get in touch.

Until next time
Bea

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