Books on communication I enjoyed in 2019

When you ask a product manager what are her take on most valuable professional skills for a PM she is likely to mention being a good and efficient communicator among top-3. Whether you agree or not I think that communication helps to reach your goals in both professional and personal life and learning how to communicate better is always useful. Hence, I would like to share three books on different aspects of communication that I read and re-read last year.

No Hard Feelings: Emotions at Work (and How They Help Us Succeed) by Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy

Since I entered the uni and throughout my professional career I have been constantly reminded that a woman should never express her emotions at work not to make herself look unprofessional. I always resisted that notion with all my heart as I discovered soon enough that one of my strengths in a workplace is to understand and interpret other people’s feelings and based on that create a safe environment for my co-workers and teams.

Liz and Mollie start with the idea that resonates a lot with my feelings: emotions do belong to a workplace. The book provides practical tips (supported by cute illustrations) on how to channel emotions into becoming more productive, creative, and ultimately less stressed. The authors consistently go through all areas of personal well-being including health, motivation and decision making to managing your emotional state in professional settings covering teams, communication, culture, and leadership. Probably the most important learning I had upon completing this book is that emotions when reasonably expressed can broaden your perspectives and make your team more diverse, connected, and efficient.

The Culture Map by Erin Meyer

If you work in a multi-cultural environment or have colleagues and friends from all over the word you should have heard about this book. If not go and get it now.

Erin explores cultural and socialaspects of communicating with people from different cultural backgrounds and, what is more important, gives you a tool to navigate yourself in a highly complex cross-cultural environment. The book provides readers with 8 scales that one can use to compare your own culture with a different culture and analyse how it functions.

I first read the book when I was doing my MBA and found myself working with a group of very talented individuals from 80+ nationalities. What I missed is that our cultural and social backgrounds define (one could argue to what extent) how we make decisions, communicate in groups and stick to deadlines and, thus, it helps to know your own and your team’s ways of approaching things. Needless to say, I got not so positive feedback in my first 360 degrees assessment and got this book.

I revisited this book last year when I started working with a new product team as a PM and one of challenges I faced was to create a safe environment in a cross-cultural setting. I mapped out all cultures we had in a team based on the methodology described in ‘The Culture Map’ and presented it during our retrospective. It worked perfectly well and helped to increase an awareness of differences we have yet discuss how we make it work as a team.

Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

Most probably, everyone heard “All people lie” phrase and everyone once in a while missed a sense of what your partner, colleague or a friend want to convey to you. Malcolm goes far beyond that exploring different aspects of communication between strangers and showing that it is hard (actually very hard) to interpret other people’s feelings even if you are a professional FBI agent, a respected judge or a well-known financial expert let alone an average guy at a party flirting with a girl you like.

The author investigates case of spies and diplomats, judges that make wrong decisions, Ponzi schemes, sexual assaults, and scientific experiments. One of my favourite chapters looks at the case of two strangers who casually meet at a college party, have a conversation, and end up having sex. What follows is the sex assault conviction of the guy from the story that seemed so natural at the beginning. Malcolm poses uncomfortable questions about that case trying to find out what factors or details of the conversation draw a line between a sexual consent and an assault.

The book is not only a collection of complex case studies and strategies to interpret other people’s feelings, it also provides interesting insights into why people are uneasy about deciphering intentions of strangers. Two things (a spoiler alert should go here): first, people naturally default to truth and do not imply bad intentions when engaging with a stranger, second, we generally believe that others are transparent and one can read from others’ emotions, gestures, behavior to interpret their inner sides. The book proves those wrong and continues with a few more insights into communicating with strangers.

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