As the pandemic continues to disrupt work as we know it, the case for world-class internal communication has never been clearer. Here, Cat Barnard of Working the Future recommends five books on communication that internal communicators should read to help us navigate the path ahead.

5th January 2021

Change is everywhere and its pace seems to accelerate by the week. Recent advances in psychology and neuroscientific research have revealed that the ways in which we communicate and build connection underpin our ability to embrace uncertainty and change itself.

Internal communication is integral to organisational resilience. And internal communicators are catalysts of change, helping our organisations reach their full potential.

With that in mind, here is some recommended reading. Gaining a deeper understanding of what’s been learned about the role of communication inside and outside of work will help us all excel at what we do, enhancing our profession’s overall standing and potentially creating more opportunity for everyone.

1. Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age – Sherry Turkle

MIT Professor Sherry Turkle specialises in the relationships between people and technology.

Reclaiming Conversation explores the impact of modern communication technology on the communication skills and sociability of younger cohorts, particularly those who are “digital natives” – all of which, of course, has pretty seismic consequences for our workplaces.

Smart devices and “always-on” social media habits have already significantly eroded the perceived need for face-to-face contact and communication. Young adults who have grown up in the digital age are shown to have diminished ability to read facial expression, which in turn affects empathy levels.

Other skills that are set to be pivotal as part of the future of work, such as critical thinking and problem-solving, are also shown to have been adversely impacted by the continuous distraction of our tech usage.                                                                                                                                            

This, in part, explains the growing intergenerational differences in workplace behaviour, and inhibited social and communication skills are a source of frustration for today’s employers. Once we understand why these different behaviours exist, however, we can figure out how best to adjust our workplace approaches to ensure greater cohesion, engagement and – ultimately – organisational performance.


2. We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations that Matter – Celeste Headlee

The ability to communicate, the sharing of ideas and the application of logic – these are all primary reasons why humans are the most evolved species on the planet. Yet research shows that communication skills are on the decline, impacting both our ability to relate to one another, and more critically, our willingness to accept other worldviews. This goes some of the way to explaining why, in the western world, we’re now more polarised in our views than we’ve ever been.

Yet, in parallel, we know that future employability hinges on the key work skills that software algorithms aren’t able to simulate.

Robust, effective and respectful two-way conversation sits at the heart of that. Building on Headlee’s experience as a seasoned radio journalist, We Need to Talk explores the author’s continuous quest to improve both her on-air conversations and her off-air relationships.

With so many advantages to gain from thoughtful exchange, both at work and in our social lives, practicing better conversations is undoubtedly a key skill that we should all be honing.


3. Questions are the Answer: A Breakthrough Approach to Your Most Vexing Problems at Work and in Life – Hal Gregersen

Hal Gregersen heads up MIT’s Leadership Center, and lectures in both management and innovation.

As its title suggests, Questions are the Answer explores the practice of learning to ask better questions, in order to gain better quality answers, improve understanding and, in turn, drive innovation and yield better organisational outcomes.

This is essential reading for the pandemic age. With so much uncertainty about everything right now, applying a “first principles” line of questioning means that nothing is assumed, leading to an enhanced understanding of the root cause of problems. Understanding the underlying reasons for some of today’s challenges leads to improved problem-solving and, ultimately, strengthens organisational resilience.

With misunderstanding fast becoming the norm, rather than the exception, asking better questions surely has benefits for us all.


4. You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why it Matters – Kate Murphy

We guarantee that You’re Not Listening will cause you to question your own listening habits. Unless you’re a super-disciplined über-being, I’d wager you’ll recognise that you have room for improvement.

Effective listening is core to effective communication and it’s a critical skill for any organisation looking to foster two-way, or even multi-directional, information flows.

Sadly, in these hyper-connected and distraction-prone times, listening well has become a rarity. All too often we’re only partly paying attention. We listen in fragmented soundbites as we subconsciously wait for interruption, so undermined has human focus become in the all-digital age.

As this book points out, listening well underpins both understanding and relationships. While hearing is a sense, listening is a skill and it’s one that’s now continuously challenged by our obsession with our mobile devices.

As we hurtle towards an ever-accelerating digital future, listening well is a meta-skill few of us can afford to be without.


5. Lead. Care. Win. How to Become a Leader Who Matters – Dan Pontefract

This is a book to recommend for your organisation’s leaders.

The 2020 pandemic has destroyed many traditional notions of leadership. Today, we want and need our leaders to be human-centred, empathic and inclusive. We need to see evidence that our leaders have our best interests at heart. This starts with what we’re told and ends with the behaviours we see.

Lead. Care. Win. succinctly, compellingly and, at times, humorously outlines why leadership styles have to change, as well as what leaders stand to gain when they practise empathy, connection and belonging. With organisational success increasingly linked to the interpersonal skills of the C-suite, once your colleagues have read this book, internal communication will inevitably be reprioritised as mission-critical.

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