Book Review: The Communication Book

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So… I recently read The Communication Book: 44 Ideas for Better Conversations Every Day, by Mikael Krogerus and Roman Tschappeler. I found it great as a source of inspiration to dig deeper in to different topics. Here is my book review, along with the 4 ideas out of the 44 that resonated the most with me. Enjoy!

How did this land in my reading backlog?

Well… this is kind of an easy one to answer. I wanted to dig a bit deeper into communication. I have been talking about it at work and would like to provide the team with some tools and resources to improve the way we’re communicating. Not that we’re doing it bad, but I truly believe that good communication is the key for any team to be successful. So I went into Amazon and simply searched for “Communication Book”. Almost a perfect match. When I saw the cover, I realized that this was written by the same authors from “The Decision Book” (Mikael Kogerus and Roman Tschappeler), which I’ve had around for a while and where I tend to peak in from time to time to do a 2 min read between meetings or activities.

Without knowing much more about it, and being the book only around 10€, I just placed the order and it arrived home a couple of days later. Worst case scenario: it’d be a good small present to someone or it would at least look nice in my bookshelf.

What is this book about?

Even though the book is titled “44 ideas for better conversations every day” and that would be a quite self-explanatory title, I don’t think that is a hundred percent true: the book is a very short introduction to 44 different ideas that are related to communication overall, not specifically directed to having better conversations. You can also find some information about how to do better presentations or about the levels on which people communicate. As mentioned: not everything is just about having conversations.

Each idea is introduced by a nice chalkboard-style drawing and the concept itself is always explained in less than two pages. Considering that the physical copy of this book is quite tiny, you can imagine that the authors are not really digging deep into the concepts, but just giving a very high level summary of each of them. The ideas are categorized into 4 big blocks: Jobs and Career, Self and Knowledge, Love and Friendship and Words and Meanings. While actually most of the ideas could be applied in any of the other contexts, I found it good to have that kind of structure.

What I liked about this book

I think the book is a nice introduction to different concepts and ideas. If you are generally interested in how people communicate, it is an easy starting point to discover new topics or concepts in which you can dive deeper if you want and learn something new. And learning something new, even if on the highest level, is already something I enjoy a lot.

Aside from this, there were two very nice things for me between the front and back covers:

  1. The first one: I was familiar with many of the concepts mentioned in the book, from different books and posts I’ve read in the past or from trainings I had. This was a good “brain refresher” for all of those ideas.
  2. The second one: I could immediately see myself explaining to some colleagues or people in my team some of the concepts presented in the book. And I actually did, as some of them fitted perfectly and came to my mind during the conversation. Seeing how the ideas can be presented in such a simple way motivated me to do small brain snacks – that’s how I call two/three minute presentations or speeches where you can learn something new – at work. I’m working on those at the moment.

What I did not like so much about it

What I didn’t like about this book is actually the same as what I did like about it. I know that sounds weird, let me explain: I found that some of the concept it talks about are a bit too simple or basic and bring me almost no value. For example, one of the ideas, called “Boss talk – How to talk to your team”, gives you three pieces of advice that are quite obvious: don’t criticize, give praise (but no too much) and practice what you preach. Or when the Iceberg Model, which almost everyone that has learnt a bit about communication knows, is presented: there is very little information and, even in just two short pages, I believe this could be better explained.

There are a couple of ideas that are also (at least in my opinion) missing the point. The one which I had this feeling of “well, this is not what is written in the title”, was the one about FoMO (Fear of Missing Out). The authors talk about smartphones, how everyone wants to show their best side, how people are just posting about how happy their life is, and that the younger you are, the more often this happens… but talks very little about what FoMO actually is. I found it a bit weird.

What I take with me now

So, as I mentioned before, this books only scratches the surface of different topics. The ones that I take with me now as new learnings or as something to build on top were these four:

1. Aristotle Good Speech.

This is called “Theory of rhetoric” in the book. It mentions that Aristotle considered rhetoric as an art form to present a persuasive argument and not only as a tool to convince the audience, and mentions six rhetorical tools to make a good speech: using anaphora (repetition of words of phrases), inversion (just reversing the usual word order can have a big impact in a speech), irony (saying one thing but meaning the opposite), rhetorical questions (which in reality are not questions, but statements), analogies (comparisons, but better), and antithesis (presenting a contrasting thought to create some tension). I think I would see myself using any of this in any presentation, specially if this is a presentation for a broader audience. The only one I’d be a bit more careful with is irony, specially if I am in the work context. I think I would only be ironic if it is really clear what I am truly meaning or if it is crystal clear that I am joking. And if on a written communication, I would also make it as obvious as possible, probably by using italics for the ironic sentences. Otherwise, risk of offending someone or sending the wrong message is quite high.

2. The six-word rule.

Easy concept: if you want to communicate something, you can do it in just six words. And, of course, this is a bit of an exaggeration sometimes… but I want to take it into account. I believe that many times, we talk for way longer than what it is actually needed. I see this at work. I see this with friends and family. We focus on the tiniest of the details and we lose the focus on what’s important. Having this Six-word rule in mind will help me communicating better, and I also plan to ask people to formulate things this way when I want them to be more concise. I have already started with the classic “Okay, just to be clear, just try to summarize what you said in two sentences”. It makes people think and it kind of works. So, my Six-word rule for the six-word rule: Keep it simple, make it short.

3. The Schulz von Thun’s Communication Model.

I had heard of this before, I just did not remember. Probably you’ve heard of it too at some point and in some way, or at least you are familiar with the example mentioned in the book:

A couple are sitting in a car and the traffic lights turn green without the driver noticing. The passenger says “It’s green”. The driver replies testily “Am I driving or you?”.

That’s such a simple representation to help us understand that a message has several different layers and misscommunications happen often and easily. According to Schulz von Thun, every message has four layers: the content (what I am informing myself about), the appeal (what I want to achieve with my message), the relationship (to the receiver of my message) and the self-disclosure (what I show of myself). And these layers might not be completely in sync between the sender and the receiver. In our example:

Sender (Passenger)Receiver (Driver)
ContentThe traffic light is greenThe traffic light is green
AppealCome on, drive!Why are you so slow?
RelationshipThe passenger wants to help the driverHe/she is always pointing out when I do something wrong
Self-DisclosureThe passenger is probably in a hurryI won’t drive this passenger anymore

History also plays a big role here – we all know these people with whom we can easily sync and understand without any doubt what the other is trying to say, even if he/she is failing to do so. So, the learning is: never forget that what you’re saying and meaning does not necessarily mean the same for the other person. And by talking to each other about how to talk to each other, we can solve a lot of misunderstandings. We need to do that more.

4. Proust’s Questionnaire.

One of the things where I definitely want to get better: How to ask good questions. If I want to be a good coach in the future, I definitely need to learn how to do this better. And Proust says that good questions have three key qualities:

  1. They are open questions that you cannot answer with yes or no
  2. They require no prior knowledge. In other words: there are no right or wrong answers, only honest ones.
  3. They are questions that focus on your counter-part rather than on you.

So I am taking this with me and trying to practice more. Although I kind of knew this, it is good to have these three bullet points written to assess how am I asking questions. The question now would be: How do I find the right question for each moment?

There are more interesting things in the book, of course. I am just writing here about my Top 4 amongst them, the 10% that resonated the most with me. Probably yours is different.

Who should read this book?

I don’t know if this book is read as a book. I feel it is more like walking over it and learning some new and interesting concepts. But the question I am asking myself is “Who should read it?”, and my answer is: everyone could and should read it, specially if wanting to learn more and dig a bit deeper into how we communicate with each other. It has ideas and concepts that are applicable in many life scenarios and from which you can benefit. Also, it is only around 10 euros, does not take too much space and you won’t spend more than a couple of hours to go through it if you do it at once. Return of time invested is quite high, I would say.

A final word

I said it previously and I will say it once again: I think this is a great starting point to learn some new concepts related to communication, and it might be opening some doors for further learning. To me, personally, it was a good motivation to open a couple of these doors and it also pushed me to prepare some “mindsnacks” to present at work or to some friends. I’d recommend everyone to take a look at it, even if you don’t read it from head to toe in one go, but just peak in from time to time.