The best books on interpersonal communication and influence

Stuart Hanscomb Author Of Critical Thinking: The Basics
By Stuart Hanscomb

The Books I Picked & Why

Argument Culture Moving From Debate to Dialogue

By Deborah Tannen

Book cover of Argument Culture Moving From Debate to Dialogue

Why this book?

I teach and write on critical thinking, and a branch of this discipline is interested in the role of dialogue in the process of truth-seeking. Discovering this book was huge for me because it discusses in depth so many of the impediments to constructive dialogue that I (and most of us) have encountered. Its subject is the motivational and cultural bases of disagreements and how we value and manage them, and there are of course some sound recommendations for how we can do better by shifting from what has become an automatic adversarial approach to one of ‘meaningful dialogue’.


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Poverty Safari: Understanding the Anger of Britain's Underclass

By Darren McGarvey

Book cover of Poverty Safari: Understanding the Anger of Britain's Underclass

Why this book?

This is a seamless combination of autobiography, psychology, and politics, with an emphasis on the role of emotion – and especially anger – in expressing our views. McGarvey is politically savvy and refreshingly critical of both the left and the right, but for me, it’s the sustained self-reflection and emotional intelligence that makes this book outstanding. He has witnessed how anger, as a default feeling in his community, entrenches positions and limits people’s willingness and ability to understand themselves and listen to others. McGarvey tells how his own story exemplifies this attitude and his account of his awakening is fascinating and educational.


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Skilled Interpersonal Communication: Research, Theory and Practice

By Owen Hargie

Book cover of Skilled Interpersonal Communication: Research, Theory and Practice

Why this book?

As well as being academically sound this book is accessible and engaging, and it deals with subjects such as explaining, listening, assertiveness, negotiations, and persuasion in a way that is highly applied and always useful. Perhaps most importantly it addresses many of the aspects of interpersonal communication that I have for a long time found fascinating and challenging.


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Social Psychology

By Roger Brown

Book cover of Social Psychology

Why this book?

This is one of my favourite textbooks. It came out 20 years after the first edition and is not an update so much as be an entirely different book. Topics include attributional biases, group decision making, nonverbal communication, intergroup hostility, and conflict resolution. He writes in detail and in such an engaging fashion that, very unusually for a textbook, it’s an immersive experience. It’s academically rigorous but his personality, as well as his authority, is continually present through firsthand research, the occasional anecdote, and idiosyncratic inclusions. An example of the latter is his application of the principles of group polarization to the film Twelve Angry Men – a film I love and one of the best resources I know for teaching both social influence and argumentation.


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Constructive Thinking: The Key to Emotional Intelligence

By Seymour Epstein

Book cover of Constructive Thinking: The Key to Emotional Intelligence

Why this book?

Ostensibly a book about emotional intelligence, this is in effect an account of Epstein’s theory of the self (see Chapter 3 onwards). I am a strong advocate of ‘dual process’ theories, the idea that we have two minds or modes of thinking, one that is fast, automatic, and reliant on heuristics, and another that is slower, deliberative, and rational. The most famous example of this is in the work of Kahneman and Tversky, who have identified various biases we employ in quick decision making. This understanding is vital for effective critical thinking, but I find Epstein’s notion of an affect-driven ‘experiential’ system to have deeper and more wide-ranging explanatory power. This applies both to self-knowledge, and to how we can engage more constructively with others.


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