Helpful books for constructive conversations

In my work there are a number of books I’ve found helpful and I thought it would be useful to share them. In general, these books are not aimed at public board and committee meetings but they all contain helpful ideas that you might be able to use or they might provide some inspiration or they may just spark an new idea to help address that difficult challenge that you have been struggling with.

By the way, if you are doing my Constructive Conversations course, you should find pretty much everything I refer to here.

They are in no particular order by the way.


Wilful Blindness Margaret Heffernan (2011)

A really helpful read for anyone in an independent board or committee role. Using the examples of a series of corporate failures, this book brings home the importance of challenging institutional and individual bias by listening for ‘weak signals’, raising concerns and playing the devil’s advocate, for example.

Mediation Skills and Strategies: A Practical Guide – Tony Whatling (2012)

Even if you are not actually mediating, there is still plenty of sound practical advice for anyone involved in board or committee meetings in this book. It covers questioning, listening, summarising and dealing with conflict and emotion amongst other things.

The Fish Rots from the Head: Developing Effective Board Directors – Bob Garratt (2010)

A corporate governance focus, but many of the ideas apply to public settings. It’s a weighty but readable exploration of the roles and development of board members and includes many helpful concepts such as the difference between ‘conformance’ and ‘performance’.

Conversations Worth Having: Using Appreciative Inquiry to Fuel Productive and Meaningful Engagement – Jackie Stavros and Cheri Toress (2018)

Appreciative Inquiry is an approach often used in facilitation, coaching, therapy etc that focusses on strengths and assets in order to foster positive change. This easy to read book provides plenty of examples and tips to help apply this approach to work and home conversations. While not covered specifically, it’s easy to see how Appreciative Inquiry can be applied to many aspects of board and committee meetings.

Practical Facilitation: A Toolkit of Techniques – Christine Hogan (2003)

This book was suggested by Gary Austin at Circle Indigo facilitation (thanks Gary!). It’s a big, fat compendium of helpful ideas for facilitators. It’s mainly looking at how to run workshops but many of the ideas are useful and might also inspire new ways to run meetings and ask questions.

The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures: Simple Rules to Unleash A Culture of Innovation – Henry Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless (2013)

Liberating Structures are easy to use facilitation techniques that can be used to really open up participation in meetings. I use them a lot, both in person and virtually. Particularly helpful if you want to get away from the traditional structures of meetings such as presentation + discussion or ‘chaired debate’.

Brief Coaching: A Solution Focussed Approach – Chris Iveson, Evan George and Harvey Ratner (2012)

I’ve found the solution focussed approach so, so helpful in my work and have also had training from the excellent people at Brief. In essence the SF approach is about focussing on what works and what’s wanted instead of on ‘problem talk’, although it’s about much more than that of course! This book sets out the approach in a coaching context and, while not explicit, there is plenty that can be applied to the context of boards and committees.

Solution-Focussed Team Coaching – Kirsten Dierolf (2014)

While much of the solution focussed literature is about working with individual clients, this book provides lots of ideas for working with teams. Of course committees and boards are teams so this book would be helpful for group work both in meetings and for broader development activities.

The Art of Logic: How to Make Sense in a World that Doesn’t – Eugenia Cheng (2018)

Actually this is more of a book about conversations than it might seem from the title. Yes it’s about constructing precise arguments, which is useful, but there is also plenty of though proving stuff about, for example, core beliefs, grey areas and emotions. I found it a very rich and readable book that sparked plenty of ideas.

Process Consultation (Volume II): Lessons for Managers and Consultant – Edgar H. Schein (1987)

Suggested by Jonathan Flowers (thanks Jonathan!), this book by one of the major figures of Organisational Studies, sets out ‘process consultation’;  a method of support that helps clients to own and solve problems using their own resources. I think this is a mode of working that independent board and committee members can adopt to support their executive members.

Time to Think: Listening to Ignite the Human Mind – Nancy Kline (1999)

In this book about ‘helping people to think for themselves’, Nancy Kline sets out how to create a thinking environment for meetings that places listening and participation centre stage. There are lots of other interesting ideas that you can use along the way.

Solution-Focussed Practice: Effective Communication to Facilitate Change – Guy Shennan (2019) 

Another take on the solution focussed approach that really gets into the detailed mechanics of how conversations can foster change. The chapter on Applications and Adaptations shows the wider uses of the approach.

Team Talk: Building Excellence with Solution Focussed Skills – Susanne Burgstaller and Chris Iveson (2019)

This booklet sets out 15 solution focussed techniques for teams that you can quickly apply to any context (including board and committee meetings of course). It’s very practical and includes examples and exercises as well as fun illustrations!

The Solutions Focus: Making Coaching and Change SIMPLE – Paul Z Jackson and Mark Mckergow (2007)

While much of the solution focussed literature focusses on therapeutic conversations, Jackson and McKergow take an organisational perspective and write for that audience. While the fundamentals are the same, this book provides a range of organisational case studies well as principles and tools. 


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