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Best Courses and Books to Improve Soft Skills

Best Classes and Books to Improve Soft Skills

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I’ll earn a commission, at no additional cost to you. Read my full disclosure here.

Disclosure: This post might contain affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I’ll earn a commission, at no additional cost to you. Read my full disclosure here.

At the beginning of our careers, we tend to focus on “hard skills”. Software Engineers learn how to design systems, use design patterns, and code in multiple languages. Hardware Engineers learn how to design SoCs, dive deep into ASICs, FPGAs, and use Verilog or VHDL. However, as we all progress in our careers, we find out that “soft skills” become very important and differentiate the good from the great. In this post, I present my personal recommendations about the best courses and books to improve your soft skills.

You will find multiple lists with this subject on the internet. I wanted to make this one different. These courses are not introductory 1-hour courses that cost $20 and cover the basics around a topic. Instead, you will find some recommendations that cost more than $1k. More specifically, all the courses that I’ve written below have at least one of the three following characteristics:

  1. I have personally attended the class (either in-person or online) and found it very inspiring
  2. The instructor of the class is a highly accomplished professional and a Subject Matter Expert in their field
  3. The class has been highly recommended to me by multiple people I trust and is on my personal todo list
Table of Contents
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Negotiations, Sales and Conflict Management

Best Courses and Books to Improve Soft Skills - Negotiations, Sales and Conflict Resolution

1. Chris Voss teaches the Art of Negotiation

I first learned about Chris Voss, when I read his book “Never Split The Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It“. Immediately I was hooked. It is full of practical advice that can be used to negotiate anything, starting within 5 minutes. It is not a coincidence that this book has thousands of reviews at Amazon and maintains a 5-star rating.

Chris is a retired FBI lead hostage negotiator. In his book, he talks about how he used his negotiating techniques not only against bank robbers, terrorists and kidnappers, but also against the best negotiators at Harvard Business School. He attended the HBS Negotiations program and used his FBI training to have successful negotiations against the very best academics.

I am a big fan of Chris’ materials. If you are interested in negotiations, then his book is a must-read. If you want to dive deeper without going over your budget, then I suggest that you view his excellent Masterclass. His company, the Black Swan Group, also offers online and in-person 2-day training at a higher price. I had the opportunity to attend his in-person training and he definitely did not dissappoint.

2. Crucial Conversations (by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler)

Crucial Conversations teaches communication skills for situations when the stakes are high, opinions vary, and emotions run strong. I was introduced to this training, when I read the book “Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High“. I found the content fascinating and was wondering why I hadn’t read these lessons earlier. After that, I was fortunate enough to find their 6-CD companion set, which has many additional examples and helps engrain the knowledge. Finally, I was fortunate enough to attend their in-person training, while it was organized for a group of Google employees. I really cannot stress how interesting I found this material.

3. High Stakes Negotiations with Dr. Victoria Medvec

I met Prof. Victoria Medvec when I was an MBA student at the Kellogg School of Management. She is an amazing presenter and an even more amazing negotiator. Her negotiations class is one of the most popular classes at Kellogg. However, she is not an academic negotiator. She has her own company, where she provides negotiation services for some of the top companies, such as Microsoft and McKinsey & Company.

I have not attended her High Stakes Negotiations class, but it seems to follow the same curriculum as her Kellogg class. If you are interested in a class, where you’ll learn a lot from a very gifted professor and you also want the opportunity to exercise with other pre-selected professional, then this is definitely the class for you.

4. Daniel Pink teaches Sales and Persuasion

With four NYT bestsellers, Daniel Pink is an influential voice in the evolving landscape of sales and motivation. Now the author of To Sell Is Human teaches you science-backed principles for effective and ethical sales and persuasion. Learn tactics for achieving better outcomes in any interaction—at home or at work—and tools for framing your message, navigating cognitive biases, and pitching ideas, products, or yourself.

5. Introduction to Negotiation: A Strategic Playbook for Becoming a Principled and Persuasive Negotiator (Yale University)

This course will help you be a better negotiator. Unlike many negotiation courses, you will develop a framework for analyzing and shaping negotiations. This framework will allow you to make principled arguments that persuade others. It will allow you to see beneath the surface of apparent conflicts to uncover the underlying interests. You will leave the course better able to predict, interpret, and shape the behavior of those you face in competitive situations.

In this course, you will have several opportunities to negotiate with other students using case studies based on common situations in business and in life. You can get feedback on your performance and compare what you did to how others approached the same scenario. The cases also provide a setting to discuss a wide-ranging set of topics including preparing for a negotiation, making ultimatums, avoiding regret, expanding the pie, and dealing with someone who has a very different perspective on the world. Advanced topics include negotiating when you have no power, negotiating over email, and the role of gender differences in negotiation. To close out the course, you will hear insights from three negotiation experts: Linda Babcock, Herb Cohen, and John McCall MacBain.

6. Book: Getting to Yes (Roger Fisher, William Uri, Bruce Batton)

We used this book as the basic foundation of our Negotiations class at Kellogg School of Management. As far as I know, it is used in the vast majority of the Negotiations classes in the MBA programs. So, it is definitely worth a read.

Since its original publication nearly thirty years ago, Getting to Yes has helped millions of people learn a better way to negotiate. One of the primary business texts of the modern era, it is based on the work of the Harvard Negotiation Project, a group that deals with all levels of negotiation and conflict resolution.

Getting to Yes offers a proven, step-by-step strategy for coming to mutually acceptable agreements in every sort of conflict. Thoroughly updated and revised, it offers readers a straight- forward, universally applicable method for negotiating personal and professional disputes without getting angry-or getting taken.

Leadership and Entrepreneurship

Leadership and Entrepreneurship

1. Howard Schultz teaches Business Leadership

Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz rose from a childhood in public housing to leading a company that revolutionized the way the world drinks coffee. With no formal business education, he relied on his values while growing a 13-store chain into a global brand with more than 250,000 employees. In his 90-minute video series, Howard shares what he’s learned about business leadership and being an entrepreneur.

2. Bog Iger teaches Business Strategy and Leadership

In an era of disruption, former Disney CEO Bob Iger led one of the world’s most beloved brands to unprecedented success with the acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm. Now, through case studies and lessons from 45 years in media, Bob teaches you how to evolve your business and career. Learn strategies for expanding a brand, leading with integrity, and making big moves—from risk management to the art of negotiation.

3. Diane von Furstenberg teaches Building a Fashion Brand

In her 20s, Diane Von Furstenberg convinced a textile factory owner in Italy to let her produce her first designs. With those samples, she flew to New York City to build one of the world’s most iconic and enduring fashion brands. In her first online fashion design class, Diane teaches you how to build a brand. You’ll learn how to create a visual identity, build loyalty, stay true to your vision, and launch your product.

4. Anna Wintour teaches Creativity and Leadership

A fashion and media icon, Anna Wintour has been driving our cultural conversation for more than 30 years. The Vogue Editor-in-Chief and Artistic Director of Condé Nast takes off her signature sunglasses and gives you unprecedented access to her world. See how Anna nurtures talent, makes bold decisions, and evolves a brand. Learn how to lead with impact from a visionary creative leader.

5. Book: From Values to Action – The Four Principles of Values-Based Leadership (by Harry Kraemer)

I met Harry Kraemer, when I was an MBA student at Kellogg School of Management. His class is one of the most popular MBA classes at Kellogg. He is a great professor with amazing professional experience. Previously, he used to be the CEO of Baxter International, a $12B global healthcare company. Currently, he is also an executive partner with Madison Dearborn Partners, a private equity firm.

In this book, Harry Kraemer argues that today’s business environment demands values-based leaders who, in “doing the right thing,” deliver outstanding and lasting results. The journey to becoming a values-based leader starts with self-reflection. He asks, “If you are not self-reflective, how can you know yourself? If you do not know yourself, how can you lead yourself? If you cannot lead yourself, how can you lead others?” Kraemer identifies self-reflection as the first of four principles that guide leaders to make choices that honor their values and candidly recounts how these principles helped him navigate some of the toughest challenges he faced in his career.

  • Offers a framework for adopting the principles of values-based leadership, self-reflection, balance, true self-confidence, and genuine humility to lead organizations effectively
  • Based on Kraemer’s popular Kellogg MBA course on values-based leadership
  • A recognized expert in values-based leadership, Kraemer is a sought after speaker on the subject

6. Sara Blakely teaches Self-Made Entrepreneurship

With little more than an idea and a drive to find her way, Sara Blakely went from selling fax machines door-to-door to becoming the world’s youngest female self-made billionaire in 2012. Now the inventor, entrepreneur, and founder of Spanx teaches you to open doors and close deals. Learn Sara’s customer-first approach and her tactics for prototyping, branding and building awareness, and bootstrapping your way to success.

Communications

Best Courses and Books to Improve Soft Skills - Communications

1. Robin Roberts teaches Effective and Authentic Communication

Millions of people spend their mornings with Robin Roberts, one of today’s most beloved broadcasters. Now the Emmy-winning “Good Morning America” co-anchor is sharing how she creates unforgettable moments through human connection. Learn how to communicate effectively, whether it’s in front of an audience, at work, or with those you love. Start embracing vulnerability, building resilience, and living life with optimism.

2. Neil deGrasse Tyson teaches Scientific Thinking and Communication

With a hit talk show and bestselling books, Neil deGrasse Tyson is one of the most popular figures in modern science. Now the influential astrophysicist teaches you how his mind works and how he connects with audiences. Learn to think like a skeptic, open your own mind through scientific literacy, distill data, and navigate bias to discover objective truths—and deliver your ideas in ways that engage, excite, and inspire.

3. Malcolm Gladwell teaches Writing

Ketchup. Crime. Quarterbacks. Thanks to Malcolm Gladwell’s books, these ordinary subjects have helped millions of readers grasp complex ideas like behavioral economics and performance prediction. Now, the renowned storyteller and best-selling author of Blink and The Tipping Point is teaching his first online writing class. Craft stories that captivate by learning how Malcolm researches topics, crafts characters, and distills big ideas into simple, powerful narratives.

Personal Branding

Best Courses and Books to Improve Soft Skills - Personal Branding

1. Introduction to Personal Branding (University of Virginia)

Though the concept of personal branding isn’t new, questions remain about how to create one and, more importantly, what it means to maintain and inhabit that brand.

Learners will:

  • Understand both what personal branding means and what it means to inhabit their brand
  • Establish themselves on at least three social media platforms
  • Create a mission statement for their personal brand
  • Build a board of directors for their brand
  • Become familiar with the basics of digital security and reputation management
  • Create a system for on-going brand maintenance

Creativity

Best Courses and Books to Improve Soft Skills - Creativity

1. Jeff Goodby and Rich Silverstein teach Advertising and Creativity

As the minds behind the “got milk?” campaign, the Budweiser lizards, and countless other ads that have permeated pop culture, Jeff Goodby and Rich Silverstein never stop reimagining the possibilities of advertising. Now they’re sharing how they make the beautiful and edgy work that’s seen by millions. Learn how to come up with great ideas, tell funny and compelling stories, and dazzle at your next pitch or presentation.

2. Book: Creativity Inc (by Ed Catmull, Amy Wallace)

Creativity, Inc. is a manual for anyone who strives for originality and the first-ever, all-access trip into the nerve center of Pixar Animation—into the meetings, postmortems, and “Braintrust” sessions where some of the most successful films in history are made. It is, at heart, a book about creativity—but it is also, as Pixar co-founder and president Ed Catmull writes, “an expression of the ideas that I believe make the best in us possible.”

For nearly twenty years, Pixar has dominated the world of animation, producing such beloved films as the Toy Story trilogy, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Up, WALL-E, and Inside Out, which have gone on to set box-office records and garner thirty Academy Awards. The joyousness of the storytelling, the inventive plots, the emotional authenticity: In some ways, Pixar movies are an object lesson in what creativity really is. Here, in this book, Catmull reveals the ideals and techniques that have made Pixar so widely admired—and so profitable.

Productivity

Best Courses and Books to Improve Soft Skills - Productivity

1. Getting Things Done (David Allen)

This is one of the most popular and most effective time management methodologies. I became familiar with the Getting Things Done movement, when I read David Allen’s book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. The main idea behind the book is that people are very stressed due to the fact they always have multiple to-do lists in their minds. There might be multiple unread emails. And so many tasks that need to be done for the house. All letters that need to be opened, in order for the bills to get paid.

David Allen suggests a system that takes the stress away from the person. If the task is small (<5 minutes), then it should be done immediately. If it is longer, then it has to go into one of a few buckets. There is a methodology on how to triage each bucket (e.g. what frequency, etc) and empty it. This applies not only to physical items, but also to digital (e.g. how to clean up your email inbox).

I am a big fan of this system and not only has it reduced the stress from all the tasks that need to be done, but it also helps me keep my inbox up-to-date.

2. The Power of Habit (Charles Duhigg)

Habits are unparalleled predictors of long-term outcomes. They affect performance more than talent, intelligence, luck, or decision-making. Most know this, yet we struggle to take control of our habits to get the outcomes we want. If knowing is half the battle, the other half is doing. Success is predicated on self-mastery; high performance is a
matter of habit.

Based on the bestseller by Charles Duhigg and the latest science in habit formation, The Power of Habit teaches how habits work and how to develop effective habits using skill instead of willpower. The course teaches a skillset for mastering any habit. You might call this skillset the habit of all habits. The one to rule them all.

3. Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects (University of California San Diego and McMaster University)

This course gives you easy access to the invaluable learning techniques used by experts in art, music, literature, math, science, sports, and many other disciplines. You’ll learn about how the brain uses two very different learning modes and how it encapsulates (“chunks”) information. You’ll also cover illusions of learning, memory techniques, dealing with procrastination, and best practices shown by research to be most effective in helping you master tough subjects.

Using these approaches, no matter what your skill levels in topics you would like to master, you can change your thinking and change your life. If you’re already an expert, this peep under the mental hood will give you ideas for: turbocharging successful learning, including counter-intuitive test-taking tips and insights that will help you make the best use of your time on homework and problem sets. If you’re struggling, you’ll see a structured treasure trove of practical techniques that walk you through what you need to do to get on track. If you’ve ever wanted to become better at anything, this course will help serve as your guide.

Well-Being

Best Courses and Books to Improve Soft Skills - Well-being

1. The Science of Well-Being (Yale University)

This is currently the most popular course in Coursera. It holds a 4.9/5 rating with almost 25k votes and 9k reviews. It was highly recommended to me by one my mentors. I’m currently in the process of attending the class and I find it really interesting.

In this course you will engage in a series of challenges designed to increase your own happiness and build more productive habits. As preparation for these tasks, Professor Laurie Santos reveals misconceptions about happiness, annoying features of the mind that lead us to think the way we do, and the research that can help us change. You will ultimately be prepared to successfully incorporate a specific wellness activity into your life.

2. Finding Purpose and Meaning In Life: Living for What Matters Most (University of Michigan)

In this course, you’ll learn how science, philosophy and practice all play a role in both finding your purpose and living a purposeful life. You will hear from historical figures and individuals about their journeys to finding and living a purposeful life, and will walk through different exercises to help you find out what matters most to you so you can live a purposeful life.

As an added benefit, you will also have complimentary access, for a period of time, to the Purposeful App. This groundbreaking mobile and desktop app is designed to help you build a purposeful rhythm into each day, so you can bring your best self to what matters most. Look for more information in Week 1 of the course.

By the end of this course, you will:

  1. Understand that having a strong purpose in life is an essential element of human well-being.
  2. Know how self-transcending purpose positively affects well-being.
  3. Be able to create a purpose for your life (don’t be intimidated, this is different from creating “the purpose” for your life).
  4. Apply personal approaches and skills to self-change and become and stay connected to your purpose every day.

3. Book: Designing Your Life (by Bill Burnett, Dave Evans)

I found this book very interesting, as it takes an engineering approach on design. Typically, engineers design products. This book is all about using the same methodologies to design your own life. Bill Burnett is an Adjunct Professor at Stanford University and the Executive Director of the Design Program. Dave Evans is co-founder of Electronic Arts and Lecturer, Product Design Program at Stanford.

Designers create worlds and solve problems using design thinking. Look around your office or home—at the tablet or smartphone you may be holding or the chair you are sitting in. Everything in our lives was designed by someone. And every design starts with a problem that a designer or team of designers seeks to solve.

In this book, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans show us how design thinking can help us create a life that is both meaningful and fulfilling, regardless of who or where we are, what we do or have done for a living, or how young or old we are. The same design thinking responsible for amazing technology, products, and spaces can be used to design and build your career and your life, a life of fulfillment and joy, constantly creative and productive, one that always holds the possibility of surprise.

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