How do you get someone in your life to change--without asking directly?

One time-honored method is to drop a not-so-subtle hint with a book or magazine. All you have to do is open the book or magazine to the relevant passage, whether it's a section about bad breath, texting etiquette, or how to match belts with shoes. Then you leave the book or magazine in a place where your someone can find it. Congrats: You've passively initiated a constructive conflict

Of course, a few helpful hints between loved ones are just a part of life. But what can you do if you want your boss to change habits?

In an ideal world, it would be just as easy to leave a book or magazine article in the right place for your manager. With the gift-giving season upon us, you could even conceal your constructive hint as a bit of holiday cheer. Sound like a plan? If so, here's a list of books to start with. 

1. Why Should Anyone Work Here? by Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones (2015).

For their third book, the longtime London Business School professors spent time with the employees of 21 large organizations, including Heineken, Novo Nordisk, McDonald's, Samsung, and Unilever. All they were hoping to do was answer the question in the title. They even developed a simple questionnaire, which managers can use as a self-assessment tool.

One of their most salient findings was that the most employee-friendly workplaces fostered cultures of inclusiveness, self-expression, and non-conformity. At these companies, employees didn't feel as if they had to change personalities once they set foot in the office. Employees also felt that it was OK to speak out against organizational initiatives.

2. Friend & Foe, by Adam Galinsky and Maurice Schweitzer (2015). 

"In psychologically safe environments, team members feel encouraged to ask for clarification, to point out critical errors, and even to share new and challenging ideas," write professors Galinsky (Columbia Business School) and Schweitzer (Wharton) in their recently published book. As you can ascertain from the title, the book is designed to help anyone navigate the complex straits of interpersonal interaction. When do you catch more bees with honey, and when do you have to get tough?

For business leaders, this question is seldom easy. Your boss is the boss for a reason. She's accountable for results. By giving this book, you'll make it clear that she also must grasp her employees' need for psychological safety. Friend & Foe shows how leaders can build high-trust environments without relinquishing the power vested in them by their station in the hierarchy.

3. Everybody Matters, by Bob Chapman and Raj Sisodia (2015). 

When employees complain, does the boss take time to consider what to do about it? Or does she act immediately?

Everybody Matters argues that to build a culture of trust, it's a must for bosses to respond immediately when employees are brave enough to voice why they're unhappy.

The book is based on the cultural transformation which took place at Barry-Wehmiller (B-W), a $2 billion capital equipment and engineering consulting company located in St. Louis. The authors are, in some ways, an ideal tandem of insider and outsider: Chapman is the insider, the CEO who presided over B-W's transformation. Sisodia is a professor at Babson College and co-author of Conscious Capitalism (along with Whole Foods Market co-founder John Mackey). His insights put B-W's achievements in a helpful context. 

4. The Purple Cow, by Seth Godin (2003).

This one's a bit a curveball, since it's not a 2015 title, nor is it based on the presumption that your manager needs to do a better job of making you feel comfortable about speaking out. 

But The Purple Cow might be the ideal book if you have trouble convincing your manager to try radical ideas. Dries Buytaert, co-founder and CTO of Boston-based software company Acquia, is constantly in the position of fielding numerous such ideas from his far-flung, open-source developer teams.

The reason? Acquia is the creator of the open-source content-management system known as Drupal. For the latest version, Drupal 8, which came out this week, Buytaert had to manage a community of 3,000 contributors. 

When I asked him to list some of the business books that had helped him most as a manager of projects like this, he cited The Purple Cow. His first reason was the power of the title metaphor: "When you drive and you see cows on the road, you don't look at them anymore," he says. "But imagine there was a purple one. Wouldn't you look up and say, 'What's going on?'" That basic illustration has helped him evaluate which out-there ideas are worth pursuing.

His second reason was that "it's a very quick read. I like that about it." 

5. A Manner of Being: Writers on Their Mentors, edited by Jeff Parker and Annie Liontas (2015). 

This book doesn't come out until December 12. So how do I know it's the perfect gift for your boss? Because one of the essays in it, in which prize-winning author George Saunders sings the praises of his mentors, paints a vivid picture of all that's sublime about mentor-mentee relationships. 

Saunders's mentors are authors Tobias Wolff and Doug Unger, both of whom taught at the Syracuse University Creative Writing Program, where Saunders enrolled in 1986, when he was 27. He tells plenty of tales about how both Wolff and Unger were kind and patient with him in the early days of their relationship. 

For example, in February 1986, Wolff called Saunders's parents' house and left a message saying Saunders had been accepted to the program. Saunders called back, clutching his copy of Wolff's 1985 short story collection, Back in the World. "For what seems, in chagrined memory, like 18 hours, I tell him all of my ideas about Art and list all the things that have been holding me back artistic-development-wise," Saunders writes.

To this day, he's grateful for how Wolff handled his exuberance. "He's kind and patient and doesn't make me feel like an idiot," notes Saunders. "I do that myself, once I hang up."

Published on: Nov 24, 2015