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Secret Santa Ideas: The Best Books to Give Your Colleagues

Ah, the holiday season. These days may be merry and bright, but they’re also likely to be equally hectic, too. Don't let Secret Santa stress you out.
by Caitlin Schiller | Dec 5 2019

You’re already busy wrapping things up for the end of the calendar year, making travel plans, and shopping for family presents. When the annual office Secret Santa event rolls around, you might feel a little dread. What do you give a work colleague?

Never fear! We’re here to help with a list of the best books to give everyone in your office.

1. For the one who just got promoted

With her sunny outlook and razor focus, the recently promoted manager wants to Be The Change—and she’s in a great position for it. With a new role and a clean slate comes the opportunity to smash the crusty old status quo to create something better, faster, and stronger.  But what might that something look like? she wonders. Your holiday gift can help her see beyond the sugarplums and mistletoe to a holacracy.

The book Holacracy: The New Management System that Redefines Management offers a new path toward a company that is more flexible, dynamic, and responsive. It limns a revolutionary new management system—now in use by companies like Medium and Zappos which is perfectly suited to the quick-change modern business world. If you’re interested, you can read all about our experience of Holocracy at Blinkist.

2. For the one who’s not great with feedback

This one’s for the hypersensitive colleague in your office who twists, “I have a suggestion for you” into “I’m firing you immediately,” as much as it is for the one whose well-meaning constructive criticism comes out more like verbal dynamite at a blast site.

This person needs Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well. It offers actionable advice on how to give great feedback and how to take what’s dished out—constructively.

3. For the quiet one

Still waters run deep, and anyone who’s read a pirate book or watched Treasure Quest knows that they can contain gems unfathomed. But life on land and in office buildings is no place for still waters—or for introverts.

Quiet characters often lack the self-confidence to participate actively in a team, be recognized for their contributions, and get the rewards they’ve earned. Show your quiet co-worker that you appreciate them with Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. In it Cain, herself an introvert, explores how introverts and extroverts can team up to achieve wild success and how introverts thrive in the right environment.

4. For the moms and dads

The arrival of a new wee one is always a great reason to celebrate. But if the idea of heading to the toy store at the holidays makes your skin crawl, or you know that the new mom or dad at the office is already rolling in onesies, why not give them something a little more lasting?

The book Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More by Doing Less is a fresh, insightful read for parents of all stripes. It gives advice on how mothers and fathers can care for their children while keeping some time for themselves, how parents can start following their own values and preferences, and how they can eschew the pressures of perfectionist parenting.

5. For the newbie

Being new in the office can be stressful: in addition to new responsibilities and a new environment, there’s a lot of social dynamics to work out, too. A new hire could use a primer on how to put her best foot forward, but who’s got fail-proof advice on that? Easy: self-help grandaddy, Dale Carnegie.

Carnegie’s How to Win Friends & Influence People is a classic, and great for anyone who wants to learn how to grease the social wheels and make a good first impression. It gives advice on how to make others like and remember you, all memorably told through anecdotes the new hire won’t forget.

6. For the fearless leader

Top three reasons someone becomes a leader: seniority, experience, and plain great work. But here’s the thing: merit and experience is only part of the story! To become their best (and achieve the most success), leaders also need executive presence and persuasive power.

Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success reveals how leaders can develop executive presence, exude courage and confidence, balance decisiveness with compassion, and develop strong communication skills so they’re taken seriously.

7. For the outcast

Let’s face it: there’s usually that one colleague no one really likes. Maybe they’re a grump or can’t take a joke. Maybe it’s something else entirely. If you got them for Secret Santa, you might be worried, but don’t despair! There’s an appropriately undercover way to improve their work life and yours, all with one little gift.

The Like Switch: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Influencing, Attracting and Winning People Over reveals undercover techniques from the intelligence world that will help the workplace oddball gain influence, be trusted and liked, and better their relationships with everyone in and out of the office.  

8. For the bossy one

So, we’ve got a prescription for the social outcast, but there’s a different kind of edge-dweller you could end up with in the Secret Santa draw. Not necessarily unlikeable, but definitely a tough character to deal with, there’s the bossy one.

It’s hard to change the bossy one—and maybe you wouldn’t want to! Perhaps it makes her an ace project manager, or means he always gets the story, even if the first few sources say “no comment.” So, hey. Why not roll with it and give them 1) a solid intellectual underpinning for their public persona, and 2) a cautionary example of where a little too much bossiness can lead. Give them Machiavelli’s The Prince, a portrait of the ideal autocratic leader.

Maybe bossypants will see some common traits in there—and it might make them think about how to change for the better or to simply err on the side of using those powers for good.

9. For the one who’s always late

You know the type: slinks into meetings ten minutes after the start, most likely to hold up the lunch train, and always the last into the office in the morning. Maybe the time-challenged colleague is inconsiderate, maybe they’re daydreaming, or maybe their perception of time is different from that of the rest of the office (and the world). Whatever the case, there’s a book for that:

Time Warped is about that enduring mystery, our perception of time. Using research from the fields of neuroscience, biology, and psychology, Claudia Hammond investigates the many reasons why, on one day, time appears to pass rapidly, while on another, it seems to grind to a halt. Time Warped suggests ways to control our individual experience of time—which might be just what your colleague needs.

10. For the singleton

Making suggestions about someone else’s love life is a dicey prospect, but if your colleague has confided to you about her last disaster date, a textual intervention might be welcome—especially if it’s backed by science.

There are a billion books out there that explain how to find The One and stay together ‘til the rapture, but any theory of love is worthless unless you can verify it. So, let’s trust to mathematicians—those peculiar people who claim to know a great deal about proofs—for a tip or two.

The book The Mathematics of Love: Patterns, Proofs, and the Search for the Ultimate Equation explains how mathematical insight can help to find the right partner, how to plan a trouble-free wedding, and even provides a formula that tells how likely couples are to stay together over the long term.

If you didn’t find the perfect Secret Santa gift here, come check out the Blinkist library. You can search by category for heaps of other holiday present ideas (and learn something while you’re at it!).

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