I started my career with what I felt were real deficiencies in my interpersonal communication skills. I left conversations feeling dissatisfied with how I listened and how I was able to carry on conversations. After a lot of personal reflection, I realized what was causing my bad behavior was wanting to be “right” too often and getting too easily frustrated when I felt other people thwarted my goals and objectives (lack of perspective).
Here are James’s insights on how to listen with the intent of understanding the other person so they feel heard, not minimized, and move the conversation forward.
- Find a great leader, communicator and listener to emulate. Everyone has a different style, so it is important to find someone whose approach you respect – someone who comes across as natural and authentic in her ability to connect, listen and understand others.
- Be interested in human character and in the success of the people around you. If you have a genuine interest in other people and their welfare, then every interaction becomes an opportunity to learn more about how people think, what motivates them and how they make decisions and reason through things.
- Try to keep a perspective on the subject matter you are discussing. In all likelihood, no single topic you may be discussing will be as important as the long-term relationships you have with the people you are speaking with. Make their importance to you clear by showing them respect and listening to what they are saying. Try to hear not only through their words but also how they say them through their body language and expressions. And don’t interrupt, jump in or talk over them.
- Keep your ego in check. Listening to understand starts with accepting that no matter how many facts you have or how quickly you process information, your objective is to deeply understand the other person – not to make your point known or better understood.
Who saw something in you when you were growing up, that you hadn’t seen in yourself?
I had a physics professor at the junior college that I went to, named William Carragan. He really encouraged me to just do what I loved – not what I thought others wanted me to do. Up until that point, I didn’t see the world in that way. I thought success was running the course that others had laid out.
What was the greatest challenge you have faced personally or professionally, and how did you get through it?
Professionally, the greatest challenge I faced was the personal mind shift I had to make to transition from being a technical contributor to a leader. I had a lot of internal, personal conflict to work through due to some conflicts in values and beliefs. In the end, the most rewarding, fulfilling and interesting work I have faced has been as a leader.
Describe your family.
My wife and I live together in Milford, CT. She is an amazing, talented fine artist (a painter) – and her work focuses on visual interactions with the sea. My dad had a long career in the Navy – 22 years. He and I were inseparable when he was home. My immediate family when I was growing up was large. My mom and dad, my mom’s sister, my grandmother, my aunt’s daughter, my three sisters and I all lived together in the same house.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
The best advice I ever received was from my mom and dad, who stressed that giving up is not an option. I’ve grown to love setbacks as much as steps forward.
How do you grow girls strong and bold?
Well, I have four really strong and bold women that I grew up with – among my sisters is a pharmacist, a CPA and an economist. My cousin is a school principal who is about to receive her Ph.D. I can tell you the following about how they were raised:
1) They were raised by strong, smart women.
2) My father encouraged my sisters to pursue “STEM” educations way before the term was trendy and encouraged my sisters every day to be bold – telling them they could do anything.