Listen, learn and lead: Key communication skills for IT pros

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I had the pleasure of speaking with Tom Catalini about his new eBook “Talking Points: Communication Skills to Advance Your IT Career “.

Tom Catalini is a CIO by profession, accomplished blogger and writer. He said he decided to write his new eBook as a way of paying forward the great advice he had been given throughout his career. He also noted the important role that strong communication skills play in the success of IT professionals, especially if they wish to move up the technical and managerial ranks.

I asked Tom what career advice he would like to give to those reading my column. He said that people should enhance their ability to listen, because it expands their ability to learn, which enhances their ability to lead.

Regarding listening, he said that making the effort to properly listen to those around you, whether it be your staff, manager, business partners or others, allows you to empathize with the other person’s situation and point of view. This empathy is a good beginning and useful guide as to how to best help and/or serve others. A quote that Tom mentions in his eBook related to this topic is by John C. Maxwell, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” On a personal note, I believe this is true not only in work, but life in general.

Regarding learning, the willingness to truly listen to others allows you to better understand their needs, thus allowing you to perform the proper tasks. At a higher level, it also provides you with a larger context related to why things should be done, not simply what should be done. The effect this can have on your career can best be summed up by a second quote Tom has included in his eBook by Ralph Waldo Emerson. “The man who knows how will always have a job. The man who knows why will always be his boss.”

Regarding leading, Tom began by again emphasizing the importance of listening and learning. Then, he went on to discuss the importance of being able to give executive level presentations, which is discussed in the third chapter of his eBook. He highlights the importance of talking about business benefits and business topics, not IT jargon and technical details. The real lesson here is to know your audience and speak in a way that they understand it and appreciate the points you are trying to make.

He also said that many aspects of leadership takes guts. Because of the inherent risks and implications associated with the leadership decisions, they don’t have guaranteed outcomes. He felt that IT people, because their job in many ways is to minimize business risk, they often feel very uncomfortable making decisions without a guaranteed successful outcome because it runs contrary to their training and professional experiences.

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