Former Ambassador, Member of Congress, White House Chief of Staff on the Art of Listening

“You have to start with this question: do you really like challenges?” This is the question Former Ambassador Jim Jones has asked himself throughout his impressive career. An accomplished former US Ambassador to Mexico (1993–1997) and Representative of the 1st district of Oklahoma (1973–1987), the Ambassador clearly doesn’t just like challenges, he loves them. This drive to challenge himself drove Ambassador Jones’ entire career, including his service as the youngest White House Appointments Secretary in history. But Ambassador Jones did not wait until then to start his career in politics, instead diving right in by supporting Ed Edmonson’s Congressional campaign in Oklahoma at the age of 11.

As Appointments Secretary under President Lyndon B. Johnson, Ambassador Jones worked hard, faced with the longest hours he has ever worked in his life. At the end of the day he would be completely wrung out, and yet, as Ambassador Jones describes it, “It was exhilarating because I knew that I was really doing something important and making a fundamental break in where the nation was at that time and where it was going to be.” Knowing that he was part of an influential period in the nation’s future, Ambassador Jones focused on thinking in the long-term. Gaining satisfaction from knowing that he was helping to move the country in the right direction steered his political approach, allowing him to be successful as a Member of Congress.

Ambassador Jones shared that his greatest takeaway from a long, challenging, and fulfilling career is the art of listening to and understanding what someone else is saying. Ambassador Jones said that, in responding to challenges, “You listen to find out what the problem is and then talk to a lot of different people to get the best solution before going forward one hundred percent.” This is his secret to unraveling even the most challenging of situations. It is what made him a successful Member of Congress and Ambassador, working with people from all walks of life and finding shared solutions to problems.

For the Ambassador, one of the most challenging of these situations is bipartisan dialogue. For him such dialogue must use the art of listening to expand beyond just finding solutions for challenging situations to civil discourse that can bridge the ideological divide. In Congress this means forming bipartisan coalitions with Members so they can actually listen to one another instead of fighting over their ideologies. In bridging the ideological divide, Ambassador Jones, as a member of the US Association of Former Member of Congress’s Board of Directors, believes the Congress to Campus program is an important one as it instills a sense of public service with young leaders and promotes this bipartisan dialogue.

Now, as Ambassador Jones works in the private sector to help international businesses enter into and stay in the Mexican and Latin American business market, he continues to see value in international relationships. As the globe continues to shrink, he believes that the US needs to constantly move forward internationally, developing relationships and forming coalitions. “The exchanges and the business relationships that create an understanding of other cultures and peoples are what makes us able to maintain our leadership of the world,” said Ambassador Jones. “If we don’t stay connected, if we don’t pursue these international programs and exchanges and business, we will be left out.” Ambassador Jones sees programs like FMC’s The Congressional Study Groups as necessary to foster these relationships and exchanges, as they allow both sides to sit down and listen to what the other has to say. Forging these relationships, staying patient and listening to each side, is difficult, and moving forward, the US must continue to ask itself, “Do you really like challenges?”