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Be a Better Engineering Communicator

Engineering

You’re in complete control of your own integrity.

The way that you communicate affects you, individual co-workers, your entire company, and all of your clients. There’s always room for improvement, as even the most graceful speakers make occasional missteps and have off days. For the average person, the rate is probably a lot higher.

Effective communication isn’t about using ten-dollar words and striving for quick-witted or trendy turns of phrase. It’s not about sounding clever. It’s just about being clear, understanding how your words affect others, meaning what you say, and holding yourself to a high standard.

Communication is vital in engineering, and certain pitfalls are common in the industry. But you can do your part to change that.

Engineering

Nobody likes to wait and wonder.

Always Be Specific

If there’s any widespread communication issue among engineers, lack of specificity is probably it. It implies a commitment. In a field where specifics might not come easy, speaking vaguely can become a habit because it leaves the situation open in case something comes up later. “I’ll call you back” doesn’t really mean anything if the person has no idea when the call might come.

Workplace communication expert, Skip Weisman, explains that a lack of specificity leads to confusion, which leads to eroded relationships inside and outside the workplace. In an interview with Anthony Fasano, with Engineering.com, Wiseman says it might be the single-most important skill to master, because it affects so many different parts of your work.

Give out those details that you might want to guard, such as when you really intend to call back. That builds trust, especially when the call does come through. And if you have the opportunity to help a co-worker improve, explain how instead of simply saying, “This is wrong.”

Understand How Communication Affects Relationships

According to Weisman, every conversation leaves you with three possible outcomes. You can build the relationship, you can break it down, or you could even destroy it in one fell swoop. That’s a lot of pressure, but it also makes sense.

When you communicate effectively, such as paying attention to the person you’re talking with and using professional tone and body language, you send a signal that you can be trusted. If you avoid the topic, won’t commit, or choose your words poorly, the relationship will probably degrade.

In the worst-case, telling people what not to do, lacking professional respect and yelling or pointing can obliterate all trust immediately. One conversation, three possible outcomes, all based on how you communicate. And your position in the company doesn’t matter. You control whether others trust you by communicating well.

Engineering

The way that you handle setbacks can build trust.

Specific Engineering Communication Skills

Weisman says there are 7 skills that help engineers communicate better, gain trust, and build relationships inside and outside the company:

  • Always be specific; mean what you say and don’t be afraid to commit.
  • Explain what you want people to do instead of what you don’t want them to do.
  • Tackle the difficult conversations, even if you have bad news to deliver.
  • Replace “but” with “and.” When people hear the word “but,” everything before it becomes a blur and they expect the worst.
  • Speak respectfully without resorting to finger pointing or yelling.
  • Focus on the person that you’re talking with to prove that they matter.
  • Embrace candor to avoid confusion. Speaking in generalities leaves room for the other person to misinterpret, which can cause more communication breakdown.

When you step back and evaluate each of those points, they make perfect sense. And in some of your personal relationships, you probably communicate that way already. That’s because you’re invested in those relationships. They matter to you. It can be the same at your job, because people are people wherever you go. And all people appreciate respect.

Communication is vital in any workplace, and it’s especially important for engineers. The fact that some communication snafus are common in this industry may stem from the nature of the work. Few things are set in stone, and details can change quickly. High-pressure work can cause tempers to flare. And a lot rides on whether a client is happy.

Weisman’s issues can be traced back to damage control, stress and being spread awfully thin. It’s unlikely that anyone sets out to communicate poorly. It’s just a hazard of the job. But with attention to how you speak and relate to others, trust will soar and your business relationships will grow stronger. You can listen to the interview in full here.

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