This is a guest blog by Jeff Perry, MBA
“Engineers don’t have good communication skills.” I hear this all the time, and it is a myth. While it may be true for some engineers, we cannot put it out as a blanket truth that applies to all of them. And most importantly, if someone is not a great communicator now, they can develop those skills, just like anyone else. Often this myth pairs itself with the expectation that most engineers are introverts, which some people think leads to bad communication.
The truth is, both introverts and extroverts can be fantastic communicators, as these skills can be learned and developed over time. The natural behavioral types of introvert vs extrovert have nothing to do with actual ability to communicate, but rather identify how people gain energy from interpersonal interaction (and where they exist on the spectrum). Humans are naturally social beings, and we feel purpose as we develop connections with others. Thus, developing an array of communication skills is necessary for everyone to be happy and healthy.
To assist, I’d love to share some ideas and activities to help you level-up your communication skills:
Developing communication skills is a broad idea that covers a lot of ground. To start, engineers can develop their own communication abilities by focusing on the skill of listening. I love this quote by Stephen R. Covey:
“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” ~ Stephen R. Covey
It is important to practice the intent of truly seeking to understand what others are trying to communicate to us. We cannot be listening only to come up with a response if we want to be effective listeners. Do you see the difference? Underneath the action we take, we must care about the other person and what they have to say. You can often tell if someone does not care about what you have to say, and the same is true as others are talking to you.
Listening Activity: Start up a conversation with a colleague and ask them an open-ended question. The question can be as simple as “How was your weekend?” or “How do you think we can solve this problem?” Then listen to them for three minutes straight without making any verbal response other than simple acknowledgements. Do NOT interrupt to ask more questions. Just listen. See what you learn.
One common hiccup in engineering communication is explaining detailed, complex ideas in detailed, complex ways. Engineers understand the whole picture and are excited to share what they know. Consequently, instead of clarity and collaboration, explaining every detail can often lead to confusion. Reflect on this quote from Albert Einstein:
“If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.” ~ Albert Einstein
Especially when communicating with non-technical people and working across teams, eliminate the use of jargon and share ideas using concepts the other person can simply understand. Often it helps to use simple analogies or comparisons that they can relate to.
Technical Communication Activity: Take the six-year-old test. Find a complex idea or concept that you know very well and try to explain it to a child or someone else who would be completely unfamiliar with it. See if they understand and can explain it back to you. Try teaching the same idea to at least three different people and see how you improve the simplicity of the communication.
Developing communication skills is a lifelong pursuit. But if you believe you are doomed to be a bad communicator, your very attitude about it may make it a reality.
My suggestion is to adjust your mindset, discard those limiting beliefs, and intentionally practice and work to improve your ability to effectively communicate with others at work and in your personal life. You will be a better employee, leader, business owner, partner, parent, and friend.
About Jeff Perry, MBA
Jeff Perry is a leadership/career coach for engineers, building mindsets, leadership, and career intentions to unlock hidden potential and remove self-imposed roadblocks for career and life. For years, he has had the pleasure of supporting engineers and software pros, from new grads to director level. Having been on the front lines in the technical world, he has been able to map out the necessary skills for becoming a quality leader in the field.
You can connect with Jeff on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeffcperry/ or visit his website, https://morethan-engineering.com. Jeff also has a new, FREE, on-demand training course for engineers who are job searching or in job transitions. You can see it at https://engineeringcareeraccelerator.com.
New to Technical Leadership?
The transition from individual contributor to technical leader is a difficult one. Jeff put together a FREE, 90-day guide for those moving through this transition to help them be as successful as possible. You can get it here: https://morethan-engineering.com/career-clarity
Please leave your comments, feedback or questions in the section below.
To your success,
Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success