Communicating so others hear

Communication skills are critical to your career and will help you see things from the other person’s point of view.


Your goal in oral communications is for your audience to hear what you are saying and, potentially, do what you want them to do. It’s not just for you to talk. The goal of this article is to point out why communications skills are critical in your career and, specifically, why seeing things from another point of view helps your effectiveness.

It’s all about me

Human nature is such that a good portion of the time we act like the world revolves around us. It’s not because we’re all narcissistic; it’s just that most of the time we’re busy just keeping up. You may be familiar with the term WIIFM—What’s In It For Me? Frequently, in communications what’s going through the mind of the person you’re talking with is: “What’s in it for me to listen to this person? Should I just politely nod my head but think about what I want to think about?”

An effective communication tool is to look closely at where the person or audience with whom you’re communicating is coming from and approach them with that in mind. Think of your favorite products; it’s amazing what the designers thought of when they designed them, isn’t it? It’s like they had you in mind. As an engineer, you know a lot of good thinking and research went into why people would want such a product and how they’d use it before specs were written and product developed. You probably wouldn’t think of designing a product without a good set of specs first. Otherwise, what would you design?

People interactions are similar—we are not robots designed to hear and respond to factual, objective statements. Instead, how we feel affects what we hear and how we respond. So, to communicate so others hear, consider your audience ahead of time: What’s the best way to reach them? How will they react to what you’re saying? How do they feel about this topic? Those are critical components in successful communications.

One way to increase your oral communication skills is to participate in a personality profile exercise such as Myers-Briggs. It gives you insight as to why you are the way you are and in turn dramatically increases your awareness of how others think.

A book by David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates, Please Understand Me, offers a practical way to implement what you learned in Myers-Briggs. It asks a number of questions and uses your answers to quickly give you a sense for your personality profile. Then, it exposes you to other types of personalities, which can be deeply insightful. For an engineer like this author, that experience was an immensely helpful insight early in my career. Understanding the wide range of ways people think forced me to consider others’ perspectives while communicating, rather than just my own. Effective communication skills were clearly a factor in my being given the opportunity to step into executive management.

So what, who cares?

Another way to improve your communication effectiveness is to ask yourself, “So what, who cares?” about what you’re saying. Be brutal—your audience is! Answering that question will make your communications brief and to the point. An engineer who can effectively communicate is much more valuable and, in fact, invaluable.

Most engineering curricula don’t include much nontechnical learning, so unless you’ve been gifted with those talents or participated in a lot of extracurricular activities to develop them, it’s helpful to have some pointers about soft skills like communicating. That’s why this column focused on the benefits of taking the perspective of others to help your career.

Suzukida was Trane’s senior VP of global marketing and strategy prior to founding Lanex Consulting in 2002, which focuses on energy efficiency, product-to-solutions transitions, and strategy. He has facilitated meetings for the West Coast Zero Net Energy Coordinating Council, Daikin, Danfoss, and the National Conference on Building Commissioning, and has authored articles for industry publications. He has a BSME and distinguished alumnus award from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

No comments
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2013 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
A cool solution: Collaboration, chemistry leads to foundry coat product development; See the 2015 Product of the Year Finalists
Raising the standard: What's new with NFPA 70E; A global view of manufacturing; Maintenance data; Fit bearings properly
Sister act: Building on their father's legacy, a new generation moves Bales Metal Surface Solutions forward; Meet the 2015 Engineering Leaders Under 40
Cyber security cost-efficient for industrial control systems; Extracting full value from operational data; Managing cyber security risks
Drilling for Big Data: Managing the flow of information; Big data drilldown series: Challenge and opportunity; OT to IT: Creating a circle of improvement; Industry loses best workers, again
Pipeline vulnerabilities? Securing hydrocarbon transit; Predictive analytics hit the mainstream; Dirty pipelines decrease flow, production—pig your line; Ensuring pipeline physical and cyber security
Upgrading secondary control systems; Keeping enclosures conditioned; Diagnostics increase equipment uptime; Mechatronics simplifies machine design
Designing positive-energy buildings; Ensuring power quality; Complying with NFPA 110; Minimizing arc flash hazards
Building high availability into industrial computers; Of key metrics and myth busting; The truth about five common VFD myths

Annual Salary Survey

After almost a decade of uncertainty, the confidence of plant floor managers is soaring. Even with a number of challenges and while implementing new technologies, there is a renewed sense of optimism among plant managers about their business and their future.

The respondents to the 2014 Plant Engineering Salary Survey come from throughout the U.S. and serve a variety of industries, but they are uniform in their optimism about manufacturing. This year’s survey found 79% consider manufacturing a secure career. That’s up from 75% in 2013 and significantly higher than the 63% figure when Plant Engineering first started asking that question a decade ago.

Read more: 2014 Salary Survey: Confidence rises amid the challenges

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.