Unleash communications from their e-mail chains

Communicating is key to an engineer’s job, and it is our professional responsibility to do it well—and correctly.

12/19/2011


Recently, I was on the receiving end of a six-page e-mail string that, from my perspective, tried to resolve an issue that should have been resolved in the field. This particular e-mail started in mid-May with an innocent question regarding water discharge location related to a fire pump test and ended in mid-June with exasperation as to no resolution to the original question.

As engineers, we get so caught up in problem solving that we tend to overlook proper communication techniques. When an e-mail chain continues for that length of time, the original question or issue can be lost. When a long e-mail string comes your way, it is best to stop it—to break the chain and start over—or, here’s a thought, maybe even pick up the phone.

How do you recognize when to break the chain? What are your options for communicating effectively? When should you stop hiding behind the electronic world of words we engage in? Years ago there were three primary means of communication: phone calls, letters, and face-to-face meetings, all of which still exist and are just as effective today, but they require commitment, practice, and follow-through. Today there are additional means of communication, such as e-mail, fax, and social media sites like LinkedIn and Facebook. Can these means be used effectively, or are they becoming a distraction from the real needs and methods of communicating?

Solving a project problem is not always pleasant, but communication avoidance or obfuscation can lead to trouble. Let’s look at communication methods and explore how to use them.

  1. Phone calls. Why do people call? Because they want to talk with you. Phone calls and voice messages should be returned with phone calls, not e-mail. Try to avoid phone tag (like returning calls during lunch); it delays effective communication.

  2. Letter writing. To whom, reference, salutation, pleasantries, purpose, factual body, follow-up, closing, thank you, copy to. If we write like this on company letterhead, we should write the same way in an e-mail. Sometimes composing a rough draft first to release our emotions allows us to then start over and focus on the facts that need to be addressed.

  3. Face-to-face meetings. How easy it is to prepare an agenda, make an appointment, go see someone, and talk about topics and issues. This task can be very difficult when the topic is unpleasant, but easier when you know the person from regular visits. Major issues should be resolved in face-to-face meetings, with the decision or action necessary recorded with appropriate follow-through. Observe body language, eye contact, handshake, attention span—things you cannot see over the phone or in e-mail.

  4. E-mail. It’s a quick and easy way to share information and attach files, but did the recipient actually “get” what you meant? E-mail seems safe, nonconfrontational, nonemotional, and a good way to hide. Limit the content if possible. Use e-mail for confirmation only—not problem resolution. Avoid the temptation to just “shoot” someone an e-mail. Think about the what, the why, and the expectation. Say please and thank you.

  5. Social media. LinkedIn seems to be the professional platform of choice now. Connection is quick, a network can easily be grown, and good information is posted, but how much time can one devote to this on a regular basis? It is a great way to keep up with contacts and learn what they are doing, but hearing a voice in a phone call goes a long way.

  6. Texting/messaging. Texts are great for abbreviated messages, but could be strained and difficult in business communication. Texting is rude during a meeting when others are talking.

J. Patrick Banse, PE, LEED AP, Smith Seckman Reid Inc., HoustonCommunicating can be a tough job, but it is our job and our professional responsibility to do it well and correctly. It takes thought, practice, and follow-through. Also, communicating affirmatively in many different media is imperative for engineers who desire to become managers and have leading roles in business development.

Banse has more than 35 years of experience in the consulting engineering field with the past 30 years in healthcare design and engineering. He is a member of Consulting-Specifying Engineer's Editorial Advisory Board.



No comments
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 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...
2016 Engineering Leaders Under 40; Future vision: Where is manufacturing headed?; Electrical distribution, redefined
Strategic outsourcing delivers efficiency; Sleeve bearing clearance; Causes of water hammer; Improve air quality; Maintenance safety; GAMS preview
World-class maintenance: The three keys to success - Deploy people, process and technology; 2016 Lubrication Guide; Why hydraulic systems get hot
Flexible offshore fire protection; Big Data's impact on operations; Bridging the skills gap; Identifying security risks
The digital oilfield: Utilizing Big Data can yield big savings; Virtualization a real solution; Tracking SIS performance
Getting to the bottom of subsea repairs: Older pipelines need more attention, and operators need a repair strategy; OTC preview; Offshore production difficult - and crucial
Applying network redundancy; Overcoming loop tuning challenges; PID control and networks
Driving motor efficiency; Preventing arc flash in mission critical facilities; Integrating alternative power and existing electrical systems
Package boilers; Natural gas infrared heating; Thermal treasure; Standby generation; Natural gas supports green efforts

Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

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.
This article collection contains several articles on the vital role that compressed air plays in manufacturing plants.
This article collection contains several articles on the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and how it is transforming manufacturing.
This article collection contains several articles on strategic maintenance and understanding all the parts of your plant.
click me