Rules of Thumb — Engineering Communication

One of the most important tasks of engineers, managers, facilitators, guides, mentors, consultants and trainers is to communicate.

Without right and effective communication, nothing seems to get done. One may be working very hard but he/she would fail to see results on the ground. That is indeed very frustrating. The secret is — unless people are involved, nothing worthwhile gets done. The goal of communication is to involve people.

In this article, I would like to focus on the Communication Process

Hence some basic rules of thumb on the Process of Engineering Communication:

  1. Audience Based: Use an audience based and not a writer based approach. The content of the communication (whether written or verbal) must only address questions the audience wants answered. There is little or no point of dumping any information the writer seems knows on the subject. In such cases, a knowledgeable writer or communicator is internally motivated to share whatever he/she knows about a subject. Hence the length of such presentations or written communication is directly proportional to the length of time a communicator has spent researching on a subject. This becomes quite boring to an audience. Worthwhile to remember that there is no need for a communicator to be perceived as a highly knowledgeable person. The audience would decide that anyway. Just in case, one is forced to communicate in a structured fashion the structure should be hierarchial — i.e. — arranged in order of importance to an audience starting from what the audience “must know” about a question to going what is “good to know” type of information, which in most cases can be avoided.

    In any case, the communication structure must not be historical or chronological, unless the audience is interested in the history of a subject. In my workshops, I start off by asking what the audience wants to know and then address their questions one by one. Once you adopt this approach you would see how time flies and how stressfree the environment becomes. The golden rule is — there is no universally accepted template that fits all communications; each communication must answer the questions of the audience.
  2. Be Effective: Effective communication is linked to two important things — a) Problem Solving Skills b) Clear Thinking skills. However, if I were to choose between the two skills I would go for Problem Solving skill alone. This is because good and effective problem solvers develop clear thinking skills, without which it becomes difficult to solve any problem worth its salt. But why is effective communication linked to problem solving skills? This is because any type of audience loves to hear stories. And real life stories keep an audience glued to the communicator. When a communicator tells a story the tension and suspense created are palpable. This moves the audience to be attentive. Moreover, as I have seen, audience learns most from stories. Needless to mention that helping others to learn through their self awareness and then seeing them act upon it is the fundamental effect of any good communication.
  3. Welcome Confusion: Confusion is always welcome since it forces the communicator to check back and rethink his/her thinking. A good way to bring out ‘confusion’ in the open is to trigger a feedback loop. Simply stated, it means asking the audience — which parts of the communication wasn’t well understood or appreciated by the audience. This not only helps the audience stick to the flow of communication but also generates life in the communication.
  4. Let ideas flow: Ideas must coherently flow from one idea to the next. In short, the ideas must be well knitted together and expressed cogently. This helps an audience see the whole picture and appreciate the depth of a topic. It simply generates interest on an on-going basis that propels the audience to think and act on the their understanding. There is no need to stick to one idea throughout a presentation. One may ofcourse, dwell on an idea for sometime before logically connecting the idea to the next idea. Connecting ideas makes a presentation triggers the thinking process of the audience, which is worth its weight in gold.
  5. Revise: Be willing to rethink, revise and rework the whole structure if the structure of the communication doesn’t meet the needs of an audience. Though grammar and style are important there is no great need to endlessly polishing those. And be more than willing to delete or discard entire sections already written instead of incorrectly hoping to deliver everything that is written.
  6. Coherent Written Plan: Develop a coherent written plan — especially when one is supposed to speak on a topic or present verbally. A simple cue card (5 x 7 inches card) with a few bullet point maybe sufficient to keep one pegged to the overall picture. This also helps to keep the mind of a presentator poised and calm. Any tension in the mind of a presentator would soon show up and get communicated. Audience would notice the internal tension of a presentator and they wouldn’t like it much.
  7. Rehearse: Don’t forget to rehearse. Communication like all performance arts needs deep rehearsing. There are many ways of rehearsing, some of which are — a) read aloud (it helps to uncover flaws very quickly) b) present it to your children or spouse or friends c) rehearse in front of a mirror d) mentally rehearse the topic including the possible gestures, pauses etc one is likely to incorporate in the presentation (this can be done even while taking a shower).

By Dibyendu De

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