Usually when someone makes a list of communication skills needed in the workplace, they include good listening, understanding non-verbal communication, friendliness, empathy and open-mindedness. These are important communication skills which should not be overlooked. When it comes to an engineering career, however, there are a number of other skills needed to excel.
The first that comes to mind is humility. Engineers are usually proud of their technical mastery. Unfortunately, a display of engineering prowess will generally fall flat when the audience consists of non-engineers. Even when speaking with engineers, showy displays tend to be off-putting. It’s always best to focus on the facts and present data in a neutral manner.
The second is compassion. While it might seem odd to be talking about compassion in the context of technical discussions, it is definitely warranted considering the circumstances surrounding interactions involving engineers. Consider a situation where something isn’t working properly; a factory assembly line is malfunctioning or a customer is irate because a product doesn’t perform as expected. In these situations, engineers need to access their human side and put themselves in the other person’s shoes. At the same time, they must realize that they can cause additional distress by being callous, officious or unfeeling. They should be motivated by empathy and take action to rectify any deficiencies in a kind and generous manner.
Lastly, there’s accountability. People tend to shy away from making decisions because they don’t want to be held responsible. Nevertheless, when technical decisions need to be made there is no other recourse for engineers. They must make the decisions that fall into their area of expertise. If engineers fail to fully inform others of the possible consequences, they must bear much of the responsibility for any harm that comes as a result.
Engineers must be comfortable with transparency and at the same time endeavor to communicate with utmost clarity. Motivated by compassion, they must see the value in others, recognize their own weaknesses, and acknowledge everyone’s worth. They should understand that the place of engineers in society is one of tremendous responsibility as facilitators, guides and stewards.
A liberal arts engineering program builds communication skills through an emphasis on interdisciplinary courses. While enrolled in technical STEM classes, a liberal arts engineer may also be exploring courses in history, philosophy or the fine arts. The holistic education of a liberal arts engineering program positions future engineers with the necessary skills of communication and understanding of the engineering field within the larger context of the world.