10 Ways to Communicate with Engineers

November 13, 2017

Have you communicated with an engineer and they just did not seem to get what you were trying to say?  Or, are you an engineer and there is a common denominator in your miscommunication?  If any of this sounds familiar, the 10 tips below will either help you learn how to communicate with an engineer or possibly assist you learning a bit more about yourself. 


Please give your feedback.  Can you relate to these tips?  


  1. Present Problem Solving:  Above all, engineers are problem solvers.  If asking a question, try to frame it as a solvable problem.  “Males ages 18-35 do not like the new service” is not a solvable problem.  It is a concern that can then be transformed into something solvable: “Let us design a study to figure out why males ages 18-35 do not like the new service”.  Subtle but re-frames what you are communicating into a solvable problem.

  2. Present Quantifiable Problems:  Most engineers' training is in modeling problems mathematically and then optimizing the model.  Change “Why is the website so slow?” to “How can we increase the order processing speed to get it under 10 seconds?”

  3. Present Bounded Problems:  The answer to every engineering question is “it depends”.  If you have constraints on your solution, say so up front.  Reducing the solution space at the start saves everyone time and trouble.

  4. Present Net Gain Problems:  If a solution to the current problem will cause more perceived problems to the engineer in the future, it might be seen as a net loss and get sandbagged.  Problems should be presented with the entire organizational scope in mind.  When the net gain at a high level is truly understood, it is easier to swallow a net loss at a personal level.

  5. Sometimes the Method is the Answer:  Engineers who teach you to fish instead of giving you a fish are an asset.  You are not getting the runaround, you are getting a method to solve a similar problem in the future.

  6. Pictures are Better than Words:  Engineers think spatially by necessity.  Three pages of words may seem like helpful detail, but can be inefficient.  Inefficiency is the bane of all engineers.

  7. Be Specific:  Make sure everything you communicate has a clear and specific purpose.  If the purpose is essential to the conversation but not obvious, explain it without using lingo.  Be authentic.

  8. Inertia is King: Engineers can cling to the old ways or insist on incremental changes when the best long-term solution is really an overhaul.  Again, presenting changes with clear and specific purposes will help.

  9. Get to the Point:  Do not dance around a subject.

  10. Introverts vs. Extroverts: Respect how the engineer “recharges”.  An extrovert does not necessarily hate being alone.  When it is time to recharge, it is time to be with others.  Similarly, introverts do not hate being with people and might actually be very outspoken and friendly.  Introverts just need to be alone to recharge.  


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