An engineered solution provides little impact if others do not understand its purpose. Engineers need to be as descriptive as possible to ensure their ideas are understood.
Engineering communication skills are essential for presenting concepts and designs, and critical to the engineering design process. Engineers with the ability to clearly communicate can confidently present their ideas to decision-makers in presentations, meetings, and reports. Company leaders expect to read and hear professional-level presentations. Spelling mistakes in a report or a mumbled presentation may make an executive think twice about an engineering design proposal’s reliability. This can make engineering communication skills as important as technical skills.
Why Are Engineering Communication Skills Important?
Beyond strong technical knowledge, engineering employers place a high value on other critical engineering competencies such as personal effectiveness and academic and workplace skills. Engineers with strong communication skills can position themselves for leadership roles, using those skills to effectively manage and motivate teams and train individuals in lean development processes or new software programs. Additionally, engineers are responsible for inspiring confidence in their ideas; this requires communication skills to sell their products or designs.
Engineering communication skills, including active listening, negotiation, and clarity, are useful in key engineering design stages. Below are a few examples of the benefits of having strong communication skills:
Problem Identification and Definition
Engineers must have a clear understanding of job tasks and requirements. Engineers work with business and technical professionals and other engineers to get a deep understanding of a problem from multiple perspectives and to develop and plan.
Engineering design involves participation from many people; this means that engineers need to communicate clearly about complex subjects and technical plans. Additionally, solid engineering communication skills help engineers collaborate with others to establish achievable goals.
Engineers need to know what has succeeded or failed in previous projects. By engaging other teams, engineers can learn from past mistakes to identify potential pitfalls and apply lessons learned to help ensure future projects’ success.
Engineers must communicate with a variety of parties, including managers, coworkers, and clients. For example, brainstorming is an essential part of the development stage. It is a creative process that allows others to bring their insights and ideas to the process of problem-solving. Engineers confident in their communication abilities can share their thoughts and come up with fresh approaches to solving a problem during brainstorming sessions.
Engineering Communication Skills
From coming up with a brilliant design for a new building or road to developing innovative products or software, engineers’ work touches every aspect of our lives. In addition to the technical skills necessary to design, test, and build things, successful engineers must also have the ability to interact with others to get their designs from concept to development. Examples of essential communication skills for engineers include the following:
Engineers produce reports to convey technical information and findings, provide details about processes and objectives, and describe design choices and products. People who read these reports can be technically minded or nontechnical business leaders. Keeping various audiences in mind, engineers must write their reports in clear language accessible to all. For help with grammar and brevity, engineers can take advantage of tools such as Grammarly and the Hemingway App.
Hiring managers seeking engineering leadership candidates look for the ability to clearly present objectives, data, conclusions, and recommendations. Effective public communication and presentation skills enable engineers to share their findings, plans, and projects with peers who understand technical language as well as with potential clients in business meetings. Therefore, their public speaking skills must include the ability to translate technical concepts into simple language in an engaging, confident manner.
Equal in importance to oral and written communication skills is the ability to listen. This skill is essential for engineers to understand problems and issues clearly. Strong leaders listen to workers throughout an organization, to understand where problems lie and hear their solutions; to clients, to understand their needs and guidelines; and to supervisors, to understand their expectations.
Strong communication skills are essential for engineering management roles. Communication skills are vital to these key aspects of engineering management:
- Communicating processes and goals to engineers and teams that include technical and nontechnical members
- Coordinating activities with engineers, managers, and others, which can occur at construction or manufacturing sites, in laboratories and testing centers, or in offices
- Proposing budgets to secure funding for projects
- Optimizing resources, which includes asking company executives for equipment or staff
- Working with contractors in other divisions or companies
- Hiring new staff members
Learn more about essential communication skills for engineers and engineering managers.
- ”Everyone Says Civil Engineers Must Communicate Well — But Why and How?” This American Society of Civil Engineers (ACSE) article describes the importance of engineering communication skills and strategies for acquiring them. Another ACSE article, “Ask Anthony: How Do I Improve My Public Speaking Skills?,” focuses on verbal communication.
- “Why Communication for Engineers Is So Important.” This resource from the Engineering Management Institute offers several keys for clear engineering communication
- “What Skills Do I Need to Develop to Become an Effective Engineer?” This article explains that a successful engineer is well-rounded, suggesting the need for various soft skills including the ability to communicate effectively.
Engineering Communication Tools
Communication is an essential soft skill for engineers. These tools can improve engineering processes heavily reliant on communication and collaboration.
Email and Chat
Distributed engineering teams use email to share documentation and information. Email is a tool that helps ensure everyone from various time zones working on a project remains on the same page. However, some communications require faster response times. Chat allows teams to stay in constant contact and have real-time conversations to resolve issues and make decisions.
Web Conferencing/Virtual Meeting Platforms
Not every document, change, or piece of information is best shared by email or chat. Sometimes, engineering teams must discuss critical issues together or brainstorm new ideas live. In today’s distributed workplace, physically meeting in a room is not always feasible. The coronavirus pandemic has made it even more imperative for engineering teams to transition to remote work. Web conferencing and virtual meeting tools such as Cisco Webex and Zoom provide engineers with chat, audio, and visual communication features that make it possible for teams to work together virtually.
Online Collaboration Platforms
Engineers often collaborate with other engineers, technical professionals, project managers, and others. Without effective collaboration, a project may suffer from the silo effect, meaning that one team does not know what the others are doing. Poor collaboration can lead to loss of productivity. Online collaboration platforms such as GitHub and Jira Cloud act as a medium for information flow to allow everyone to collaborate on a project with visibility into what’s happening, eliminating repetitive work.
Project Management Tools (Kanban Boards)
Kanban project management derives from a process developed by Toyota for its vehicle manufacturing process involving cards that signal the beginning of each new task. For example, one worker passes down a card indicating completion of their task to the next, who then moves the card to the next worker upon completing their work. In engineering, this visual process is made possible through project management tools. It helps engineering leaders to visualize bottlenecks and find opportunities to improve workflows by reassigning tasks.
Typical documentation, such as text files, spreadsheets, and presentations, can often be attached to an email and sent to a recipient. However, some files are too large for this delivery method. Take, for example, CAD files, digital files that may contain a technical drawing, blueprint, or 3D rendering. These types of files are also confidential in many instances. A file-sharing platform allows engineers to share large files quickly and securely. With a cloud-based digital platform, such as Box, Dropbox, or Google Drive, sharing these files with anyone in the world is simplified.
After a product is delivered, the next phase involves assessing its effectiveness. End users can provide feedback on the product’s functionality so that engineers can implement improvements in future iterations. Feedback is also essential for team effectiveness. Engineering projects can become very complex, leaving lots of room for error. With feedback assessment tools such as SurveyMonkey, leaders can survey their teams to identify gap areas and implement policies and procedures that improve processes.
Communication Tools: Resources for Engineers
Learn more about the communication tools available to engineers and engineering managers.
- “8 Kanban Tools for Project Managers and Developers.” This resource analyzes popular Kanban tools in the market.
- “Engineers Don’t Talk: 3 Essential Communication Tools for Every Dev Team.” This article explores tools to help engineers get feedback critical to optimizing team performance.
- “10 Best Online Communication Tools for Business in 2020.” The collaboration software market is valued at $8 billion. This resource highlights communication software and tools.
- “The 7 Best Communication Apps for Coders.” Hack Reactor discusses popular communication apps for technical professionals.
- “Best Communication Tools for Remote Teams.” Distributed teams and remote working are more common than ever. This article presents communication tools for remote teams.
- “5 Best Apps for Engineering Collaboration Solutions.” This article explores tools that help to eliminate silos, increase efficiency, and help ensure completion of engineering tasks.
How to Improve Engineering Communication Capabilities
Communication is an essential skill for engineers and highly valued by hiring managers. Engineers interested in improving their skills can take steps to improve their communication competencies. Tips include:
- Enroll in classes or training programs. Engineers can learn how to effectively write documents — from proposals to progress reports — and improve their public speaking skills to deliver presentations to technical and non-technical
- Read books on communication strategies. Engineers can learn about strategies for effective communications, including persuading and informing through writing and speaking.
- Become a member of a professional organization focused on public speaking. Groups such as Toastmasters International help members become confident public speakers. Participants speak in front of groups in meetings and get constructive feedback.
- Join engineering peer organizations. Peer organizations may provide training to develop communication skills and offer valuable networking opportunities. Some engineering organizations include the following:
- American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
- American Institute of Chemical Engineers
- American Society of Civil Engineers
- American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers
- American Society of Mechanical Engineers
- Biomedical Engineering Society
- Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
- National Society of Professional Engineers
- SAE International (previously the Society of Automotive Engineers)
- Society of Plastics Engineers
- Find a mentor. Engineers can reach out to colleagues with exceptional communication skills and ask for their help. Working with a mentor, engineers can set goals and practice making presentations.
- Offer to give extra presentations or write extra reports at work or in the community.
- Know your subject thoroughly. Public speaking should be natural. Speakers need to have a deep understanding of the subject matter. Reading in-depth slides aloud rather than speaking spontaneously can lose an audience’s
- Tell stories. Aim to engage your audience through storytelling, humor, and plain speech.
- Communicate Find your voice and practice it regularly.
- Prepare Anxiety before a presentation is natural, but deep breathing and relaxation techniques can minimize nervousness.
- Take mental notes when listening, and don’t respond until you have a clear understanding of the most vital points.
These tips can help leadership communication:
- Leave communication lines open for employees. Encourage employees to express ideas and complaints.
- Make communication procedures and rules clear. Policies such as prohibiting interruptions or holding questions until a presentation’s end can help meetings flow smoothly.
- Give regular feedback. Continually let team members know how they are performing rather than waiting for a crisis point.
- Give regular updates about goals and visions. Be sure that employees understand a project’s overall vision and the roles they each play in achieving it.
Resources for Improving Communication Skills
The following resources provide tips and insights for improving engineering communication skills.
- “9 Must-Read Books to Make You a Stronger Communicator.” This resource lists books that can help engineers improve their communication skills for conversations, emails, presentations, and more.
- “How to Improve Communication Skills Between Engineers and Customer-Facing Teams.” Built In highlights the importance of sales and engineering teams understanding each other.
- “The Engineering Communication” IEEE published this guide to help engineers at every level in their careers to learn about best practices in engineering communication.
- “Effective Ways to Improve Your Communication Skills as an Engineer.” This article highlights key steps engineers can take to polish their public speaking skills.
- “7 Ways Engineers Can Improve Their Writing Skills.” The ability to write efficiently can affect an engineer’s career trajectory, according to this Society of Women Engineers article.
Take Your Engineering Communication Skills to the Next Level
Engineers drive innovation, improve processes, and solve problems. A well-rounded engineer not only has a deep understanding of engineering and management but can also collaborate well with others, engineers and nonengineers alike. Individuals looking for leadership opportunities can open new doors by developing and polishing their communication skills.