Career Advice

5 Tips for Crystal Clear Communication
Pat Sweet posted on February 01, 2013 |
One of my biggest frustrations at the office is when my colleagues speak in jargonese. Every other word is a TLA (three-letter acronym), use becomes utilize, take advantage of becomes leverage, and everybody at the meeting is smiling and nodding, but does anybody know what anyone else is actually talking about? Is anyone even listening to anyone else? It drives me nuts – despite the fact that I’m guilty of it myself.

So, why does this happen?

The truth is: I’m not sure. I think a big part of the problem is that many engineers and managers turn their outgoing communication – written and spoken – into opportunities to show how brilliant they are. I also think that we tend to be a bit lazy with our communication – we don’t put the effort in that we really should.

That led me to a question: what can engineers do to make sure they’re being understood?

In this post, I’m going to give you five strategies for doing exactly that.

5 Tricks To Get Your Ideas Across

1. Seek first to understand – The first step to making sure you are understood is to understand what’s going on around you first. A brilliant answer to a question that wasn’t asked in the first place is just awkward. Take your time, and make sure you fully understand the context of the conversation and the input that you’re being asked to provide before diving in.

2. Stop using acronyms – This is especially important in meetings. If you don’t know for a fact that everyone knows what you mean by an acronym, just use the real world. Protip: if you don’t know what the acronym means yourself, you probably shouldn’t be using it.

3. Shut up – It’s important to give others a chance to cut in and clarify things along the way. Take a breath every so often. Heck, you could go as far as asking “Are you with me so far?” to make sure you haven’t glossed over anything that really should be better explained.

4. Simple words are better – whenever you have the option, use simple, easily understood terminology. I’m not saying you should use inaccurate words, especially with respect to technical things, but there’s no need to “dress up” your speech or documents. The goal of your communications should be to convey ideas, not to impress with your incredible intellect. 

5. Sum it up – Most of the conversations I have at work tend to be very iterative. There’s always back and forth between my co-workers and I, and it tends to go quite quickly as we close in on a solution or resolution to the discussion. These interactions are highly non-linear. It always helps to sum things up at the end of any conversation to make sure that everyone leaves thinking the same thing. You might be surprised how often two people involved in the same conversation can leave thinking that two totally different decisions were made.

What are your tips?

What kinds of things do you do to make sure your communications are crystal clear? Let us know in the comments section below!

About Pat Sweet

Pat Sweet is a Professional Engineer working in Ontario, Canada. He’s a full-time vehicle engineer focusing on commuter train electrical subsystems and the author behind the Engineering and Leadership blog, where he shares his thoughts and experiences on leadership, productivity, and career advice for engineers. Go to Pat’s blog now to get your free copy of his free career guide –The 7 Habits of a Highly Ineffective Engineer."

Photo Credit: Flickr/ UggBoy

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