As engineers, we’re generally focused on filling our personal skillset with all sorts of technical abilities—new languages, methodologies, and competencies that help us improve the quality and efficiency of our work. I’ve found, however, that I’ve overlooked the important soft skills that are just as instrumental in furthering my career and improving my experience in the workplace. One of these is effective communication; in most job roles our day is filled with interpersonal interactions, and navigating those interactions is a crucial skill to master. While it’s easy to overlook soft skills, taking the time to focus on them can drastically alter the course of a career.
It’s much easier to communicate with someone when you’re on friendly terms; conversations tend to go smoothly when all parties are comfortable around each other. Building friendly relationships with your colleagues will not only improve your communication abilities but also makes work easier and more fun.
The first step is, of course, to be genuinely interested in friendship—people like people that are interested in them. Show that you care about your colleagues and their interests, and it’s exceedingly likely those feelings will be reciprocated. Always greet people with eagerness and enthusiasm, and find commonalities in your interests in and out of the workplace to build rapport. Everyone wants to feel important, and we tend to see ourselves as the center of our own universe. Your interest and sincere attention go a long way.
Smile often. Maintain a positive attitude. These may seem obvious, but mindfulness is essential in our interactions with others, and good communication involves an understanding of how we may come across to others. How you express yourself is an important part of your appearance, and a simple, sincere smile can brighten someone’s day. Refer to people by name in communication; people respond well to the sound of their own name, so using it frequently (but not excessively) is a powerful tool for communication and recognizes someone’s individuality.
Listening is far more effective than talking when building relationships. People view good listeners as excellent conversationalists. Most are far more interested in themselves than they are in other people, so remember to focus conversations on the interest of the other person. Sit back, listen, and ask questions about their interests and their lives.
Be compassionate and honest in your interactions. The flip side of taking ownership in your job is to also understand the people you interact with rather than defaulting to criticism. Give sincere appreciation, and recognize others for their individual strengths rather than zeroing in on what you perceive to be their weaknesses. This will improve your interactions, but will also improve how you perceive others; in turn, this can positively impact how others perceive you.
Once we build positive relationships and good habits into our communications, it also becomes much easier to be convincing and compelling. People are more receptive to receiving advice from friends versus strangers (or worse, enemies). Friendliness is more powerful than fury and force.
Never enter into conflict with the goal of “winning.” Respectful conflict is achievable, but outright arguing can sabotage everyone’s efforts, and telling people they are wrong will generally just make them dig their heels in and resist outright. It’s important to recognize that our own perspective can ultimately prove to be wrong, and even more important to admit as much when it happens. Take the advice of others into consideration and help them come to the correct decisions on their own. We must cultivate in others a drive to do something; try to see things from the other person’s point of view, and talk to them in terms of how they will benefit.
Building discussions by starting on common ground is a great way to get things started. Whereas arguing can get the other person on the defensive, beginning with agreement can make them more receptive to your idea—this was the method of Socrates. Drama can also help to sell your ideas. Facts and data can sometimes be boring and dry; while accuracy is important, adding passion and affectation to your speech can bolster your case.
A challenge is another great way to persuade. If you throw down the gauntlet, people will generally respond by accepting the challenge. Setting lofty goals for others or having them compete is a great way to motivate others to high levels of achievement.
Being an effective leader is a constant effort in persuading others on the merits of your vision. In this sense, creating a foundation and building communications skills prepares and empowers you to be a better leader when the opportunity presents itself.
When discussing the mistakes of others, begin with praise. Start the conversation off with a discussion about something that they did well; then, bring the mistake up indirectly. By making someone aware of their mistake without directly attacking them, you avoid damaging egos, which creates the dissonance that causes people to dig into their position or act rashly. Bringing up your own mistakes can also make criticism sting less. Lastly, make the mistake seem like an easily solvable thing. People can become easily overwhelmed if they believe they have caused a large, intractable problem.
Offer frequent rewards and praise others, even for minor improvements. Build, through public feedback, a positive reputation for your employees to maintain and live up to. If someone is thought of positively, they will not want to lose that standing.
Improving communication will not only make your working life better but will also pay dividends in your personal life. These techniques are instrumental in improving and building relationships of all kinds, in and out of the workplace. Good communication skills will follow you for the rest of your life even as technology moves on and your job description changes. Whatever you’re doing now or in the future will almost certainly require connecting with others, effective communication will help you excel in the workplace and achieve your goals in a positive, collaborative way.