Jaco Friedrich MSc., 10 November 2020
An engineer asks:
I have been working as a chief design engineer for many years. However, I am regularly told that I need to communicate better. By now, I’ve gotten to the point where I want to make some improvements, but what exactly do they mean by “communicate better” and how do I do that?
The communication trainer answers:
Good communication skills are necessary to work well together in complex projects. Basically, it’s about knowing how to give a message and knowing how to properly receive the information someone else gives you. The necessary condition for this to succeed is contact between sender and receiver.
Contact is established by paying attention to the person you are talking to. You will therefore have to show interest in the other person. When the other person also pays attention to you, the contact is established. Compare it with calling a colleague. The moment the connection is there and the line is noiseless, you can start discussing things.
By actively listening, you ensure that you understand the other person’s message. You do this by applying: listening, summarizing and asking follow-up questions. Listening means paying attention to the other person. You summarize by saying, for example, “Okay, I understand that …” or “Okay, I hear you say this and that, is that correct?’’ The other person hears what you have learned and receives confirmation that you have understood correctly, or he has the opportunity to make some corrections or adjust the level of his explanation to the level of your understanding. In both cases this is pleasant for the one who is telling and creates clarity.
When sending your message, it is important to be as concrete as possible. Quantify where you can. This always makes your story better. Tune your story to the level of understanding and focus of the other person. What does the other person want to know? Probably your project manager is primarily interested in the schedule, risks or costs and less in technical details. The sales manager is probably more interested in the consequences for his customer than in the problem itself. You can estimate this beforehand and take it into account in your story.
'The game of sending and receiving rarely runs smoothly'
But now the most important thing. The game of sending and receiving rarely runs smoothly. Simply because we all have our own frame of reference and so we don’t understand each other right away. It is therefore extremely important that you pay attention at all times to whether your message is getting through and that you react if it is not.
You notice that your message is getting through when the other person is paying attention to your story and maybe nods in agreement from time to time. However, if the other person suddenly changes position, frowns or starts to say something, this could be a sign that your message is not going down well. It could be that the other person doesn’t understand something, has an interesting association or disagrees. You don’t know until you check.
And so the latter is what you should do. Continuing with your own story while the other person wanders off in their own thoughts accomplishes little. The moment you notice that something is happening with the other person’s attention, the communication turns one hundred and eighty degrees and you switch from sending to receiving. You ask: ‘’I see you frowning, tell …’’ or ‘’You want to say something, tell …’’. In this way, the communication oscillates back and forth and you quickly come to clarity.
Should you immediately stop your story with every muscle that leaves the other person? No, but it is recommended to always remain aware of the other person’s reaction to your story while you are telling it. Check it at least every so often by asking, “How does it sound so far?’’ In that way, you invite the recipient of your message to respond and you get feedback on how your story has arrived.