How to communicate as an engineer

Quite often I see people communicating in the wrong way, that may be on purpose or as I know in most of the cases simply because they don't know how they can do it better or in which way they should do it. That said I want to share what I learned in my career and helped me a lot to do it better.

Published on October 03, 2021

communication engineering work lessonlearned

8 min READ


At first you may know that from your workplace or your past: People do talk in meetings, they write mails or they chat with you and suddenly you think What the ....?. I know sometimes it may not be the intention of people but most people I have seen are pretty bad in communication and that leads to problems. The problems can be very different starting from not talking anymore throughout anger, screaming etc. Let’s hope at least no fight ;) To stop that for my self I try to follow some simple steps while talking or writing. On the other hand I also do try to apply similar approaches while listening to someone or reading someones messages. I think it makes sense to write about it because it is also one of the key reasons why this blog or website even started. Also I want to mention that I’m not a professional on this topic and not even somebody that studied or read lots of books about it, I simply want to share how I approach it and what I learned.

How does communication work?

So most people did at some point hear about the concept of Sender and Receiver while communication, and also that its mostly bi-directional so even if you are not talking and just listening e.g. beeing the Receiver you still do communicate back in different forms either by mimic, by sounds or just not writing back in chat even if you can’t see someone etc. it is a form of communication. And that is also what people need to understand you will always have bi-directional communication except you maybe receive a mail, but even then if you never answer that is a form of communication because you tell the otherone I don't want to answer.

If you understood that then you already have 70% solved and know that you should take care about your self while listeing as well ;)

I oversimplified a lot but if you are interested to read more I think wikipedia will guide you to the correct sources Models of Communication Not that wikipedia would be my source here, I had some trainings and other learnings in the past and for me it made sense to link to some resources for people interested to find out more.

What are the actual problems?

Let’s step into more concrete problems you may face and then later see how we can solve them or at least make them better. Sometimes you do read messages or even write messages and people get angry but the intention was the complete opposite. So why’s that? The simple answer is people are sometimes not able to express what they want in a proper and friendly way, that is because they may not be a native speaker, the receiver may not be good in the language used or the set of words is limited. For me personally I do work in environments where everybody speaks english but that doesn’t mean everybody is on an equal level speaking the language. Having said that you can guess that some things may sound very unfriendly to some people even though the writer may be really friendly in that moment but just limited with his speaking or writing skills.
Another problem is not about the language itself it is more about the audience for example if you are an engineer like I’m then you may talk in a technical language with your coworkers, but if you do so in the same way to let’s say marketing people they will either not understand you or take something away from the conversation that may not be true or you don’t want them to take away. That is the second problem I often see and people should be clear about that people listening or reading may have a different background and may not understand what you have been telling them and a lot of times people are afraid to ask.
The third point I do see happening is the point of detail in communication e.g. sometimes people do express things very long, complex or even talk about unnecessary things this brings people to the point that they stop listening or reading, which is the worst because here the direct communication has ended and in a lot of cases people spent time again at another point to get the rest of information that may have been provided after they stopped listening.

What can we do to solve it?

And now the gamechanger ;) I followed some simple principles in the past years when it comes to communication, that helped me a lot to not have such conflicts and situations so lets list them and then do explain them a little bit more.

Before you speak or before you write and especially before you sent a message think about it/read it again once or in the beginning twice. Focus on how would other people understand this? Would they understand me? Do they understand the problem? Do they have enough knowledge to understand? That is going to help you reflecting towards the audience how they will feel about it or how they will react about it. Let’s do a simple example: I can not implement that text in screen X vs. In Screen X (http://example.url) is a headline which we need to present but I'm unable to implement it because the text may be to long in different languages Can you spot the difference? At least I hope so, this was of course a quite simple example but it should teach you something. Instead of simply telling you can’t do something you do give the audience some context by describing exactly which text at which point in which screen and most important why it is not possible. Of course in this case I assumed that it is a message going to be read by a group of technical people or at least people that know the overall context.

If you think about the audience it is also quite often good to limit the amount of information you do provide, for example a CEO might not be interested in the exact details why something may not work. In that case you rather need to explain something is not working because X and in the same time if you have a solution provide it. If you want to convince right away you may give it a forcast how long it may take and/or how its going to look like. Maybe with a screenshot/picture etc. visual things do really help people to understand better. Important is also the more detail you add to something the more questions you may get back. Don’t get me wrong you should not hide problems etc. but to get to the point and have proper discussions it’s good to discuss on a higher level because the more detail there is the more likely it will be that more and more people want to take part in the discussion and the more likely it is that the discussion drifts away from your original request.

Also try to limit the audience to people involved or important e.g. don’t put your whole department on a mail if only you and your product owner may be important ;)

One little thing also happening often is that people take things for granted even you may not be sure. But if so then you should state this and make it really clear e.g. If I remember correctly... or Please correct me if I'm wrong... it all helps to make clear that you know something but you are not a 100% sure which will be okay in most of the scenarios I know because you want to get some confirmation or to help others getting reminded with that.

Last but not least if you have not enough words to express something in short then try to make clear what you mean by describing it around or ask somebody else to read what you want to write or ask them for there opinion :) That is anyways a real good approach in the beginning to practice you can give your texts for example to someone who is more experienced and ask how they understand it or if they even do understand.

Let’s summarize it for the fast readers:

  • Check the audience
    • Am I writing to the right people?
    • Is it too many people?
    • Do they understand “my” language? E.g. technical vs. non-technical
  • If you are not sure about something mention it
  • Let somebody more experienced read your messages first
  • Do read your own messages again/Think again what you want to say first
  • Add enough detail but at the same time leave out unimportant things to keep the conversation focused
  • If possible visualize what you mean
  • Be friendly

Having said all that I hope it can help you! As mentioned before I may be wrong in some things or some cases of course but writing all the possibilities down is way too much effort and I wanted to give a simple hands on guide that people can adopt and practice with. If something does not work for you that is all fine it is mainly about getting a clear picture how you communicate and how you can get better.

Cheers Domi :)