Importance of Communication Skills for Engineers

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Barbara Bradbury TD,MPhil,BSc(Hons), RGN

Managing Director, Halland Solutions

Principles for Effective Communication
Communication is fundamental to all relationships. Poor communication is the most frequently cited cause of discontent within organisations and it would be reasonable to expect that most employers are seeking to appoint people with good communication skills. It is no surprise, then, that people often cite “excellent communication skills” as one of their key qualities on their CV. So, what do we mean by good communication? How do we recognise it, and how do we ensure that we really do have excellent communication skills? Furthermore, why can communication go so badly wrong and what can we do to improve our communication skills? This paper seeks to address these questions and give practical tips and ideas to help each of us improve as communicators. What is the purpose of communication? At its most fundamental level, the aim is to hear and be heard. Whether we are communicating in the written word, verbally, in pictures or through movement, if the message that we wish to convey is altered in any way, we have not communicated our true meaning. This forms the basis of misunderstanding and miscommunication. How and why do these misunderstandings occur? Unfortunately, they happen all too simply, because we interpret meaning from what we see and hear, based on our own experiences. Misunderstandings can occur at any time. We do not always listen carefully to what we are being told, and often do not clarify the meaning of what we are hearing. Instead, we end up putting our own interpretation on the message and our understanding of what we have heard may be very different from the intention of the speaker. The same misunderstandings occur through the written word. We “read between the lines” and jump to conclusions, that may be very different to the intention of the writer. If we don’t check out meaning with the person we are conversing with, small misunderstandings can rapidly lead to deterioration in relationships and escalate to major fall-outs. So how can we avoid breakdown in relationships due to poor communication? A good starting point is to apply some basic principles of general communication, whenever we are communicating with another person. We build relationships by communicating with people. The start of any relationship occurs with our first communication. It could come in a face-to-face meeting, a virtual introduction by a mutual acquaintance via e-mail, or a chance meeting on-line. It may start by reading about someone in a newspaper, or an article or book that they have published. We might see a work of art, such as a photograph, painting, wood carving or piece of pottery. It could be the designer of the clothes we are wearing. However we “meet” the person, whenever that first introduction is made, our relationship begins.

The Principles Trustworthiness
Effective relationships are built on trust and, with respect to communication, trust that both parties are applying the same principles. Without a sense of trust, it may be difficult to really engage in meaningful communication. If I say something to someone in confidence, I need to trust them to keep that 1 Barbara Bradbury www.hallandsolutions.com November 2011

confidence. If someone asks me a question, I trust that my answer is being listened to and that I am being heard. If I am asked for my opinion, I need to trust that my opinion is believed to be as valid as the next person’s. I need to feel safe to speak honestly. I need to trust that my questions will be received as I intend them to be and that I will not be judged as ill-informed or stupid; that I am seeking understanding in order to learn. I need to trust that I am not being judged for my opinions or for whom I am; that the difference I bring to a discussion is as valid and valuable as the next. I need to trust that people will ask me to clarify my words, and not jump to their...
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