ORIGIN: Starting the Conversation

It’s Not Always About The Numbers

03.31.14 by Carrie Johnson
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As engineers, we tend to focus on the calculations and drawings and not on the other aspects of running a successful business.  I think a lot of us go into engineering because doing calculations and solving problems is our comfort zone.  In general, engineers aren’t as comfortable with the human interaction side of our business.  I heard a great joke one time that describes these phenomena.  It goes like this – How do you describe an extroverted engineer?  He looks at your shoes instead of his own whenever he speaks to you.  I actually don’t know many structural engineers who are this introverted, but the generality applies a little, as much as I hate to admit it.

We need to make sure that we have the tools and information to respond to whatever comes our way.  At Wallace Engineering, we’ve started a series of soft skills training sessions and based on the feedback, we plan on doing more of this training.  It really helps everyone – engineers, administrative staff, accounting staff, CAD technicians – feel more comfortable as they develop these skills.

To be a successful structural engineer, you need to be able to communicate daily with a wide variety of professionals – architects, building owners, general contractors, other engineers, etc.  Growth, success, maintaining key relationships, dealing effectively with inevitable conflict all depends on our ability to communicate.  In order to gain and maintain work with clients, we have to be able to successfully communicate our ideas.  Effective communication can vary based on a number of factors.  There are a number of ways that effect how some people communicate with each other – generational differences, background, history.  Although it is invaluable, the increase in the use of email can create problems where none might have existed previously.  Learning how to listen effectively and communicate clearly is more important than ever.  There are, also, ways to maximize the strengths in the differences of people on your team. Learning to recognize what these differences are and how they can be used as strengths is the key.

I also recently attended a conference hosted by the National Council of Structural Engineers Associations, NCSEA, where these concepts were presented to leaders of firms from across the country.  It was fascinating that although we practice in different areas of the country and come from firms ranging in size from a few people to thousands, we all deal with similar issues.

I encourage anyone who is given the opportunity to attend this type of training to give it a try.  It can be invaluable.  One engineer I know who attended a training session on a method of relationship awareness said it was more valuable than all of the technical training he had over his entire career.

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Carrie Johnson, PE, SE


Carrie serves as Chair of the Board on Wallace Engineering’s Board of Directors. She received her Bachelor of Architectural Engineering and Master of Architectural Engineering…

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