Engineers get hired at the beginning of their careers for their technical expertise. After they have proven their ability, the next logical step is a promotion to management. However, engineers do not necessarily have the skills to manage. The skill-set required for both jobs is different, yet companies expect engineers, and other science professionals, to navigate and succeed in unfamiliar and unpredictable terrain. Kettering University Online understands this and weaves concepts of various soft skills throughout each of its courses to prepare learners for a wide range of possibilities. Through discussions, assignments, and group work, the following six most-needed soft skills for engineers are introduced and reinforced.
1. Emotional Intelligence
Many corporate leaders agree that it is easier to teach a person technical skills than it is to teach the skills contributing to emotional intelligence. “Emotional intelligence is your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others, and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships” (Bradberry & Greaves, 2009, p. 17). Much like all soft skills, the more you build your emotional intelligence, the more successful your professional and personal relationships tend to be.
2. Verbal and Nonverbal Communication
When verbal and nonverbal messages are not congruent, they are called mixed messages. When this happens, people typically place more weight on the nonverbal message than the verbal one. So for example, if someone shouts “I’m not angry” while banging on a desk, then you have experienced two things: a mixed message and an angry person! It is important in your professional and personal life to be aware of both your intentional (verbal) and unintentional (nonverbal) messages as each one can contain a different meaning. Effective communicators do their best to make sure the messages they send are congruent. Nonverbal communication should support the verbal message, not contradict it.
3. Listening Skills
People are not born with either good or bad listening skills. Listening, much like any skill, is a learned and practiced behavior. When people put effort into listening well, they often find that their relationships function more smoothly. Pseudo-listening is when you act like you are listening but are not. Giving friends, families, co-workers, and certainly managers your undivided attention while they speak takes practice. Instead of planning what you will say next, keep focus on the message at hand. While you are listening, also keep an eye on the speaker’s nonverbal messages.
4. Flexibility and Ambiguity
Professionals in the field of science, technology, engineering, and math deal with exact information. There is no gray area. They possess certain technical skills and solve many different types of technical problems. Managing people, though, calls for the ability to be flexible and also comfortable with ambiguity. People are not machines or software programs; emotions come into play, behaviors arise that may be difficult to interpret, and there may not be an immediate solution. Effective leaders demonstrate flexibility and adaptability when managing relationships with managers, co-workers, and employees. This, too, takes practice.
5. Conflict Negotiation
Many people have an uneasy relationship with negotiating conflict. Time is better spent figuring out how you can best manage conflict instead of thinking of ways to avoid it. Conflict, in and of itself, is not functional or dysfunctional. Conflict is value neutral. How a conflict is handled is what becomes either functional or dysfunctional. Those who are successful at conflict negotiation understand that, in most cases, it is better to be empathetic instead of defensive, assertive instead of aggressive or passive, and open to a mutually satisfying resolution.
6. Leadership and Self Reflection
The most important part of developing these kinds of skills is the ability to be self-reflective. Setting regular time aside to think or maybe journal answers to the following questions can be a good first step in getting ready for a new management or leadership role. If you are unsure about some of these answers, ask your friends, family, or coworkers about how they perceive you.
- Do my verbal messages and nonverbal messages align?
- Do people seem confused after I speak?
- Am I a good listener?
- How do I show people that I am genuinely listening to what they say?
- Do I focus on the speaker’s message, or what is going on around me in the room?
- How flexible am I? Am I rigid in my thinking or my expectations?
- Am I adaptable? How easily do I adapt when something does not go according to plan?
- What do I think of conflict? Do I embrace it and how, or do I avoid it and how?
- How do I approach people about conflict? Am I direct, or do I drop hints?
- How do I define good leadership?
- Do I have the skill-set necessary to be a good leader?
- Am I committed to learning new skill sets in order to be a good leader?
Great leaders become reflective leaders as it is the only way to increase awareness about yourself and others. Reflecting on your actions, and the thoughts, feelings, and motivations, teaches a personal aspect of continuous improvement and affords the opportunity to become a better leader, employee, and person.
Getting your engineering management degree online at Kettering University distinguishes you from others in myriad ways. The Engineering Management master’s degree provides the theory and application of technical skills as well as delivers the holistic leadership, communication and soft skills necessary to manage a high-technology, cross-disciplinary team. Better yet, it provides an opportunity to become a better you!
Bradberry, T., & Greaves, J. (2009) Emotional intelligence 2.0. San Diego, CA. TalentSmart.