Discussion Thread

Effective Communication with Supervisors

  • 1.  Effective Communication with Supervisors

    Posted 09-17-2020 08:20 AM
    As a young engineer, communication and asking questions are highly prioritized. Often times when approaching my supervisor and coworkers I feel that I am bothering them or that I caught them unprepared (even if they insist I am not).

    Now that many companies have moved to work online communication is more important than ever.

    I wanted to know if entry/associate professionals can share what methods they use to effectively communicate?
    Can the supervisors and managers share what steps junior engineers, like myself, can help take to communicate more effectively?

    Looking forward to hearing from everyone!

    Daniel Bressler EIT, A.M.ASCE
    Junior Engineer
    Brooklyn NY

  • 2.  RE: Effective Communication with Supervisors

    Posted 09-17-2020 12:03 PM
    Ask questions!  You are not a bother to your supervisor, you are working under them as a responsible charge.  However, there are somethings you need to check before you ask your question:

    - Can you get an answer from google faster and is the question common knowledge?  Will a peer know off hand first?

    - Did you keep your college textbooks?  If it's something you are expected to know from college, go back to your books and notes first.

    - Can you condense your questions into one that is specific to moving ahead with your work?

    - Prepare a possible answer or solution for the supervisor to consider.

    If you feel that you are still being a bother, rephrase your question to your supervisor: "Do you have a source, example, or additional data available that you can refer to in your work?"  This way you are not asking for anything, only a resource to figure it out on your own.

    Supervisors value initiative!  That doesn't mean don't feel free to ask questions, just spend sometime formulating them.

    Chad Morrison P.E., M.ASCE
    Professional Engineer
    Greenville RI

  • 3.  RE: Effective Communication with Supervisors

    Posted 09-18-2020 09:59 AM
    Hi Daniel,

    Great question! Communication is so important.

    Even before COVID, I was working from home a couple days a week and, even if in the office, my boss was located 200 miles away - so I was pretty much always remote! I find that it is important to be specific in your communication. If someone else gives you a vague response, ask for clarification. Often times I will respond with, "Just to clarify, you said ---, correct?"

    Earlier this year I transitioned into a project management position and now I have other people working on projects for me. From a manager's point of view, I have 2 tips:

    1. If you find yourself getting stuck in a particular task, please reach out and ask for help! Especially when everyone is working remotely, it's easy for a PM to think that everything is going well. I would rather have someone reach out to me for help than waste half a day trying to figure something out on their own.

    2. It's great to get status updates as you complete smaller tasks on a project. If you are in an entry level position or are working on something less familiar to you, then it can be a good idea to let the PM know that you have completed a task. Then they have the option of taking a quick glance at an early stage, and possibly catching an error early on.

    3. If you have a lot of questions, consider compiling them into a single email - or maybe schedule a phone call to discuss them. Your supervisor likely has work to complete as well, so getting email after email with small questions can be a bit distracting. You can also consider sending your supervisor a list of assumptions for a particular task if you are concerned about whether you are setting things up correctly.

    Ultimately, you might want to ask your supervisor if they have a preferred communication system. They might want you to check in more or less often.

    Kelly Farabee P.E., P.T.O.E., M.ASCE
    Project Manager
    President, ASCE Savannah Branch
    Savannah, GA

  • 4.  RE: Effective Communication with Supervisors

    Posted 09-22-2020 11:41 AM
    To add to @Chad Morrison, "Prepare a possible answer or solution for the supervisor to consider." ​is something that I also recommend.

    References are a good way to give a concrete example of this. Even something like 'Hey based on the task you have given me to run analysis in ABLRFD for all four wingwalls, I am using PennDOT Design Manual Part 4, Part B, April 2015 Edition for calculating the Back Water Level and getting X.XX feet for all wingwalls using DM-4 3.11.3. Is this the correct process before I go into adding this into ABLRFD and running the program for all four wingwalls?' It shows that you are making an effort rather than "Hey, how do I go about calculating the Back Water Level for this task?"

    Danielle Schroeder EIT, A.M.ASCE (She/her)
    Associate Engineer
    Pennoni Associates
    Philadelphia PA

  • 5.  RE: Effective Communication with Supervisors

    Posted 09-18-2020 10:00 AM
    I agree with Chad Morrison and to add to it: Your supervisor may actually be busy, but not busy enough to mentor and inspire his/her staff.  In my experience, I encourage my guys to take a legitimate stab (as Chad describes) at the problem at hand, and depending on the task if they're still 'spinning' on it after a certain amount of time, then come to me (or someone else with more experience in the office - we're multi-disciplinary) and ask for a quick chat.  It might not be a good time at the given moment of your question, but that person should be able to circle back around to you shortly to resolve whatever issue it is.  If not, and its affecting work flow, then be respectfully persistent until you get the guidance you need to do your job.

    Architects and engineers within your organization should be more than willing and happy to assist younger staff with project quandaries as proper and supportive guidance now will propagate better efficiency and more thorough knowledge moving forward.

    Keep in mind, whatever your asking about, you do need to be a good listener to the person answering your question (maybe bring a note pad to jot down notes in response to your questions).  In most cases, there is an expectation that if your looking for guidance, you should be implementing that guidance.  Basically, if you make a mistake, and get guided on how to not do that again, then professionally, you really shouldn't be making that mistake yourself again.

    Trae Livick P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer
    Roanoke VA

  • 6.  RE: Effective Communication with Supervisors

    Posted 09-19-2020 10:26 AM
    Great questin Daniel!

    I would definitely prepare as much information as possible in the email asking for help. Often time when I recreated some errors, I ended up finding out the solution. If not, I would have a good log for my supervisor to look through and give suggestions. Sending email before meeting would save everyone's time

    Tung Nguyen, PhD
    Water Resources Engineer
    Sacramento, CA

  • 7.  RE: Effective Communication with Supervisors

    Posted 09-20-2020 11:45 AM
    I am glad you asked this question, as I am sure many other engineers starting their careers have the same question.

    I was very fortunate to have a great boss early in my career, who taught me a lot of things that I still carry with me to this day. One of them was "Don't bring me a problem without a solution." This taught me a few things with how to interact with my boss at the time. It taught me that my boss's time is valuable, and that he wanted to use his time doing what he was best at; making decisions. He wanted me to explain my issue, and then lay out options on how to solve or mitigate that problem, and which one I supported. This also taught me to think one step ahead. Before, I would could across a problem, get stuck or didn't know what to do, and then ask for help. Afterwards, when I came across a problem where I was stuck, I would think about the information my boss needed before bringing it to him. Now I was analyzing the problem and thinking of ways on my own that could be possible solutions. I started thinking about what resources I had available to me and how long possible solutions would take. My boss was teaching me how to become a better decision maker and to think more like him. This helped our communication tremendously. I was no longer "bothering" him anytime I hit a problem, but was bringing him relevant information to make an informed decision on, to keep projects and our work running smoothly. What my boss did was give me greater responsibility to my own problems. He wanted me to identify the problem, identify the cause of the problem, and identify ways to solve or mitigate that problem, all on my own, before bringing it to him. So when I did go to my boss with a problem, he knew that I had gone through these steps, and that it was something that he needed to provide input on to keep the work moving forward. So rather than being mildly annoyed that I was coming to him with another problem, he would give me his full attention and would give me a decision on what solution to implement right away. This way, I was no longer wasting his time, but was efficiently giving him information to make a decision on. It also built up trust between us. The more times he saw me thinking through my problems, the more he would trust my recommended solution. He often asked me "If you were me, what would you do? What decision would you make?" This made me think of how my work fit into the overall project or goal. It made me think more "bigger picture".

    I know that is a specific example, that may not apply to everyone's situation, but I think the main point is to provide your boss with the information that they need to do their job.

    Doug Cantrell P.E., M.ASCE
    Professional Engineer
    Durham NC

  • 8.  RE: Effective Communication with Supervisors

    Posted 09-21-2020 10:14 AM
    Another important thing very early on is to frame your communication in a way that you aren't just seeking an answer to this very specific situation.

    For example,  if you need guidance on whether to use a cut in tee, use a taping sleeve, or use a taping saddle for a waterline connection:
    - don't just ask "which of these 3 connection options do you want me to use?"
    - do ask, "how do we determine which type of connection to use?"

    The first question only tells you what you need for this project.  The second question gives you the tools to approach other projects as well.
    Then, you can (as recommended by others already in this thread) go in the next time with your solution and get a quick confirmation.

    My other piece of advice is to bounce potential solutions off of other EIs and young PEs. Maybe they already had this situation arise.  If not, maybe working together you can refine your options before going to a supervisor. You may even solve the problem by talking it out and not even need to seek further assistance.

    Heidi Wallace EI,P.E.,M.ASCE
    Tulsa OK

  • 9.  RE: Effective Communication with Supervisors

    Posted 09-28-2020 01:04 PM
    Dear Daniel,
    Today we find that the world is stronger in virtual communication, it seems that people who have the ability to introduce themselves in cyberspace will be more successful in the future.
    Of course, the validity of this statement is very difficult and requires the development of precise protocols.
    I suggest using face-to-face online communication systems to introduce yourself and when presenting content, try to fully identify the ratio of this content with your capabilities to the other party. In this regard, you can be sure that you will succeed by using some body language processes as a spice of conversation.
    Finally, I hope you find your favorite job position as soon as possible.

    Reza Mokarramaydenlou, Ph.D., C.Eng, P.E., S.E., M.ASCE
    Structural Engineering and Seismic rehabilitation Consultant
    Author of the book in Elsevier

  • 10.  RE: Effective Communication with Supervisors

    Posted 09-28-2020 03:56 PM

     I will share a couple of things I learned during my journey and a couple of things I have seen in people who come with questions to me:

    1.) When you are fresh out of college you have more liberty in asking questions. You can ask the silliest of questions to your supervisors and co-workers,  but when you have a few years of experience you are supposed to know some things already. So don't hesitate when you have any doubts, the longer you keep them the more difficult it becomes to clear them.
    2.) Do your homework. A lot of the work that we do is now very well documented in terms of practises and publications and we also  have tons of  online resources at our  disposal,, so when you are faced with a problem try to solve it yourself, there is no bigger joy than that. If you are still not able to get around it, then at the very least you will be able to ask more direct and precise questions, since you have already dug around a little
    3.) Try to sneak in when you boss is having a cup of tea or when he is in a more relaxed state, use it occasionally.
    4.) Don't shy from putting in extra hours initially, the more you invest in yourself during the first few years the higher dividend it will give in the later few years.
    5.) From a technical point of view I have found that the most informative and easy to understand portion of the codes is the commentary. If you are facing some technical difficulties spend your time reading the codal commentaries of AISC. ASCE, ACI , API , PIP etc other practices. These go way beyond the bounds of the code itself and have lots of great research insights. Read them like a novel.
    6.) Always take interest in the work of your team mates. Just observing what the other person is doing and taking interest in his work can allow you to learn much more than what you would by just focusing on your own deliverables.

    All the very Best!

    Mandeep Singh Kohli CP, M.ASCE
    Senior Engineer

  • 11.  RE: Effective Communication with Supervisors

    Posted 10-22-2020 05:12 PM
      |   view attached

    Thursday, October 22, 2020

    Effective Communication with Supervisors.

    Hi Daniel, thanks for the subject and clarity of your questions.

    My response for your consideration includes and goes beyond "Methods for clear and acceptable questions within the engineering workplace." And as such, it is not limited to engineers early in their career.

    I am delighted to see you, early in your career, intuitively knowing that BEFORE you move onto an issue, you wish to know that those you speak with receive the intended question or statement efficiently and effectively.

     So, my first comment is to ask you to never again use only one of these "E" words in a sentence.

                             Efficient  X  Effective = Productivity.

     They, together, state what you are to do and how it will be done.


    ·       Language in Thought and Action: Fifth Edition[1]

    S.I. Hayakawa (Author), Alan R. Hayakawa (Author)

    What is meant by level of abstraction?

    The amount of complexity by which a system is viewed or programmed. The higher the level, the less detail. The lower the level, the more detail. The highest level of abstraction is the entire system. ... See abstraction layer.


    ·       Reflection 1 of 2

    In my experiences within engineering firms in the US, Canada, Japan, Philippines, Seoul, Oporto, Budapest, and Mexico, given about 70% of engineers are introverts, if you wait for the department head, project manager, and other supervisors to initiate open-ended questions at project startup, that project has already begun losing time, budget, and will probably require re-work later in the schedule. It is because they are ignorant, i.e., "not knowing," due to antiquated university engineering curriculum as to "How to play nice with others."

     Our students are told what to do and how to do it as to the technical tasks, but almost nothing instructional about what and how to cooperate, collaborate, and communicate with other people . . .here, and abroad.

    ·       Reflection 2 of 2

    At an international conference just south of Mexico City, Mexico, I participated in a few ways:

    a.     Presented a half-day seminar on " Quality Management by Design™."

    b.     A member of a working group of professionals discussing the implications of the then-emerging ISO9000 standard.

    c.      Attended an open session for all invited papers

    It was during this open session where I learned to always be "Nice Always & Smile" to interpreters when the speaker presenting required their support during their presentation.

    So, up comes a technical presenter who turned out to be from Germany, had been living in the Mexico City area for over 17 years, and asked for his speech to be translated into Mexican language. He delivered this request curtly and spoke to the interpreter harshly when doing this.

    Anyway, about 15 minutes into his talk the entire audience of about 330 attendees from at least 14 countries spontaneously broke out into laughter. Once it died down, he completed his talk.

    As I normally sit at the rear of the hall for 'early exits,' that was right in front of the interpreters. So, I asked one, "Why did the laughter break out?" She said that the speaker said, "You have to, at times, just rely on your gut instinct to make a decision."

    What the interpreter said to all was "You have to, at times, just rely on your bowels instinct to make a decision."

    Caveat Emptor!

    Stay Healthy!






    [1] Strongly recommend you read this first, and then setup a chat-time with your colleagues to discuss its implications in project/task life at work.

    William M. Hayden Jr., Ph.D., P.E., CMQ/OE, F.ASCE
    Buffalo, N.Y.

    "It is never too late to be what you might have been." -- George Eliot 1819 - 1880


    Attachment - Daniel.docx   45 KB 1 version

  • 12.  RE: Effective Communication with Supervisors

    Posted 10-23-2020 09:41 AM

    If we are going to nitpick semantics, I highly recommend saying "Spanish" or the proper name of a native language instead of "Mexican language."
    Understanding other cultures is another key to productive communication.

    As someone that has interpreted a live presentation, I think it is an overreach to assume the translation of "gut" to the equivalent of "bowel" was intentional or wouldn't have happened if the speaker had been more friendly. It is incredibly challenging to listen in one language and speak in another, especially since the order of the words can vary greatly.

    Heidi Wallace EI,P.E.,M.ASCE
    Tulsa OK

  • 13.  RE: Effective Communication with Supervisors

    Posted 10-23-2020 12:17 PM

    Dear Heidi, thanks for reminding all of us about critical sociocultural language issues.

    Perhaps the following might reassure you of what my notes were meant to highlight within the specific environment noted.

    But first, a brief quiz.

    1. What is the label for one who speaks two languages well?


    1. And speaks three languages well?


    1. And speaks one language well?



    • "proper name of a native language instead of "Mexican language." 

    For some years I was part of the Mexican Society of Quality, IMMECA.

    Jose Gonzales, exec director, and his staff worked closely with me for their annual Quality Conferences held within Mexico. They have since disbanded.

     I enjoyed the privilege of sharing what I could to folks who never once corrected colleagues by insisting they identify their proper name for their language or related speech. We, each and all, if we had yet to learn each other's name, would say "You know, the guy (or gal) from Chile, Spain, Manila, New York, etc., etc., etc."


    • "Understanding other cultures is another key to productive communication. "

    Well, if you have a moment, some of the information I sent Daniel on related topics supports your reminder.

    • "I think it is an overreach to assume the translation of "gut" to the equivalent of "bowel" was intentional or wouldn't have happened if the speaker had been more friendly."

    Now here Heidi you may have been academically "Right on" except for what I explained.

    I was right there, in person, sitting where I could see, listen and understand this specific example why not first building a friendly relationship particularly across cultures may result in an undesired result.

    Right after this incident, the group went to "Break" and this lesson was understood.

     Stay Healthy!


    p.s. As I am aware of the time and effort you contribute to raise the knowledge of non-engineering subjects, please consider leading the formation of ASCE Sections doing small-group study and discussions on the above and related issues.

    William M. Hayden Jr., Ph.D., P.E., CMQ/OE, F.ASCE
    Buffalo, N.Y.

    "It is never too late to be what you might have been." -- George Eliot 1819 - 1880

  • 14.  RE: Effective Communication with Supervisors

    Posted 10-26-2020 10:12 AM
    My point was that there is no such thing as "Mexican language" in the same way we don't speak "United States of American." They speak Spanish. As in the US, there are some native languages spoken as well, but none are "Mexican."

    Along those same lines, many people in Latin America are frustrated when we call ourselves "American" meaning "one from the USA" when asked where we are are from. The difficulty with this is that we don't have a word for "United Statesian" like there is in Spanish. It is understandable, though, since anyone from Canada down to Argentina is an "American."

    To continue in productive communication without creating an unnecessary barrier or feeding an assumption that we think we are more important than anyone else, we can simply reply with "I am from the United States."

    I try to say I am from Oklahoma in the United States, but I also communicate to friends that we don't have an English equivalent of "estadounidense," so most people aren't trying to discount that others are also Americans. Increasing understanding on both sides can go a long way.

    It seems to me that if you are going to chastise members for not following your rules for communication (never saying "positive" or saying "efficient" without "effective"), you could bear in mind these items that impact such a large and diverse community.

    I understand that no one in your group ever corrected anyone, but that doesn't mean there isn't something to consider.
    I've been studying Spanish and Latin American culture since 2006, and I am currently enrolled in grad school in a university in Mexico. I've heard these items brought up by people across age ranges and across multiple countries.

    To tie this back into Daniel's original question, if someone has a supervisor from another culture, it would be good to have an open conversation around expectations regarding communication. I know in college we had some breakdowns happen between professors and students with different cultural expectations of what the professor-student interaction should look like. Until those expectations were brought to light, both sides were frustrated.

    Heidi Wallace EI,P.E.,M.ASCE
    Tulsa OK

  • 15.  RE: Effective Communication with Supervisors

    Posted 10-30-2020 01:00 PM
    • Heidi, some issues you noted included:
    1. "if you are going to chastise members for not following your rules. . . "

    IMHO, providing clear straight talk based on education, training and development to another who may not yet studied the issue is neither a chastisement nor "Hayden's Rule!"

    It is my attempt to share what I have learned . . .rarely from university. . . to "Raise the boats" within and throughout our profession.

    1. "I've been studying Spanish and Latin American culture since 2006, and I am currently enrolled in grad school in a university in Mexico. I've heard these items brought up by people across age ranges and across multiple countries."

    Perhaps you are already doing or have plans to lead an initiative within ASCE Sections to plan, organize, and deliver specific foreign language continuing education sections. With all possible respect to our engineers, I think currently, as you so assertively note, we need to move these topics into our engineering portfolio.

    Stay Healthy!



    William M. Hayden Jr., Ph.D., P.E., CMQ/OE, F.ASCE
    Buffalo, N.Y.

    "It is never too late to be what you might have been." -- George Eliot 1819 - 1880

  • 16.  RE: Effective Communication with Supervisors

    Posted 01-15-2021 10:14 AM