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!

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

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

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    Kelly Farabee P.E., P.T.O.E., M.ASCE
    Project Manager
    President, ASCE Savannah Branch
    Savannah, GA
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  • 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." ‚Äčis 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?"

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

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


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    Tung Nguyen, PhD
    Water Resources Engineer
    Sacramento, CA
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  • 7.  RE: Effective Communication with Supervisors

    Posted 09-20-2020 11:45 AM
    Daniel,
    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.

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