Discussion: View Thread


    Posted 05-02-2024 12:57 PM


                               By Les MacLeod, EdD, MPH, FACHE    

    "Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply."     

                                                                                                            -Stephen R. Covey

    The lack of ability of just this one human skill is perhaps responsible for, at the least,

    some 40% or more of engineered projects not meeting their requirements.

    Of course, I may be wrong!



    [1] Physician Leadership Journal, July/Aug, 2016

    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


    Posted 05-03-2024 03:21 PM

    It's a real problem in all of life, Bill. Perhaps it impacts engineering projects' shortfalls but I don't know how to quantify that. The phenomenon does illustrate the need for clearly written (and carefully read) contracts and scopes of work.

    That the cited article appeared in a Physician's publication is ironic, since my experience suggests they are the worst listeners of all.

    Bill Mc

    William McAnally Ph.D., P.E., BC.CE, BC.NE, F.ASCE
    Columbus MS


    Posted 05-08-2024 10:52 AM

    Having studied improv theater in Chicago for a couple of years, I wholeheartedly recommended that every professional, not just engineers, make the effort to take some improv classes for this reason.  Yes, it looks great on a resume because it makes you stand out from the crowd - it's rare I get interviewed and am not asked about it, which leads me into this upcoming speech - and it helps you to develop your listening skills.  People think that improv is a form of comedy, but it's not.  It just often happens to be funny in practice.  But the skills you develop are all about listening to your scene partner and building off of what they said.

    An example I like to give is to imagine you have conceived in your mind, the funniest joke known to mankind and you want to show it off in your improv scene.  The only setup is that the scene has to happen inside of a barbershop for you to be able to dazzle people with your wit and brilliance.  You start the scene up and go over to your partner, signaling to them that you want this to be inside of a barbershop, and say "Good morning Charlie, it'll be the usual for me, just take a little off of the sides."  And your partner says, "Not a problem, just bring the pigs around back and we'll get them carved up in no time."  And now, you're in a meat packing facility.  Your set up and your joke are ruined.  If you still try to stammer it out, it's not funny anymore and you look like the one who hasn't been paying attention and it is you who will ruin the scene.  Does it matter that you have the funniest joke ever?  No, what matters is that you take what your partner has given you and work off of that.  Someone who listens with the intent to understand the scene can play up the irony of treating the workings of a meat-packing facility with the mannerisms of a barbershop.  Someone who listens with the intent to respond either freezes in the moment because what they had intended to say no longer applies, or blurts something out that looks inappropriate to the audience, undermining their perceived credibility.

    The same principle applies in engineering.  If you approach a meeting with the sole intent of telling people what your idea is, you're going to miss the context of everything else going on around you.  It may be the most brilliant design idea ever created, but if you're not working with the other people in the meeting to build on what's being presented, you're going to appear arrogant, out of touch, and selfish.  People want to engage with team players, people want to work with professionals who hear them out.

    Vanessa Rollins P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer
    Willowbrook IL


    Posted 05-09-2024 10:32 AM

    That's an excellent example, Ms. Rollins. I read your assertion about improv with considerable skepticism, but you turned me completely around with the lesson it conveyed. Speaking without listening is dangerous. We must always be prepared to adjust our communication to meet our audience's needs.

    Thanks for a most insightful post.

    Bill Mc

    William McAnally Ph.D., P.E., BC.CE, BC.NE, F.ASCE
    Columbus MS


    Posted 05-13-2024 10:13 AM

    Yes! listening is a superpower!  and beyond that, you need to know that the person you are talking to/working with on a project understood what you said (some quick feedback, like restating what you heard before continuing the "negotiation"). Skill in listening, and finding common ground, as Michael Winkler offered in the internal turf battles thread ("a value proposition for cooperation that appeals to the counterparty"), makes good things happen.

    Sarah Simon P.E., ENV SP, M.ASCE
    Founding Partner
    Ipswich MA


    Posted 05-13-2024 10:13 AM

    Perhaps it is helpful to begin with distinguishing the two ways of receiving information through the ear sensor. Listening is a voluntary effort of making conscious efforts to make sense of the received sound/information. Hearing, on the other hand is an involuntary process. In both the cases, the processes can be supplemented by other sensors (in both augmentative and distracting modes) – like seeing in face-to-face meetings, and through video links.

    • Listening requires focusing or mindful attention to one's received information through the ear sensor. There are even qualifiers attached to listening – like deep and light listening. In official dialogues, conversations and discussions – listening is a requirement and is demanded of the participants. Great mistakes and blunders accrue – when participants are careless and inattentive.

    • Listening is similar like the reading comprehension that we all faced during our school days – that tests one's level of reading cognition. The oral interview is an outright test of one's levels of listening cognition, communication and other talents.

    • One also hears about listening to his or her inner voice – and people call it by different names. It is essentially a mental recursive cognitive process – that tries to justify and re-justify the collected information to filter out some and accept the others.

    • The reality of listening and hearing is such that – while we make all out efforts – we often drift from one to the other. There are many reasons for that. The two important ones are: the speaker (the sound emitter) is an uninteresting and babbling sort without being able to make his or her points across to the audience. When this happens, the listener loses interest and resorts to hearing mode. The other lies on the shoulder of the listener (the sound receiver) – when he or she is not mindful and inattentive, is distracted or is not calm. Thus one often hears such listeners saying: sorry, I didn't get it, could you repeat, please.

    • Here is a saying from one famous actor, Richard Gere (1949 –): . . . As an actor, I manufacture emotions. They're a sense of play. But real life is the same. We're just not aware of it . . . Gere is talking about attentive or mindful emotions that are necessary to connect with other actors' emotions in a scene. If an actor fails to emotionally connect with others – acting becomes dull, a lifeless uttering of the scripts. In real life, such connections are also important – but, then one talks about emptying or getting out of negative emotions or filtering out bad from the good. Such filtration gives one the perfect window of time to reflect and stay calm before acting and reacting.

    • In my opinion – engineers like many other professionals – are, by and large, much better listeners than the rest of the populace. It comes with the sense of responsibility.



    Dr. Dilip K Barua, Ph.D

    Website Links and Profile