In today’s environment, the importance of effective communication skills in influencing others with technical expertise and in becoming a leader cannot be understated.
For individual engineers, having strong abilities in this area will help to convey important information in a manner which is well received by others and to maintain positive relationships with clients, superiors, colleagues, suppliers and contractors as well as subordinates and employees.
At a corporate level, communication which is clear, effective and open helps to improve productivity and morale whilst strengthening relationships with clients and external parties.
In order to communicate effectively, however, it is important to understand the different behavioral styles and how these impact the way in which various types of people think, feel and respond to given situations.
According to Dr Tim Kannegieter, a communication specialist and facilitator of the one-day Analysing and Improving Communication workshop at Engineering Education Australia, these are commonly broken down into four broad classifications: Dominance (D), Influencer (I), Compliance (C) and Steadiness (S).
Kannegieter says those of different temperaments tend to exhibit varying types of character traits. Dominant people, for example, are goal oriented and often adopt a direct approach to communication. Influencers, meanwhile, typically have an outgoing nature and exhibit a strong sense of enthusiasm, optimism and are good persuaders.
Kannegieter said the two main behavioural styles commonly observed in engineers are compliance (C) and steadiness (S) personality types. C types are detailed and task oriented, with strong analytical ability and exhibit high degrees of accuracy, precision, conscientiousness and methodical approaches. While S types are known for being reliable, methodical and strongly team oriented.
These are great characteristics for engineers to have. However, when it comes to communication, Kannegieter said that engineers often wrongly assume that everyone else should think and communicate like they do.
“After all, why wouldn’t you think logically all of the time?" Kannegieter said. "Unfortunately, not everyone else behaves that way."
Understanding the behaviour and natural styles of others can enable engineers to adapt their own communication styles to best suit those with whom they are communicating. For example, C types are naturally inclined to include copious amounts of detail when talking to others, to explain and justify their position. However, this is usually not the best approach when dealing with a D type person, who prefers communication to be short, sharp and to the point.
When dealing with D oriented people, a better approach might be to talk only briefly about the main point first up and to give further detail only when questions are asked.
In addition, given that many C oriented people are often driven by the need for things to be correct, it may be best to avoid the temptation of correcting D types on minor points of detail unless this is absolutely necessary.
In another example, I types enjoy small talk and social situations, which is usually the opposite of what C types like. Therfore, in contrast with D type encounters, Kannegieter says C types should avoid coming straight to the point with I types and allow for some time to engage in 'pleasant' conversation before raising serious matters.
Kannegieter says these two contrasting examples illustrate the importance of understanding different behavioural styles and being able to adapt communication styles to suit the temperament of others.
“It all comes down to whether or not you actually want to influence people,” he says.
“If you are encountering problems in communicating with others, the only thing that can change is your own style, as others will not change theirs."
In the workshop, engineers do a survey and receive a report to understand their own behavioural style in detail. Participants learn to apply their knowledge of the DISC styles to analyse and identify the natural traits of others. They then learn the best ways of adapting their styles and optimal approaches to each of the other styles.
Employers will benefit as well, as their staff will communicate more effectively both internally with other team members and externally with clients and other relevant stakeholders. Understanding the different behavioural styles can also help engineers to understand what motivates them and help guide their own career path, identifying roles that might be a good ‘fit’ with their underlying natural style.
Learning how to work with people's natural behavioural styles is also key to leadership and effectively managing people, Kannegieter says. Sometimes organisations will get all their staff to do the survey and attend a workshop together so they can understand dysfunctional communication behaviours that may be blocking effective collaboration. However, it is also possible to become skilled at identifying the personalities of others without the need for a report.
“When its somebody that you are working with over a long period of time, like your boss, work colleagues or staff, you will observe a number of characteristics that reveal their natural style, particularly when they are under stress.
“Once you have worked out their style, you can adapt your style to influence them and even begin to coach them to understand their own behaviour and how it impacts others.”
More information about the course can be accessed here.