Discussion Skills for a Reliability Engineer
Talking is not the same as a discussion or conversation. Talking is one direction only. If two people are talking, they are talking at each other.
A discussion is two way. When two people have a discussion information passes both ways, both speak, both listen.
As an engineer, there is plenty to discuss. We work with others to find solutions, make compromises, determine optimizations, and finish projects. We need to share our knowledge and insights, as well as learn from others.
You can learn to foster true discussions and minimize simply talking at one another. You can take steps to enable the give and take exchange of a discussion.
What is a Good Discussion?
If you practice listening to the conversations taken place around you, you will discover many are not productive, useful, or meaningful. With a little practice you can improve the chance your next discussion will be productive, useful, and meaningful.
Here are 10 elements to keep in mind as you prepare for and engage in your next great discussion.
1. Be a great listener.
See the article on active listening and get that down first. You have to not only hear what others are saying you need to understand what they are saying. You can only respond in a meaningful and constructive manner if you pay attention to what others are saying.
2. Be prepared.
Know what is important to others. If you don’t know, ask. If the conversation is going to be on a topic you know very little, do a little research. Learn some terms or concepts. Being familiar with the topic, challenges, objectives, or interests of others in the discussion helps you engage deeper and ask better questions.
3. Build the relationship.
This likely not your first or last discussion with your peers, colleagues, or management team. One aim of every discussion, for you, is for others to enjoy talking with you. If you are ‘easy to talk with’ others will want to talk with you. The topic at the moment may not be of direct interest or able to move your goals forward, yet their will be other conversations. Being rude today will make engagement more difficult tomorrow.
4. Respect and value time.
A good practice is to ask, ‘is this a good time to talk about…?’ If the discussion should only last 5 minutes, do not drag on the discussion longer. If they have to go, respect that and catch them next time. Also, if you have a meeting planned for an hour, and the necessary discussion only takes 15 minutes, end the meeting. There is no law that states we have to fill the time scheduled.
5. Let them talk.
People like to talk about themselves. Let them. Nod, ask relevant questions, and if you are listening you will learn a lot about them. Sometimes they will help you solve problems, understand their position or constraints, etc. Without the need for you to ask.
6. Ask how to provide support.
When a conversation turns to challenges, hurdles, constraints, or similar topics, that is a great place to offer your support. Ask how you can help them move forward. You do have to actually provide the agreed upon support or action, so do not offer what you cannot provide. The trick here is not simply to offer, it is to deliver. This provides a sense of trust and obligation, mostly it improves the ability of future discussions to go deeper and tackle tougher issues.
7. Be the real you.
Breathe, smile, and relax. You should not try to be someone you are not. No masks or personas. Sure, good posture helps, yet try not to feign being someone else for the sake of the conversation.
8. Remember key points.
This builds on listening. Remember key concepts or ideas. Refer back to what they said, not what you said. If you don’t understand something, ask. Ask if you have the key points or takeaways right. This is best if worked into your conversation, as it shows you are listening. Avoid just repeating what they say or summarize, build on the topic in part by referencing the key points made by others.
9. Let your actions speak for your accomplishments.
Instead of reciting your amazing resume or list of accomplishment, focus on what you can do to realize another great accomplishment with the members of this conversation. Instead of responding to someone mentioned the school they attended or the problem they solved with mentioning your school or the problem you solved, ask about their school or the problem, carry the conversation forward. Avoid engaging in a ‘oh, I once solved a bigger problem…’ back and forth game. You have accomplishments and in part great discussions helps those achievement occur. Focus on the conversation at hand, not how great you were in the past.
10. Create a safe and welcoming opening for others.
Start conversations with open ended questions, with interest in others, with suggestions for a topic to discuss. Include others. If there are three or more people in the conversation, create openings or acknowledgements of those not as active in the conversation. Pause. Let others join the conversation. Invite others to join the conversation.
Learn About Creating and Holding Discussions
The best way to get better at engaging in meaningful discussions is to try. If possible get feedback from someone you trust to be honest with you. Practice, practice, practice.
One technique is to journal or free write every day. Reflect on the discussion held or coming up. What went well, what made you uncomfortable? What preparation do you need for upcoming discussions? What do you want to accomplish is your discussions? How can you best support or help others in your conversations?
To get a few ideas and tips check out these articles and TED Talk:
13 Simple Ways You Can Have More Meaningful Conversations, John Hall, Forbes, accessed July 20th, 2017.
Nine Rules for a Good Discussion, L. Nucci, education.com accessed July 20th 2017.
10 ways to have a better conversation, Celeste Headlee, TED Talk, filmed April 2015 at TEDxCreativeCoast.
Also published on Medium.