Are you still an engineer if you don’t use techno speak?

April 6, 2010 at 10:23 pm 3 comments

Babette Burdick
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Relying on techno jargon to differentiate yourself in meetings? With peers or with clients..especially with the “uninitiated”…meaning owners or non-technical folks?

Seriously, what if no one in the room understands what you are saying, except the other civil engineer? Do you sit there, giving each other sideways, knowing looks? Rolling your eyes? Becoming impatient with the other folks in the room because they don’t “get it”? I mean, Is techno speak the same as knowing the “secret handshake”?

Get over yourselves. If anyone’s read The Grand Challenges to Engineering of the 21st Century lately, these projects are for the benefit of the greater good of society. Not a closed civil engineering community. And the last time I checked, society doesn’t operate in a vacuum. There is a diversity of opinion and perspective. Depending on where everyone sits around the table, they see the same thing differently.

How can you honor societal needs and perspectives if you are waiting for everyone to get a civil engineering degree so they can “get you?” Because everyone else around the table interprets techno speak as “another language.” And they are waiting for simultaneous translation so they can understand, appreciate, respect and communicate. They are waiting for that simultaneous translation from you.
Are you up to this challenge? Perhaps this is the 15th grand challenge to engineering in the 21st century.
You know, if folks actually understand what you are talking about, there may be some great discussion that can take a project in a direction no one was anticipating. You actually might learn something. And so might the other folks around the table.
So why retreat and circle the wagons by relying on communication via techno speak? If you feel you are differentiating yourself, you just may be isolating yourself as being hard to communicate with and not necessarily being a team player. Perhaps you are interpreted as being exclusive or elitist. I am quite sure these result s are not what you intend and are certainly not your career goal!

And if you’ve come out of engineering school and are really uncomfortable speaking to non-technical types, well, learn how to do this! Clue card: joining a softball league, playing golf, engaging in anything recreational allows you to come up with SIMPLE, non-technical responses to the question: “So, what do you do?” And then apply this spirit of getting your point across to the next meeting you are in, where you have to explain a civil engineering concept to, let’s say, those sales guys. And what if those sales guys just happened to be from, say, Mars and didn’t speak your language anyway? Wouldn’t you go through some linguistic gymnastics to get your point across? And you’d be patient, as well.
I mean, haven’t you wondered sometimes if the sales guys DID come from another planet? I’m sure they’ve asked themselves that question about the technical folks.

Just don’t create barriers to communication because you think those folks are not as smart as you, and therefore not worth your time. I don’t think so. In the long run, everyone has something to teach the other person. And what that is may become a critical design element. So don’t short change yourself.
What good is using techo speak when you only end up talking to yourself?

Think about it.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Bill  |  April 20, 2010 at 9:48 pm

    Doctors too! The only reason they get a bit of a pass is because of House, or Grey’s Anatomy, or a hundred other medical TV shows that have ‘educated’ us over the last 20 years.

  • 2. Eric  |  April 12, 2010 at 5:27 pm

    It’s not just engineers! Scientists and lawyers overload us with jargon, too!

  • 3. Ken Ferry  |  April 7, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    A wise person once suggested that I don’t really understand something until I am able to explain it to a five-year-old. That pretty much puts “techno-speak” in its place.

    I will, when appropriate, stop a discussion or meeting to translate any tech jargon into layman’s terms for the sake of the non-engineers present. I suspect that this is at least part of the reason why I have more friends who aren’t engineers that who are and why local business leaders don’t avoid me.


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