Certainly, communication has a fundamental role in the professions.
Even the best of engineers, if you don't know how to transfer knowledge, talk to people, listen well and interact with other groups, you won't be successful in your career.
I like to refer to engineering as a team sport. Most engineers work on teams collaborating on many aspects of a design. They work with engineers from other disciplines and from different specialties within their own discipline. Therefore, communication and collaboration are key skills for engineers. Strong communication and collaboration can improve your chances of getting an internship, as well as your long-term career success.
Feedback is a critical part of the engineering design process, and it's important for you so you can learn from those around you who are more experienced, or who maybe have a different viewpoint that could be important to your design. Design reviews are a part of most industry's product development processes. This is a formal way of requiring feedback to be given on a design.
Some ideas to develop your communication skills now:
- Take a creative writing class, or just practice creative writing
- Join an improv or drama club
- Volunteer for public speaking opportunities whenever possible
- Join Toastmasters, a wonderful organization that helps members develop communication and public speaking skills
- Ask for feedback on your writing, not just from your teachers but from your friends, parents, friend's parents, anyone
- Read! Reading different styles of writing can help you notice patterns you can repeat in your own writing
- Practice mindfulness and active listening
The real value in effective communication is that every interaction and conversation builds into a relationship. These relationships are what are pivotal in careers and any business. Business at the end of the day is a group of people helping another group of people and relationships are pivotal to the quality of the help provided.
David recommends the following next steps:
Good communication skills are essential for any discipline including engineering. I've worked with brilliant engineers and scientists who have struggled with their communication skills and as such were limited in their career growth. Hiring managers hire people that will be an asset to the team and someone that can and will work well with others in a team. If a person doesn't work well with others or on a team, no matter how smart they are, they tend to become a burden to the organization.
As a young engineer, you will most likely work with your manager and senior MEs on your team. It is important that you understand the requirements, show that you understand what is expected, and that your work meets their needs. In many cases, you will see that their is more to the task than originally described or that you have several solutions that meet the needs. You have to communicate with the team at every step of the path.
As you develop in your career, you will quickly be communicating with other stake holders outside of the ME team. This will include technical people of other disciplines and non-technical people. You not only need to explain your ideas, they need to be understood by people who do not share your background.
In my case, I have been working with factories in Asia most of my career. In these cases, I have to also communicate to people who are not native speakers of English.
To communicate within technical groups and even non native speakers, a Technical Writing style work best. For people in Industrial Design and Marketing, telling a story helps.
My ability to communicate, particularly in writing, has never been more appreciated than in the technical professions.
Perhaps the most surprising element of communication in engineering and in design is the value of being a good listener. Understanding a problem or a design case requires not jumping to immediate conclusions and is a process of iteration and learning.
Early in an engineering career, more experienced team members are also invaluable resources who can share methods and insights if they're asked for advice. Communication is also crucial in establishing expectations for intermediate deliverables, in following up with stakeholders or supervisors, and in coordinating with different engineering disciplines.
I've actually found that feedback is a mixed bag! Knowing how to get feedback or advice that works for you and is actionable, and how to solicit ideas for improvement and ask the right questions, is far more useful than getting bogged down in the middle of a project because you decided to "go it alone" rather than seeking out advice to get you through a roadblock.
While I agree with Sarah that design reviews are an important part of the formal feedback process, I've also had success through more informal feedback channels just talking about particular struggles and asking other designers what they've done to cope in a similar situation. Often, people like being asked for their advice or opinion and especially appreciate when you act on it.
There's a fine line between asking pointed, specific questions and asking someone else to do your work for you. As an engineer, solving problems is your job: sometimes it's just knowing which of your problems are related to the actual engineering and design ... and which are things more quickly answered, like how to complete a specific task in a proprietary software package or making sure that a presentation contains what it should.
Communication in engineering can also be about "selling" a process or a solution, creating buy-in and cohesion on a team, or delivering targeted and accessible messages to non-technical stakeholders. You can have the best design in the world, but if you can't communicate the benefits and/or the business case, implementation can be an uphill battle!