engineering human interaction

Engineering Human Interaction

I come from a family of engineers. My brother, father, and grandfather all entered the field, making my decision to join them after college unsurprising. Today, however, I’m a lapsed engineer.

After years of following in my elders’ footsteps, I became enamored with the non-engineering world. Topics ranging from communication to leadership to psychology drew me in, giving me a different perspective on human interaction. In this world, I was introduced to a more “human” type of ingenuity, one where my technical focus became complicated by new emotional considerations.

For example, post-lapse, I stumbled upon a book entitled, “[easyazon_link asin=”0791801624″ locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”achievstrate-20″ add_to_cart=”default” cloaking=”default” localization=”default” popups=”default”]Unwritten Laws of Engineering[/easyazon_link],” which quickly piqued my interest. Written in 1944, the book is geared towards engineers looking to unlock their human potential, aiming to teach them how to interact effectively with others. For me, this was the jackpot. If I could master the ideas behind this “human engineering,” I would be able to apply the insights from my previous work to non-engineering settings in a way all those involved could understand. The slideshare below lays out the most effective ways to go about this process, as well as major takeaways from King’s book.

(Can’t see the SlideShare? Check it out here)

To summarize: by considering the needs, emotions, and opinion of others, without ever discarding the strong-mindedness that makes them successful, engineers possess the ability to overcome their small deficiencies in emotional intelligence.

Apart from the fundamentals, here are a few more key points to help you unlock your “human engineer” potential.

  • Action trumps passivity: Don’t wait for a problem to arise, solve it before it becomes an issue.
  • Vacillation equals weakness: Even if you have doubts, refrain from putting them on display.

By considering the needs, emotions, and opinion of others, without ever discarding the strong-mindedness that makes them successful, engineers possess the ability to overcome their small deficiencies in emotional intelligence.

  • Hire thoughtfully: Choosing the wrong supervisor or manager can be seriously detrimental. Hire someone who you will be able to collaborate with.
  • Make simplicity a habit: Presenting in the most basic terms will help get your message across.
  • Show interest: Your employees’ happiness matters. Be enthusiastic about what they’re working on.   

When engineers (both active and lapsed) buy in to these principles, they learn the skills necessary to bridge the gap between their technical brilliance and the brilliance of their (non-engineered) co-workers. And once that gap is bridged, the possibilities are endless.


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Copyright: stoyanh / 123RF Stock Photo

Gavin McMahon is a PowerPoint obsessive. He’s a founding partner at fassforward Consulting Group, and blogs about PowerPoint, Communication, Infographics and Message Discipline at You can tweet to him @powerfulpoint. Google+.

  • Ben Simonton

    Having been raised by an engineer turned patent lawyer, been educated as a marine engineer at the US Naval Academy, and become a practicing engineer on combatant ships, I can understand what you have experienced Gavin.

    The foundation of engineering being science, I knew that there was always a cause to every effect and a science behind everything made by our Creator, people being no exception. This is the advantage engineers have. That advantage allowed me to eventually discover the science of people, why they react the way they do to what management does. That allowed me to understand what leadership is and the right actions to take as a manager to unleash the full potential of all people. It took me many years as a manager of listening to my people and analyzing what they said to learn that science, but it eventually became very clear.

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