Engineers are Different

I know people should not stereotype, but sometimes you just can’t help yourself. So, indulge me for a moment as I discuss my stereotype of engineers. Let’s start off first with the greatest fact there is-Engineers are just plain different. Different from the rest of the left brain population for sure.

I now support and work on a team full of engineers, everything from chemical to electrical. This is actually my 2nd time working with engineers with the first time being when I worked at NASA in high school and college. Working for a utility/energy company that is highly technical gives me the opportunity to work around engineers constantly and it has been an adjustment. Let’s go through a few personal observations:

1. They need time to think and are perfectly comfortable with silence.  This was a huge change for me because in my old environment when you asked someone a question, they responded within a 1-2 second time frame. Daily in meetings, I ask questions and there can easily be a silent span of 1-2 minutes. When you are sitting there in dead space, 1 minute seems like an eternity.

2. They process things one at a time and have a hard time processing multiple things at once.I found this out within my first few weeks supporting this group. As an HR technique, sometimes I may ask a string of rhetorical questions that are not necessarily designed to be answered, but designed to cause them to think deeper. I learned quick that they cannot keep up for lack of a better term. They sit there with confused looks on their faces as if to plead for me to slow down and take it one question at a time.

3. They have a high need to act and solve problems. Yes, Yes and Yes-I will amen myself on this one. Their innate wiring tells them it is their job to attack any problem that comes their way and fix it so it is no longer a problem. I was talking to one of my managers about a concern I had and they immediately went into dissecting the issue, drew a diagram of the problem areas, and made decision trees on possible solutions. Hilarious! I was just venting and they were on a mission to apply every engineering principle they knew to fix it.

4. Lastly, they see things in black and white. It has to be defined and exact. This was confirmed one day when I did a team building exercise for the Engineering department and had over 20 engineers to facilitate. I did an exercise I have done countless times with all sorts of groups. Well, I lost the group on my first set of directions-I gave them a sheet of paper and asked them to draw a line on their paper.  The usual response is that I start to see heads down and pens on paper forming lines. Not so in this case. I had an audience of confused faces. Then these are the questions I heard: “Where do you want the line? What kind of line? Do you want a horizontal or vertical line? Do you want a big or small line? How long does the line need to be? Does it need to be a linear line? I was dumbfounded and speechless. I just tried to find the most polite way to say “People, just draw a line!”

Those are just a few observations and facts about engineers in my view of the world. I love working with them, but it is so funny to watch and see how the interaction is different. I have had to adjust my style and have picked up some of the mannerisms. I am more and more comfortable with silence and find myself taking the silent space to think before I answer the question. Also, I have learned to ask one question at a time. Most importantly, I have learned to give a specific and clear request on how to draw a line.

I must become different to interact with those that are different….


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