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Communication skillsfor engineering project teams Steve Dysonwww.sdc-language.com
Steve Dyson • Technical communicator and translator to French high-technology companies: • space (CNES, Alcatel, etc.) • satellite-based imagery and remote sensing (Spot Image, CNES, Istar, etc.) • naval defence (DCN, Thales, Armaris, etc.).
Consultant on major technical documentation and translation projects for: • French space agency CNES • French naval prime contractor DCN.
Outline • Communication in engineering projects • Communications-critical phases • Technical communication: Basic concepts • Sender/receiver model • Audience-centred communication • Tips (writing, PowerPoint, etc.) • Communication failures + responses • Localization & catalogues
Communications challenges faced by engineering teams Two main types of comms challenges: • Presentations to team members and others with engineering backgrounds. • Presentations to non-engineers. Engineer/presenter typically aims to: • "Sell" the project or key concepts. • Provide engineering input for high-levelpresentations by senior project managers to clients, investors, authorities, etc.
First critical steps • Assess the importance of each presentation or writing task • Tailor response to the challenge: • The more critical the task, the more effective the document or presentation should be,and the bigger the communication effort. A major effort will involve applying the lessons learned today and more …
Technical communication: Basic concepts: • Sender/receiver model • Audience-centred communication
Message encoding/decoding sendsinformation receiver sender experience, feelings, history, expectations, fears feelings, experience, history, expectations, fears
Presentation skills • Body language Posture, eyes, etc.: 55% • Voice Tone, inflection, etc.: 38% • Content: 7% • Language skills & accent Not included in this study. • Study by Prof. Albert Mehrabian, University of Ca.,STC "Technical Communication", Nov. 2000, p605
Audience Communication is easiest between: • people with similar backgrounds and training • people who are used to working together.
Audience It is more difficult: • between departments (design, marketing, etc.) • between people with different backgrounds, languages, etc. • for multidisciplinary, multi-department and engineering project teams.
Audience-centred communication • Focus on what your audience wants to know and questions they want answered,_not_ what you want to tell them. • Tell them what you're going to say, say it (no more than three main points), then tell them what you've just said. • Use rhetorical devices, including parallel structures and repetition.
Reader-centred writing • Focus on what readers want to know and questions they want answered,_not_ what you want to tell them. • Provide navigation devices. • Consider "Information Mapping": • courses now available in Portugal.
Focus on: • Readers’ information needs • Readers’ technical knowledge • Readers’ language skills • Readers’ attitudes • The time they are likely to spend reading your document.
Unlearning … Unlearning … things you thought you knew and others you learnt at school/university. Reader-centred writing is radically different from: • explaining to teachers, who already know • writing at least X pages • showing that you know how to use sophisticated language • avoiding (at all cost) repetition of words.
Answerreaders’ likelyquestions • Start by playing devil’s advocate: • Why should I read this? • Where does this information come from? • Which are the most important parts? • What am I expected to do next? • What does the competition have to say? • What details or facts are your readers hoping to learn?
Making lists Lists are: • shorter than running text • easier to write and understand, especially if you use parallel structure. Use parallel structure, i.e., begin with: • verb (infinitive or conjugated; imperative, other) • gerund • noun (less powerful). (See also : saywhatyoumean.com/html/readingroom21.html)
Keep It Short and Simple (KISS) • Aim for an average sentence length of 17-21 words • But vary the pattern:medium, long, short, short, medium, short, long, medium, short, medium • Maximum: 30 words, except in lists
KISS • Remove unnecessary prepositions • in the region of --> about • as a means to --> to • Remove other unnecessary words • complete monopoly • rectangular in shape • . . . the dusting problem . . . • these instruments have a marked tendency to drift
KISS: short, simple words • Prefer Anglo-Saxon to Latinate words: • accelerate --> speed up • fabricate --> make • frequently --> often • principal --> main • utilize --> use • should it prove to be the case that--> if
KISS: Action in verbs • Put the action into a verb • we made an application --> we applied • it provides a summary of --> it summarizes • . . . the addition of talc is done in two steps • --> Talc is added in two steps • We have a lot of knowledge of . . . • --> We know a lot about . . .
KISS: Examples • Commence inspection of the facility upon completion of the final stage --> • Inspect the building after the final stage • A reduction in the quantity of the data by a factor of two results in a corresponding enhancement of the capabilities of the system --> Halving the amount of data makes the program run twice as fast
In recent years the traditional brick sector has adopted new technologies that have resulted in higher productivity levels and are better able to meet the requirements of modern architecture in terms of product quality and diversity. --> In the traditional brick sector, new technologies have increased productivity, product quality and architectural variety.
Ladder of abstraction • Anglo-Saxons often prefer words low on the ladder of abstraction • Latins often prefer words higher up the ladder.
Steps and tips • Select a plain, easy-to-read template • Go to Options/Edit:Deselect "Auto-fit text to text placeholders" • Consider using Word in Outline mode, then importing Word Outline into PPT • Follow advice of Office Assistant • Apply 6x6 rule: 6 lines, 6 words each • Use bulleted points with parallel construction.
PowerPoint: Limitations Be aware, however, that PowerPoint also has severe limitations. As Edward Tufte says: "The problem with bullet points is that they can only represent the simplest relationships between things. They're good for making laundry lists or describing step-by-step procedures. The problem is that information is usually much more complex."More at: saywhatyoumean.com/html/readingroom25.html
Communications failures • Who's responsible? • Sender: Virtually every time • Receiver: Hardly ever!!... and even if he/she is responsible,what point would there be to saying so?
Responses to failure: Review presentation with: • carefully selected member of audience • someone from outside your organization • someone unfamiliar with the subject.
Review resources and strategies: • Choose a different presenter • Call in an outside specialist • Learn how to speak better in public
Repeated challenges Team facing repeated communication challenges should consider: • developing standard procedures possibly even standard forms, templates, etc. • studying how others handle these challenges: • internet searches • external consultants
Is the problem cross-cultural? Did communication failure involve: • more than one nationality? • different cultural or sociocultural groups? • several corporate cultures? If so, research cross-cultural communication issues or call in a specialist. Jody Jakob (email@example.com) is one such specialist based in Portugal.
Culture: What is it? • “The collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group or category from those of another.” • Geert Hofstede • “A learned, shared, compelling, interrelated set of symbols whose meanings provide a set of orientations for members of society.” • Terpstra & David
Characteristics:What all have in common All cultural traits are: • Prescriptive, i.e. they define what a particular group considers to be acceptable • Learned, not genetic • Dynamic: Interactive relationship between behaviour and culture • Subjective: Meanings vary by culture
Cultural differences _do_ exist! Cultural studies and their impact on good business are also increasingly popular,witness these TV advertisements by anglo-Asian banking group HSBC.
Geert Hofstede's model • Power distance • Individualism vs. collectivism • Femininity vs. masculinity • Uncertainty avoidance • Long-term vs.short-term orientation
Power distance The extent to which the less powerful members of an organization (in a given culture) expect and accept that power is distributed unequally.
Individualism vs. collectivism Individualism = degree to which individuals are integrated into groups. • An individualistic society has loose ties between individuals, i.e. everyone is expected to look after him/herself and his/her family. • Collectivistic society has in-groups (with strong, cohesive ties between individuals from birth) which protect their members in exchange for unquestioning loyalty.
Masculinity vs. femininity • Masculinity = assertiveness • Femininity = caring • Masculinity/femininity refers to the distribution of roles between the genders, a fundamental issue for any society. • Women in 'feminine' countries have about the same modest, caring values as the men. • Women in 'masculine' countries are somewhat assertive and competitive, but not as much as the men (hence a gap between men's values and women's values).
Uncertainty avoidance Uncertainty avoidance deals with a society's tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity; it ultimately refers to man's search for Truth.
Long- vs. short-term orientation • Deals with Virtue regardless of Truth. • Values associated with long-term orientation are thrift and perseverance • Values associated with short-term orientation are respect for tradition, fulfilling social obligations, and protecting one's 'face'.