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Why Engineers Should Improve Their Rhythm & Stress – Even If They Already Speak Clearly

clarity engineering leadership Jul 04, 2020

Whether we are communicating in song, poetry, or prose, the meaning of words is deepened by the rhythm of the delivery. These rhythms are created with patterns.

Communication patterns are pervasive because they create efficiencies and a standardized quality in the delivery of our message, similar to the rationale for the use of design patterns by engineers. Without patterns, communication is confusing, inefficient, and lacks the cultural connections that are the hallmark of an authoritative thought leader.

 Poetry is based on a pattern of stressed syllables, such as iambic, which produces an unstressed + stressed pattern. Music is also made up of patterns, such as 3/4 or 4/4 time. Although more complex, the spoken word utilizes patterns, as well. The spoken word conveys emotions, inferences, and salient points with stress patterns that create meaningful connections. These tones and patterns are culturally bound; therefore, this is typically the final stage in a non-native English speaker’s immersion journey. However, many non-native English-speaking engineering professionals never take this final step, as they settle for communication and connections with others that stagnate their careers – and their relationships with others.

Engineers are not born knowing how to implement design patterns, and musicians are not born knowing how to keep 3/4 or 4/4 time on a musical instrument. Musicians learn how to tell dancers whether they are to dance a rumba (4/4) or a waltz (3/4). Even though these two dances are both comprised of, technically-speaking, moving our feet in the shape of a box, the box is executed to a very different rhythm. Hence, the beat distinguishes these two dances.

Spoken English works in the same way. The rhythm and stress of the spoken word may tell the listener whether the speaker is annoyed or merely expressing a fact and, therefore, suggests the appropriate response or action from the listener.  Authoritative speakers understand how to execute the same words in very different ways in order to express different intentions. It’s often not the words that shape the intention, but rather the vocal variety in the delivery of our message that causes others to engage and recall our message like a tune that we can’t stop humming.

For engineering leaders, the ability to convey emotions that create positive team morale, client trust, belief in the project’s vision, and positive energy around problem solving is one-third of project success.  Jessica McKellar, founder and CTO of Pilot, confirms that “When you’re a technical manager, your job is mostly about humans.”  Human connections, of course, are culturally bound and much deeper than just clearly spoken words. Small gaps in message delivery create miscommunication, uncertainty, delays, and lack of buy-in that cost companies money.

There are two main pillars to upscaling your cross-cultural communication style for the leadership track.

 Pillar #1:  Enhance your Communication Fundamentals

Accurate production of vowel mechanics and awareness of how vowels control the rhythm and stress in English is key to creating meaningful conversations in the same way as it is for a musician who elongates a vowel sound for four beats to create a specific emotional connection with his audience.

Pillar #2: Develop Cross-cultural Communication Style for the Leadership Track

Cross-cultural awareness and strategies save time, enhance self-confidence in impromptu speaking situations, such as meetings, and allow engineering thought leaders to express themselves in ways that are not only more comprehensible, but also more meaningful for their audience.

The above two pillars offer engineers a systematic approach to upscale their cross-cultural communication skills for the leadership track.