Wednesday, March 25, 2009

On Being Defensive

Why do people get so defensive? That’s easy! They want to be right. In my experience with engineering, IT, science or accounting disciplines, these logical driven people have spent their entire life in the pursuit of having the right answer to the question. It’s no wonder that “being right” is something that they prize. So, when someone questions their answers or their assumptions, they immediately jump to defend their hard work.

Programming a response other than defensiveness takes a concerted effort. It also takes a huge shift in the person’s assumption. Rather than viewing the questioner as someone who is trying to disprove an answer, shifting that assumption to view the questioner as someone who may help to open a new view to the situation is required. One engineer that I worked with had tremendous success by using a mental picture of the situation. Upon reflection, he said that when he is in a meeting and is being questioned, he feels like he is a professor at the chalkboard and must explain his theory and his case. Others viewed this behavior as arrogant, close-minded, and inflexible. He worked to shift his mental position from being the professor at the chalkboard to being a student in the classroom. All of a sudden, his defensiveness evaporated like a cloud of chalk dust.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Critical Thinking

I love engineers. I love their critical thinking and problem solving skills. I find their raw intelligence to be exciting and interesting. I've noticed a trend though... Here's what I wrote for one of the engineers who took our Index for Emotional Intelligence 360 Assessment of Emotional Intelligence:

"Critical Thinking – You have very high standards and great critical thinking skills that are a true asset to your problem solving ability. Don’t change these strengths. Recognize that these skills work extremely well when dealing with objects and technical problems, but not so well when dealing with people."

Good engineers has been set up and conditioned to be critical. Thinking and responding like "Skippy the Skeptic" (Skippy was coined by Marilyn Reeder - an engineer!) is just a part of what they have been taught. Don't we want engineers to apply critical thinking to make sure the bridge holds or the plane stays up? Don't we want them to "test" rather than take this on faith? Of course we do. I'm sure that applying skepticism rather than blind faith has saved many lives. Critical thinking is how they get their "A's" and their stars. When an engineer solves a problem, that's what kicks in. It's why they are good engineers. So, it's no mystery that they apply the same set of skills when dealing with people. But then, we criticize and label them as having poor people skills.

Is it possible for an engineer to have great people skills? Absolutely. The first step is helping them recognize and separate the people issues and the technical issues and then giving them tools to use for the people issues. And let me warn you... their raw intelligence will make them quick learners.

Stay tuned for more on this topic.