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.


  1. Adele,

    As an engineer myself, I agree with your observations. Engineering schools attract people who tend to be analytic to begin with, and then expose them to more and deeper analysis. For sure, if engineers are challenged, they can develop skills in other directions. The most successful engineers figure it out for themselves.

    Arthur Davidson

  2. Adele,

    I can really relate to your comments. I teach a course to analytical quality-management folks on "selling ideas to your boss", and have learned over time that the nexis of this topic is the analytical mindset of engineers vs. the interpersonal and social skills of others, particularly management folks. Most attendees recognize their analytical tendencies and are willing to consider developing complimentary skills (I call these left-hand skills.) I am very much in the "analytical" camp myself, and have come to appreciate the complimentary, left-hand skills only later in my career.

    This is an exciting area to contemplate, and a challenging one. I know from my own self that there is nothing more stubborn than an analytical skeptic who is dead right about some particular battle, and who is meanwhile losing the war....