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Insights on Communicating as an Engineer, Elected Official, and Lobbyist

Effective communication is hard work. Know the issue, condense, and refine your message. Are you Communicating with FINESSE?
Effective communication is hard work. Know the issue, condense, and refine your message.

In my experience as a practicing professional engineer, a former elected official, and now as Director of Regulatory Affairs for the North Carolina Home Builders Association, the importance of effective communication cannot be overstated. My opinion on this topic includes the belief that what is “effective” is most often directly dependent on tailoring one’s message to the audience. 

Develop Different Approaches

Whether writing or speaking, the ability to communicate to achieve the desired outcome reads and sounds drastically different when communicating engineer to engineer, elected representative to a constituent, industry member to regulator, and the various iterations continue. 

While communicating between professionals can be detailed and at times lengthy while still remaining effective, effective communication between the aforementioned examples is rooted in being able to convey with efficiency a limited but meaningful amount of detail when delivering a message. 

Few Words with a Strong Foundation

Very few words on a foundation of strong facts with credibility that is backed up by a tone of confidence, in my view, is the most effective approach for communicating with government officials, constituents, and within the regulator/regulated environment.

If you cannot capture the attention of your audience in the first few sentences and you find yourself repeatedly explaining the issue, you’ve lost the argument. As an example, being longwinded in the Legislature will lose you votes. Seriously. Clarity and efficiency are key. 

Note that much of what I have found to be true in this realm has been through experience, with the most impactful lessons coming from failure.

If you think I am being too harsh, consider that your audience is from a society that has formed much of their opinions from news headlines and social media posts that are often limited to a sentence or two.

Ignore the Labels

While engineers are often labeled as poor communicators, the ones who work hard can counter the stereotype and be influential. Lex Fridman is one of several recently successful podcasters who come from the “scientific” or “engineering” mind and have used that strength as a basis and coupled it with an ability to communicate effectively. Lex is not alone in this growing space and is a testament to the success that comes with being well-rounded with sharpened communication skills.

Mentors Are a Big Help

I was blessed by a great communication professor at North Carolina State University who understood that I struggled with the art of writing and speaking. Rather than just writing me off as a typical engineering student, this professor took time to explain how my engineering mind was working against my ability to communicate effectively. 

They outlined how I knew the end objective and where I wanted to take the reader, but that I was often unsuccessful in providing a story worth the journey. Specifically, the professor shared how I repeatedly failed to provide the reader with an engaging introduction and to build a story body that directed the reader to a meaningful conclusion. They encouraged me to quickly write out what was in my head and then “reverse-engineer” it on paper into a better-organized structure.

Convert Your Liabilities into Assets

Once this professor showed what was harming my ability to effectively communicate and gave me a pathway to reform my analytical mind from a liability to an asset, I was eventually able to improve how I communicated in both word and speech.

While I am still refining my craft, the communication professor’s counsel during my civil engineering undergrad to identify my problem and to provide constructive advice for improvement still helps me today, enabling me to write and speak more effectively to voters, lawmakers, regulators, and others throughout my career. 

A Struggle Worth the Effort

For me, communication has been a struggle worth the effort. My career path would be much different without wrestling this weakness of communication into a reasonable asset.

As an aside, when contemplating effective communication, I thought about how many narrow the subject to professional or career-based endeavors, but as I write, I cannot stop from thinking about the importance of this topic when evaluating my communication as a husband and a father. The importance of effective communication relative to one’s audience may be most tested and forged on the home front.

Effective Communication is Hard Work

Effective communication is hard work. Know the issue, condense, and refine your message. It is not just important to your line of work; it can positively affect your relationships, particularly at home and within the lives of your family. 

Take communication seriously or ramble on through life hoping you said or wrote something that someone understood.



Chris Millis is a professional civil engineer, former three-term elected representative to the North Carolina State House of Representatives, and currently serves as the Director of Regulatory Affairs for the North Carolina Home Builder Association.


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1 comentario

totally agree if you can not get things across in a few sentences, you have lost the argument.

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