How to Be Persuasive When Leading Engineers

From the Assembly in ancient Athens to Dale Carnegie’s timeless How to Win Friends and Influence People, the art of persuasion is as ancient as language itself. But just as politicians tailor their stump speeches depending on their audience, so must leaders of engineers know their audience. Below are three ideas help you persuade engineers you are supervising.


Be Visionary but Realistic:

Engineers walk a fine line: They are asked to perform magic in a world where magic doesn’t exist. Yet to be an engineer is to be inspired by the possibilities present in the physical world. As a leader of engineers, one must learn to direct requests to an engineer’s innate love of exploration and discovery… just as long as that request is in the realm of the realistic.

If a leader asks the impossible, then engineers–who love pushing the envelope–will tune out. Ask for something that’s never been done, but could be, then you have some inspired engineers.

Show, Don’t Tell:

Everyone loves a good story, even numbers-obsessed engineers. There’s a reason that TED Talks are 65% stories and 25% data. Because telling stories as a means of persuasion works! A first-time leader of engineers may be tempted to talk to the team “on their level”– i.e., use numbers and hard science. Don’t.

As with the above tip, present your vision to your team in the same way people have been inspiring and persuading others for millennia–through a good story.

“What Do You Think?”

According to Scientific American, people spend 60 percent of a conversation talking about themselves. Why? Because it feels good. So use this when leading a team of engineers. You will quickly see that an effective way to get them to buy into your idea is to make it their own. How?

By asking for their input on your ideas. It’s a simple enough concept, but, in reality, many leaders avoid it, because they are concerned that others’ suggestions might lead away from the original idea.

But an effective leader uses all of the tools of persuasion to engineer his own desired result. Meaning, the first step is to fire the engineers’ imagination on your vision, then ask them to take some ownership of this vision.

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