The biggest problems faced by the engineers and technology leaders are not about technology at all. As we talk about in the Master of Engineering with a concentration in Information Engineering Management (IEM) at UAB, the barriers we create as people in the workplace are the main issue. Most technology workers, or just people in general, are not prepared to deal with the challenges people bring.

 
Graphic of two businessmen talking with interlocking speech bubbles.

Published in 1936, Dale Carnegie’s "How to Win Friends and Influence People" is described as one of the first best-selling self-help books ever published, and is a book we suggest in our IEM curriculum. Nearly 80 years later, and 15 million copies sold world-wide, this book remains extremely popular. What does this tell us? How to build sustainable relationships and influence others is still one of today’s most mysterious topics. Winning people over is both an art and a science, and it's also not always instantaneous.  It takes time, and in a world where we've been trained to expect immediacy, leaders must be reminded of this. It’s still about people and their hierarchy of needs. In other words, it’s not about you, it’s about using your leadership to serve others.

Missing the Lessons in Dealing with People

As I was meeting with the leaders of our student chapter of the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers), they were frustrated with a faculty member who was known for missing deadlines, and others that they felt would not listen or mentor them. They had presented many ideas to enhance the department and provide meaningful student experiences, but they were waiting on direction. They did not know what they could do on their own or what they had permission to do. These students were not complaining, they were simply unaware of their boundaries.

In a moment of frustration, I just said, “Do something. Do anything. Even if it is wrong – do it. Break something.”

I then tried to explain that this is why they were in school. I was able to use this experience to explain that their problems in the workplace will not be technical, instead they will be just like this. They will suffer from a lack of clear direction and people issues. These prevail no matter where you are. While they were not pleased to hear this, I also think they understood. People are usually the problem, and logic rarely prevails. But how can you deal with these people problems and get results?

Soon instead of aimlessly wondering how to solve the issue, the students started to head in the right direction and ask more relevant questions like these:

  • How do you get people to do things for you when you have no power over them?
  • How do you influence others?
  • How do you run a meeting?
  • How do you plan with a team?
  • How do we get the money we need for things?

Types of People Problems

  • Underperforming employee
    • Do you have one team member who underperforms? He knows he is not measuring up, and he just seems content with it. You don't know how to address it or how to help him.
  • Mentors not sharing
    • You're new to your role. You're added to the team to help someone with client support – he previously did it on his own but now since the company has grown, he needed more help. You're now responsible for part of the clients. But your peer, who has all the expertise, seems unwilling to help. He gives just enough – but will not open up and teach you how he does his job. Your boss is telling you to jump in and handle it – but the one who can teach you is unwilling. You feel stuck. How can you get him to start to trust you and open up?
  • Developing confidence
  • Boss not listening
  • Networking in the company

Four Ways to Get People on Your Side

People problems are inevitable. As an employee they make tension in the workplace. However, as an engineering manager you can't afford to have any tension points stand in your way.  Your relationships and the morale of your company have implications for both your job and the ultimate success of your organization. Here are four simple tips I've learned to win people over:

  1. Deal with the elephant. Be direct, explain that you sense an issue, and see what happens. Be polite. This is more you sensing something, and you could be wrong. Directly ask if there is an issue, let the question hang and give them a chance to answer. No matter what – listen.
  2. What to say: “I am sensing you do not like what we are doing on this project. How can we get on the same page?”

  3. Look for common ground. What do you both agree on? Often when working together on a project, conflict arises because two people both care that it gets done well. However, instead of working together to achieve a common goal they get opposed because they both feel like they know the right way. Acknowledge that you know they care, let them answer. Then ask why they care.
  4. What to say: “I am not sure about you, but I care about this result. I think you do too, right?”

  5. Find a common interest. More than once in my life I have had to find common ground outside of a tense work issue with someone I didn't get along with. In one scenario I discovered we were both interested in investments, I asked for his advice and it led to dinner and conversations that allowed us to work closer on our projects at work. I recently had a client do something similar with an interest in mountain biking. Once they shared stories and best practices about mountain biking, their work life significantly improved.
  6. What to say: This is a trick! Take time to listen to your coworker, schedule time off the clock to talk about non-work related topics. Once you listen enough you'll be able to see past any disagreements and find the common ground that will lead to a better work relationship.

  7. Use thoughtful manipulation. If you think of winning people over as manipulation – you are right. But we all like to be manipulated, or influenced if you prefer, when it gets us what we want. And what do we want? To be cared about. To be listened to. To be valued. Some may view getting someone on your side as a game. However, in the grand scheme of things, winning people over in the workplace isn't a game - it's essential to overcoming people problems and having a productive, successful, and compassionate organization.

Why Winning People Over is Essential

In my time consulting I've come to realize that we are all slow to understand. No matter what the position people hold in the company, people issues are the greatest challenge. We talk around each other and devise great tools and strategies, or even hire consultants instead of directly addressing the issues. We would rather spend money than deal with people. Often the solution is so simple if we would just stop, ask questions, and seek to understand what is going on with the people.

At IEM, we want to help you address and minimize the people problems in order to win people over and maximize your ability to lead as an engineering manager. It is essential to understand the importance people bring to your organization, and how to best win them over to support a common goal. Use the form on this page to schedule a time to talk or email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Let us help you lead your way to a technical or engineering management career.

About IEM

The Master of Engineering with a concentration in Information Engineering Management (IEM) at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) is a specialized concentration designed primarily for engineers and people in technical positions. The concentration presents business systems and soft skills in a curriculum that is based on actual engineering industry needs and is offered completely online.