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I Sucked At This For 25 Years As An Engineer – 8 Tips For Communication

Communication is the skill that separates the best engineers from the mediocre ones.

Nothing great is built alone, so even if you’re the best coder in the world, at some point in your career you will have to work with others. When you get to that point, communication is how you get things done.

Here are 6 tactical communication tips for engineers (and there are two more in the video!)

1. Learn how to say no. If your PM or manager comes to you with a request, don't just say no.

Instead, say "not right now" and explain why you're choosing to do other high-priority work. This approach lets you acknowledge the request or the idea, but you’re able to firmly/politely say no by explaining why you want to stay the course.

2. Use tentative language

Especially for critical feedback, leave room for discussion. One way this manifests is during code review: some of the best engineers at Meta actually ended their feedback with a question mark:

"Crash with negative input" ➡️ "Crash with negative input?" One character makes a big difference!

3. Make people feel heard

In 1:1s, I’ll literally say "Let me say that back to you" and repeat back what they said to me. This works magically well.

Even if you disagree, this strategy lets you start from a place of agreement -- the person was heard.

4. Say thank you

Proper thank yous are about more than sending a one-line message. A proper thank you involved thanking them in your launch post or sending them a thank you when you hit a milestone. That's how you build deep relationships.

5. Advance the conversation

This is a personal pet peeve for Rahul. If we're talking about where to get lunch, and I propose Indian food, don't just say "I don't like Indian." You need to propose some alternatives in that response. Also, google the "no hello" philosophy.

6. Know your audience

Many engineers either provide too much or too little context. Communication is an exercise in empathy. You have to figure out what your audience cares about and deliver value to them.

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