Trim Our Hedges

Box Hedge Topiary, Shears, Gardener, Trimming

What we write and say should be in the context of the expected or actual audience. For example, let’s not begin to answer a question about the required size of an electric motor with, “If I did the calculations correctly....” We are responsible for doing the calculations correctly.

You may say, “Nobody would do that!” I’ve heard that kind of weak answer too many times.

A qualified answer such as “Based on the limited geotechnical data and several assumptions, I believe that there will be no foundation problems,” would be an acceptable caveat in a conversation with professional peers who understand the complexity of our work. But, it is not likely to be appropriate in a presentation to a non-technical audience.

Overly qualifying statements and responses on technical matters beyond our audience’s area of expertise is nonproductive. Listeners may perceive our hedges as a lack of competence, confidence, or commitment and as insensitivity to colleagues, clients, customers, and stakeholders. Therefore, let’s trim our hedges.

If not rectified, this tendency to indiscriminately qualify statements will interfere with professional advancement within any organization. The fact that we have ability, are well-prepared, and are confident is irrelevant if we are perceived to be otherwise. Perception is “fact.”

So, What Should We Do?

When preparing to report or explain results to others or answer their questions, be very sensitive to the nature and interests of the audience. Who will be in the audience?

Chair, Chairs, Seating, Seat, Gastronomy, Break, Event

Or sitting on the other side of the desk? We need to do our homework.

Office, Home, House, Desk, Chair, Lamp, Contemporary

And then speak and answer questions in a simple, declarative, and brief fashion tailored to the audience or the other person, unencumbered with inappropriate caveats.

We Also Talk to Ourselves – Make It Count

The preceding focuses on how what we say influences others. What we say and how we say it also influences us. Consider the more positive effect on your subsequent performance when you say, “I will get the draft report to you by Friday noon,” rather than “I will try to get the draft report to you by Friday noon.” Less hedging leads to more commitment on our part and better results for those we serve.

Trim our hedges; grow our confidence; cultivate those we serve; harvest new clients, customers, and stakeholders; and reap other benefits.

Communication – Not Manipulation

Someone may say that I’m advocating manipulation of clients, customers, and stakeholders by intentionally withholding information. No. I am encouraging effective communication by speaking to people “where they are” so they understand our message. Of course, if they ask probing questions, we take that as an indication of us connecting with them and do our best to answer their queries.


This article is drawn from my book Engineering Your Future: The Professional Practice of Engineering 

Images -- Pixabay


After analyzing a problem you’ve had with clients, customers, or stakeholders, do you and others often say something like this?   “The problem was communication.”

If so, let’s talk – Once I understand your situation, I may be able to help. Resolving communication deficiencies is not rocket science if we approach it carefully. Step 1 is recognizing the problem, Step 2 is defining it, and then, Step 3 is solving it.

Interested? If so, contact me at or 219-242-1704.

I’ve helped many engineering and other business and government organizations with communication and related challenges.

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