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Listening to others: Engineers and qualitative work

Much like there are stereotypes regarding engineers as repositories of technical expertise, engineers express stereotypes about working with people who aren’t “on the team”. Value is not conferred to qualitative work within engineering – it is less important to be able to communicate than to solve equations.


This is part of the reason I find such hope within the assignments for the Engineering Ethics and the Public course. Instead of solely focusing on how to communicate out, there is an emphasis on gathering information in a means that can be quite unfamiliar outside of taking notes in lectures: listening. Listening is involved in many different forms of qualitative work, such as interviews and focus groups, but it is rarely mentioned (in my experience) as a way to gather information in STEM fields.


Listening is hard work, too. Trying to understand someone who is communicating with you requires time. Patience. A level of humility in admitting that you might not understand something they are expressing and asking for clarification.


Listening also brings into play issues of power.  Do power dynamics play a part in who talks and who actually gets to listen (I think that they do Рcheck out this piece on amplification in White House staff meetings)?


Oh, and if you want yet more readings on interviewing, I will recommend the online offerings from Lives and Legacies, which are very short pieces that go into more depth regarding interviews as well as qualitative data and analysis.


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