Optimism

February 2009 » Columns
Engineers likely do not think of themselves as motivational speakers or therapists. However, just as many of us have had to enter new roles as marketers (or even outright salespeople), there are many opportunities for those with the right attitude. Just as a great portion of the national economy directly reflects consumer and banker confidence, so too do our local economies. This remains true even down to individual clients and competitors. Is it possible to capitalize on this need for optimism?
Jason Burke, P.E., MPEM

Engineers likely do not think of themselves as motivational speakers or therapists. However, just as many of us have had to enter new roles as marketers (or even outright salespeople), there are many opportunities for those with the right attitude. Just as a great portion of the national economy directly reflects consumer and banker confidence, so too do our local economies. This remains true even down to individual clients and competitors. Is it possible to capitalize on this need for optimism?

Pessimism comes as much from local layoff notices, missed profit goals, lost sales, or terminated contracts as it does from national labor reports. We often report the bad news because it draws on sympathies and we can commiserate together, bemoaning our fate, and hoping that things will improve. Indeed, we know better than this, but our minds are anchored in the news of the day. It makes for excessive caution, lowered tolerance for risk, and hunkering down to wait out the storm—exactly the wrong things at the wrong time. It’s not that our brains are mis-wired, it is just that they are designed to protect us from external catastrophe. Quite often, however, the catastrophes are of our own making, and therefore are within our control. Though it may not always feel that way.

Because the national picture, while perhaps truly grim, is generally outside the typical engineering firm’s control, we tend to ignore that we are the strongest influence of our own fate. We are obligated to anticipate and react to the reality of the situation, but it is foolish to wallow in unwarranted pessimism. Rather than regurgitating the national news, try a different tactic. Try sharing every scrap of good news with your clients and prospects, even if it is about a competitor. We are all in this together and another’s success will ultimately help us all. Share your successes with your staff to keep their spirits up. Talk up each new project, plan submittal, and referral. Share project successes with other clients. Even if they are refusing to move on their own job, hearing that things are still happening may get them going sooner rather than later.

Collect positive stories about cost savings, innovative technologies, and new methods. These are valuable resources during the best of times, but they hold extra psychological significance now. Not only may they apply directly to your client’s situation, they may set your firm apart as one who is able to focus on the positive in the face of despair. When confidence returns, do you want to be remembered (if at all) as one who was simply hoping for better times? Or will your firm stand out as one that looked for opportunities and spread an optimistic outlook? A client will likely view such a firm as one who is ready for opportunity and will be prepared to move forward on short notice. The pessimist firms may need extra time to retool and reset the staff after such a long hiatus.

We will remain dependent on the news, as negative as it may be. It will do no good to disconnect completely from reality. But when it comes to sharing information over lunch, try replacing one bad news item with two good ones. See if it doesn’t begin to anchor your client’s thoughts on the side of recovery. Only time will tell, but optimistic realism is certainly a better mental attitude, even if our collective confidence leaves much to be desired.


Jason Burke, P.E., works for Allied Engineering in Billings, Mont.

E-mail comments in care of bdrake@stagnitomedia.com.


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