Engineers can be... engineery. We pride ourselves on being "problem solvers" at our core, but we often view the world through a certain specific lens. A typical engineer's lens might be their particular field of study and practice (Disclaimer, this article does not mean I advocate for engineers practicing outside of their area of expertise!). At face value this is perfectly reasonable. But as the saying goes, if you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. As long as we assign only nails to people with hammers there is no conflict.
The world is not so simple however and often a problem that is at the core of an engineer's duty is not rooted in their tried and true area of expertise. Maybe it's a software problem. Maybe it's a problem with work flow in the office. As engineers our chest of tools has to include more than our hammer. A good engineer enjoys approaching each challenge as a problem in need of solving in its own right. I've seen good engineers use their analytical minds and methods to break down a vast array of problems and provide clever, elegant solutions. This trait gives us much of our value in our respective industries.
However, there seems to be a blind spot even for very good engineers. Even if one broadens their self-image say from Water Resources Engineer to Civil Engineer to just plain ol' Engineer, we're still stuck in a single dimension. We see engineering solutions to all of the world's problems. This singular approach especially breaks down with people problems. All too often engineers provide engineering solutions to people problems. It's like using a hammer on sadness. When the root of a problem is a people problem, we have to broaden our "Engineer" self-image even further to "Person". The reality of our industry is that most of the problems ARE people problems. Engineering is the easy part. It's clients, coworkers, competitors, team members, reviewers, bosses, subordinates, and everyone else we interact with each and every day that are critical to success and all of these individuals are people and they've all got problems. Spreadsheets are useless against them. Formulas are powerless. Standards are pointless. Spreadsheets are... actually, there's got to be a way for a spreadsheet to help. Right? Please? If we fail to recognize this, then our best engineering efforts are utterly wasted.
Not every engineer is programmed to be good at solving people problems and that's ok. It's a good start if we can begin to recognize what the real problem is so that we can either rise to the new challenge or know when to call in reinforcements.