ATL Values: Humility and Transparency in Engineering

In a series of posts to highlight the values of ATL, we'll highlight each value and how working it into our daily routine as engineers and, more generally, as business people will benefit both ourselves and those we work with. The ATL values of Humility and Transparency can directly affect our daily workplace, but can really impact our growth and learning. Through humility and transparency, we both open ourselves up to receiving new input as well as engage our curiosity to ask questions in an unassertive way. This is complemented by transparency or a willingness to share information in an unfettered way.   

Ever been in a meeting or training and experienced that awkward moment where you have a question or thought you’d like to share with the presenter or team... but don’t feel comfortable in doing so?

Our own natural curiosity and inquisitiveness have issued a call-to-action, but, for one reason or another, we get the cold sweats and freeze.

Uncomfortable feelings could be based on various things—not wanting to be disrespectful to the presenter, lack of confidence in the question, uncertainty in the topic, not wanting to interrupt the class, etc.—and, depending on the circumstances and our unique personalities, the rationale on why we don’t respond can vary greatly. What we do share, however, is a communication block that prevents us from engaging our curiosity and enriching our own, and others’, understanding.

These moments, in time, may seem trivial, but consider what is lost, the growth that was missed or the innovation that might have been wasted when we fail to respond to our inquisitive nature. For ourselves, we miss the opportunity to potentially gain clarity on a topic or obtain better alignment with the presenter or topic. Occasionally, the audience also misses these same opportunities.

We’ve probably all encountered this when we’ve been the benefactors of someone else who didn’t have a block or fought through it and asked the question for everyone’s edification. Lastly, the presenter themselves can benefit from these interactions as it allows them to tailor their discussion to better address the audiences needs or potential challenge them to consider other inputs and viewpoints that had not been considered.

So how can an environment of inquisition be nurtured—inviting more engagement into our natural curiosity and helping people knock down their walls of inhibition? Below are a few suggestions, based on a given role, of how we can contribute to an open, accepting environment:


  • Clearly define the rules of engagement for the meeting you are conducting
    • If open questions are permitted during the session, make a clear invitation to the member in your opening remarks
    • If you are pressed for time and need to focus on your content, suggest alternative options for the members to provide their feedback such as at the end of the session, by planning a post-session, etc.
  • Engage your audience as you conduct the session
    • Ask probing questions to various members
    • Pay attention to the audience and look for signs of contemplation or even tension and look for ways to provide safe opportunities for them to engage

Team or Audience Member

  • Be conscious of your curiosity and exercise it:
    • Your initial question may not be perfect, get it out there and then let the dialog help you process through and refine your questions accordingly
    • If questions are not welcome, write down your thoughts so you can follow up at an appropriate time
  • Politely engage the Presenter/Trainer/Facilitator such as:
    • “I would like some clarification, is now a good time to discuss”
    • “Help me understand <topic or question>?”
    • “Are you open to a suggestion?”
    • “I’m curious to know more about <topic or question>”

All Participants:

  • Make it safe, avoid hostility
    • “Be fierce on content and soft on relationships”
    • Promote further discussion when people start to share their thoughts
      • “That’s a great point <name>, let’s process that as a team?”
      • “I appreciate you voicing that concern, I was contemplating that myself?”

When writing about it, speaking up seems so simple. But, in practice, it can be very challenging as noted above. As leaders and members of a team, fostering an environment that promotes the values of humility and transparency enables us to process issues more effectively and opens numerous channels to learn and learn. The challenge for us all is to embrace these aspects and work openness into our day-to-day communication and look forward to many stimulating discussions in the near future.