Asee peer logo

Leading Through Difficult Conversations: Developing Students' Leadership Communication Skills

Download Paper |


2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Communication, Professional Development, and the Engineering Ambassador Network

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.848.1 - 23.848.4



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Julia M. Williams Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

visit author page

Dr. Julia M. Williams is Executive Director of the Office of Institutional Research, Planning, and Assessment & Professor of English at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. Her research areas include technical communication, assessment, accreditation, and the impact of pen-based technologies on learning and teaching. Her articles have appeared in the Journal of Engineering Education, International Journal of Engineering Education, IEEE Transaction on Professional Communication, and Technical Communication Quarterly, among others.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Leading through Difficult Conversations:  Developing Students’ Leadership  Communication Skills Across the Curriculum    The need for engineers to take leadership roles is a frequent topic in documents that discuss how to improve the future of engineering in the US.  These leadership roles are diverse, everything from getting more engineers into public office to encouraging engineers who are successful in their technical fields to aspire to leadership in national organizations (such as ASEE).  The problem remains, however, that engineers in general may feel less prepared to follow these career directions because of their lack of confidence in their leadership communication abilities.    The solution, we are told, is that students should develop leadership skills, take leadership courses while still in college, and/or assume leadership roles in co‐curricular activities.  Taking a “leadership across the curriculum” approach, however, could provide students with opportunities to develop their skills without adding additional courses or co‐curricular activities that may conflict with work or family responsibilities.  In particular, leadership communication—practiced in communication courses, in capstone design projects, or in other courses already in the curriculum—can provide students with an important foundation that can provide significant benefits throughout their careers.  The focus of this presentation is on leadership communication through “difficult conversations,” a term developed by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen in their book Difficult Conversations:  How to Discuss What Matters Most.  In this presentation, the attendees will learn the principles that can help engineering students negotiate through difficult conversations, resulting in better listening and communication.  The presenter will also give examples of how the principles can be integrated into existing courses, with sample assignments and assessment rubrics that can make evaluation more manageable and sustainable.   

Williams, J. M. (2013, June), Leading Through Difficult Conversations: Developing Students' Leadership Communication Skills Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19862

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2013 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015