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The Mistaken Perception of Millennial Communication

5 Steps to Closing the Generational Communication Gaps

What words do you think of when hearing the term “Millennials?” I imagine your mental image and choice of adjectives vary depending on what generational category you fall within. More so than past generations, Millennials have created some distinct stereotypes that aren’t always deserved.

Millennials, born roughly between 1980 and the mid- to late ’90s, have been described as tech-savvy yet socially awkward. They’ve been dubbed as poor communicators, relying heavily on text messaging, emojis and social media to do their heavy lifting in conversations and interactions.

Perhaps the stereotypes aren’t true but are a narrow view created by their seniors to better understand their distinct differences. Professional speaker Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said in her 2014 TEDx talk, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

Millennials came of age in a time of abundant technology with new ways to connect and communicate. However, many challenge the notion that this age group lacks a strong work ethic or desire to build deeper, more influential relationships with peers and employers.

I worked with a corporate executive who shared his admiration for Millennials. He said, “They are some of the most passionate and purposeful people we employ.” He suggested that Millennials desire to improve their personal communication skills and, like generations before, just need coaches to help them improve.

Is this really any different than any other professional – experienced or new, young or old, executive or intern? Shouldn’t we all desire to improve our communication skills and ability to influence others?

Unlike Baby Boomers and Generation Xers, perhaps the Millennials have been shut off from mentoring and executive coaching because of the stereotype that precedes them. Psychoanalyst Erik Erikson coined the phrase Generativity, which is considered to be “a need to nurture and guide younger people and contribute to the next generation; demonstrating a sign of developmental maturity and health.” Perhaps, the lack of generativity is the cause of this persistent belief that Millennials fail to communicate effectively and exhibit a general lack of professional demeanor.

Think back to your professional beginnings. Did you have a coach or mentor? Was there a significant influence that guided you through your professional development, such as an advocate? Have you committed to doing the same with a Millennial in your workforce? Probably not. This has led to an overall disengaged Millennial workforce that feels defeated and unimportant. With Millennial turnover costing U.S. businesses $30.5 billion each year, it’s important that companies begin investing time and energy in developing this gem of a generation’s hidden talents.

Like all professionals, we require ongoing development to increase our communication skills. Only then can we possess the influence necessary to get others to act upon what we have to say. Our ability to truly connect with others only occurs after we make a commitment to improve our active listening and verbal and nonverbal communication skills. These skills don’t come naturally to most but are observed, taught and routinely practiced.

Not one single generation has perfected the ability to communicate with others. While some professionals have committed to improving their skills, this is not the case for everyone. Every age group suffers from its own inability to connect effectively with others and requires ongoing coaching to improve.

The Millennials are no different. They need others to help show them the way. The question is, are other generations willing to step up and guide them by example, or will stereotypes continue to create a generativity gap that will negatively impact all our organizations?

Here’s how to close the generational communication gaps in your organization:

1. Accountability Partners. Create a communication partnership program where individuals from different generations are assigned to help each other identify gaps in communication skills. A recent study by Impraise, a human resource tech company, found that 41 percent of Millennials prefer weekly feedback interactions. Encourage peers to meet once a week and discuss their personal development goals. Each person should establish actionable tasks to work on throughout the following week, then follow up with their peer on how they did.

2. Encourage Recordings. Since 77 percent of Millennials agree they perform better when their work performance is monitored regularly, encourage employees to record themselves in meetings, presentations and on the phone. Each accountability partner should watch or listen to the playback as soon as possible, taking note of areas that need improvement. Peers can discuss their findings with their accountability partner and collaborate on ways to improve.

3. Proactive Leaders. Executives and leaders should own the process by making public their communication development desires. When higher-ranking professionals are transparent and sincere in their need to improve their own ability to clearly communicate, others will follow and find equal importance in the effort.

4. New Hire Onboarding. As an organization, commit to creating a mentorship program that assigns younger and newer employees to those who have more professional experience in general or within the organization. Encourage them to help newer employees learn the inner workings of the business. They can introduce new hires to other department leaders and peers to help create foundations for working relationships that may otherwise take significant time to develop.

5. Cross-Pollinate Experience. Put Millennials in a position of situational authority and allow them to teach older employees technological shortcuts that can help improve their communication skills. The older, more experienced employees may know the ropes but lag in their ability to adapt to technology that can enhance their ability to influence. Millennials can inspire older generations to embrace new presentation tools and platforms, refine their video conferencing skills and pursue the use of digital communication tools.

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