Millennials are everywhere. In a few years—when the remainder of people born in the 1990s enter the workforce—they will be largest percentage of people in the country. So how do we talk to them?
Probably the best technique for engaging millennials in the workplace is to take whatever knee-jerk reaction comes to mind about this age group—and dismiss it. Some common negative stereotypes about young people include:
- They are lazy and unmotivated
- They text all the time and have no phone etiquette
- They take selfies all the time
- They browse social media constantly
You may have thought these things in the past, or something else. This is the biggest problem in effectively communicating with any group of people: preconceptions that limit our beliefs, and therefore influence our actions. Start by challenging your assumptions.
So how can we better connect with people who come from a different generation? The key revelation is to try to understand communication from that group’s perspective. In this regard, it’s not so much about people from a specific range of ages, but a group of people who have common experiences.
Therefore, effective communication techniques for millennials are complimentary to effective communication techniques for other groups. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s talk about young people in the workplace.
1. Use the Appropriate Medium
The numbers do tell the truth. A a study from the Pew Research Center reports that 88% of Millenials are texters. Compare this with Baby Boomers, only half of which send messages in this manner.
That doesn’t mean you should always use text messages to communicate with younger people. But it does mean that times where texting is appropriate, that’s the best option for connecting with young people.
Likewise, if you need someone’s undivided attention for a detailed, nuanced, sensitive conversation—request a face-to-face conversation. And if you’re interacting with someone who is comfortable communicating over a screen, explain why you want to talk in person.
In essence, show respect for what others prefer.
2. Be Specific if You Want Specifics
Millenials are famous for snappy answers, snarky responses, and all around sarcasm. Why is it sometimes hard to connect with young people about important topics?
Part of the reason is that when many of us communicate, we do so by inference rather than directly. We talk around issues instead of about them. We use gentle language, euphemisms, and weasel words. We don’t get to details, and this can drive people bonkers.
Consider the following examples:
Bad: What are your thoughts about this project?
Better: How do you feel about the June 1st deadline?
Best: In order to meet a June 1st deadline, what milestones will we need to meet?
Bad: I wanted to talk to you about your performance this past year.
Better: It looks like you haven’t been hitting your figures.
Best: Your average for last year is 80% of quota, but mostly in the last three months. What’s up?
Specificity breeds specificity. Try it!
3. Separate Avoidable and Unavoidable Interruptions
As much as we might want work to be completely under our own control, outside factors are always at play. That may be the weather or a ringing phone or a colleague with an urgent question. Interruptions are everywhere.
Millenials in particular are accustomed to multitasking and handling data from multiple directions. For that reason, we might assume that they are better at handling interruptions than other generations and that we shouldn’t worry about piling on new stimuli.
But just as with the other points, distracting another person is often disrespectful. The best way to communicate with a millennial is to determine whether or not you truly need to interrupt them. Can you send an email rather than tapping them on the shoulder? Can you save the conversation for the next scheduled meeting rather than doing it right now?
Some interruptions can’t be avoided. But if it is not strictly necessary, don’t bug someone.
These are great communication techniques for interacting with millenials. But they are also valid for almost anyone when you take the proper consideration.
It’s always a good idea to use the best medium for the message and the recipient. It’s always best to be clear and direct, especially if that’s the kind of response you want. And it’s always best to avoid interrupting other people.
These aren’t really aspects of communicating with millenials. They are respectful ways to communicate with human beings. And if we are to embrace younger generations in the workforce, thinking of them as people first may be most important.