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Millennial Miscommunication Dilemma

communication sales May 17, 2018

I am a Boomer. Growing up, my father was my business role model. Like many Boomers, as a kid, I would follow him around my small hometown as he met with customers, friends, business associates, bankers, and strangers.  He was always the first to extend his hand, greeting the other party with a genuine smile and kind word with a demeanor that was both charming and disarming. He would always emphasize how important it was to be the first to initiate a handshake because it represented trustworthiness put you in control of the encounter, even if only momentarily.

Most millennials have not had the benefit of such a mentor. In most instances, they are digitally self-taught by a system designed for electronic communication. Absent are the nuances of eye-contact (Skype, Zoom, and FaceTime don't count), voice inflection, body language, and the warmth of a genuine handshake and of taking time to get to know the person who they are encountering. Immediate execution and gratification have become the norm and there just is not enough time to take the deep dive into the newfound relationship.

One of the most pervasive challenges I consistently encounter as an executive coach revolves around how to effectively communicate with millennials. There are limitless seminars, workshops, consultants, and coaches devoted to getting everyone to understand how to make the connection with a generation that seems so disconnected from the "proper" way to engage and convey ideas, concepts, and everyday messages.

"The only way they know how to communicate is through texting!",  "They don't know anything about the value of handshakes or eye contact.", "They live in their own bubble with eyes glued to the screen.", "They should know that business is not a video game." And so it goes, on an on.  The older generations - Boomers and Ys - just don't understand.

It appears that most of the energy expended by these consultants and coaches to correct this problem centers around getting the advanced generations to understand the millennials when, in fact, a significant amount of time should be spent getting millennials to understand communication dynamics of the elders.  In other words, this communication issue is a two-way street. Both sides need a clear understanding of how the other functions when it comes to effective communication.

The most critical shortcoming of trying to build business or personal relationships primarily  through electronic interaction is the timely establishment of trust among parties. Personal contact, by far, facilitates greater insight into another's trustworthiness and integrity than does texting and email.  While not the case 100% of the time, looking another in the eye, listening to vocal tones and inflection, and observing body language provide us with a better understanding of the person with whom we are engaging. All too often, intention, mood, and context can easily be lost, misinterpreted or masked absent these human touch points.

It is my belief that, at some point, the pendulum will swing back in the direction of greater personal engagement. Why? Because those who rely so heavily on electronic communication will eventually get burned by someone they thought they could trust with their credit card, their identity, their emotions, or their well-being.

My recommendation to Ys and Boomers is simple. Rather than being overly critical of texting and social media and the millennials who see these vehicles as the ultimate interactive communication resources, take a moment to seek common ground. Share instances where "old fashioned" communication has been beneficial and ask the millennial to share some of the wins they have had doing it their way.  In any case, be sure to shake their hand, look them in the eye, smile, and speak kind words.