Do You Speak Millennial?

I was born in 1981 so, according to many internet sources, that makes me a millennial. It’s very flattering to think that I am part of this powerful demographic but in reality I’m right on the cusp. If I was born 8 month earlier I’d be part of Generation X. This means I’m not a typical millennial. I remember when we first connected to the internet at our house using CompuServe dial up. I remember printing documents in the school computer lab on a dot-matrix printer. I remember getting my first mobile phone contract (a Nokia 3210 on Orange Everyday 50) at 21 years of age. Whilst, according to some sources, I can proudly wear the Millennial badge, my experiences growing up were very different from someone born only 5 years later. On the downside I’m not intuitively computer literate and a proficient touch typist like my younger brother but on the plus side I have a sense of perspective that allows me to bridge the divide. Living on the generational cusp has it’s advantages!

In several of the companies I’ve been working with recently there has been a lot of talk about how to engage with Millennials (and even their contemporaries Gen Z) as both customers and employees. As a target audience we seem very different to our forefathers. More transient, less loyal, more entitled, less communicative. In many organisations there is a stark divide in the hierarchy. The leadership and senior management tiers are filled with Gen Xers and the odd Baby Boomer whilst the workforce is mainly made up of Millennials who are steadily climbing the corporate ladder. The old school is under siege. The young people are coming!

One of the biggest challenges businesses are reporting is how to communicate effectively across these generational gaps. Digital solutions are the seductive "cure all" for productivity and engagement but in reality we are at saturation point. Email inboxes bulge with unopened communications. Instant messages get superficially scanned or left unread. Apps that are meant to make us more connected remain unused.

No matter which side of the generational divide you find yourself on, the pace of communication is relentless and shows no sign of slowing. Does this mean that in 10 years time we’ll no longer engage in conversation? Does it mean that instant messages will replace face to face meetings? Does it mean that AI bots will answer emails on our behalf? I suspect not. If early indications are anything to go by, we’ll actually see the opposite happening. If we want to be successful in the digital age we need to focus on analogue communication. We need to think about how we engage with others on a human level.

As a rule of thumb Millennials are purpose driven, they care about the “why”. They are much less interested in ownership and place huge value on convenience. They’re more likely to hire a taxi than use a car, to rent a place to live than to own a home, to eat out or grab a ready meal than to cook from scratch. They’re used to consuming vast amounts of information and data in bite sized chunks. They’re socially engaged with a wide network of “friends” but may not know the people that live next-door. The popularity of YouTube and Instagram suggests that storytelling in the visual medium is king. Sweeping generalisations of course but useful in helping us understand a shift in mindset and behaviour.

So it’s not really a case of having to learn to speak Millennial. It’s more subtle than that. Both parties need to walk in each other’s shoes. Millennials need to learn to get comfortable stepping out from behind the tech. They need to learn the skills of influence and to become more aware of the impact of their communication. Gen Xers on the other hand need to think about how they embrace technology and use it to engage with hearts as well as minds. They need to get better at storytelling and ensure that they communicate in a way that inspires. Communication isn’t a “soft skill”, it’s at the heart of everything we do. It creates leverage and momentum. In times of uncertainly - and if we look towards the future, there is certainly uncertainty ahead - greater awareness of how we communicate with others will be vital to our success. Maybe it’s time for a soft skills revolution? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

At In Flow we accelerate business performance by unlocking your people’s ability to communicate. We’ve developed our IMPACT masterclass to address the challenges above so if you’d like to ensure that everyone in you organisation can speak Millennial let’s talk. Email or call +44 (0)3330 504036.