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HR Fishbowl

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Young, Impressionable, and Bad Communicators

In my not so humble opinion, there is really only one skill in the world of work that trumps all others: communication. Strong communicators almost always get the edge. Not only is it central to everything we do in the workplace, but we tend to gravitate toward people who we like to listen to and away from those we don’t. Here’s the problem: it seems the newer entrants into the workforce are generally even more badder at communicating than most of us is. And we HR folk have an obligation to help them over that hump. Alexia Vernon - author, speaker, coach, trainer, and media personality who specializes in helping organizations grow their young professional workforce – wrote a book that gets at this exactly. In 90 Days 90 Ways: Onboard Young Professionals to Peak Performance, Alexia gives us the essence of getting this unique generation oriented, integrated and productive. So I asked her to share some of her wisdom with us. It’s simple and sound advice. Follow it. And then follow Alexia  (@AlexiaVernon).

Although effective communication is the number one global skill companies look for in their recruits, young professionals (Generation Y or Millennials) are typically weak in this area. Their deficit in communication, though, is actually a range of deficits. Young professionals frequently choose the wrong medium for their audience; they use excessive vocalized thinking, i.e., um, you know, so, or like; and perhaps most problematically, they are weak at constructing a well-developed, coherent argument.

Young professionals have had fewer opportunities than any previous generation to hone their face-to-face communication skills. Having been in front of a screen – whether it was a TV, computer, or smart phone – for most of their lives, young professionals need daily opportunities to practice their interpersonal communication, negotiation, conflict resolution, relationship building, and presentation skills.

Here are three easy and effective tactics for helping your young professionals close the gap between where they are as communicators and where you want them to be:

Exchange Communication Preferences and Styles

Effective communication is always about understanding how the people you are communicating with want to receive your information. For most people, it’s not about always choosing to talk, text, or tweet, but having a preference for a particular medium in a particular situation. Talk with your new hires about the different contexts your team communicates in and what each person’s preferences are. Five of the most important areas to cover include:

  • Delivering to-do lists and reminders
  • Sharing large quantities of information
  • Communicating last minute or time sensitive information
  • After-hours communication
  • Brainstorming or idea generation

And guess what: if you want your hires to understand the importance of being able to communicate via the medium that the person they are communicating with most wants, that means you have to respect their preferences as well.

Keep Communication Audience-Appropriate

The first time your young professionals interact with someone – whether supervisor, peer, upper management, customers, or executives – they are unlikely to know their communication preferences or style. Support them to make the right choices about medium to use, tone to adopt, level of preparation, and level of proofreading that is necessary for effective communication with each particular audience. The more you make this a part of your onboarding, the more adept they’ll be at picking up cues from the other people they come into contact with as time progresses.

Teach Them to Begin with the End in Mind

To support young professionals to strategically organize their thinking, have them make a habit of first identifying what they want the person receiving the message to take away. Having a result in mind – a call to action – helps your employees know what they want to drive home. Then, they can easily work backwards to identify step-by-step what they want to cover from the moment they open their mouths. This process works as well for presentations as it does for everyday professional workplace conversations.

Most young professionals are more familiar—and therefore more comfortable—with impromptu, stream of consciousness social media messaging than substantive face-to-face discourse. This organizing process helps to streamline chaotic thoughts into a coherent message. And we could all benefit from that…

Image Credit: Bindaas Madhavi

  • Reema Hibrawi

    I would like to politely disagree. Bad communication is not a specific to one generation. Being a supervisor or manager does not correlate to strong communication skills. And that being said, impressionable young professionals may take on these habits or perpetuate those already existing by following the example of their senior staff.

    Young professionals do need to take responsibility for the fact that they are amateurs at navigating office politics, and learning the best communication for each staff member. As long as they are aware and making efforts to learn; I do not see their lack of knowledge a terrible thing. Everyone starts out somewhere and it may be a humbling reminder for those with more experience that they too started out just the same way.

    Also, I am hoping the sentence “even more badder at communicating” was being facetious. I have also noticed more seasoned professionals use the world “um, like” and other sentence fillers which do not seem to have an effect on their coherent arguments.

  • hrfishbowl

    Reema, thanks so much for your thoughtful response. you’re right on point. just to be clear, as the owner of this blog i made up the title of this post. i like to use something that revs the engines. Alexia did NOT use “Bad Communicators” as a term to describe GenY. I did. But she does point out – for reasons specific to their generation – that they are generally (more) weak in this regard than others. i think it’s important to understand that each generation – each wave of workrforce – will have their own challenges getting up the steep learning curve. it’s best if we’re in a position to identify what those challenges MIGHT be so we can be prepared for them.

    and yes, “even more badder at communicating” was just good ole waggish me.

    thanks again!

  • genb

    oh, nonsense! gen x and gen y are amazing…they have nothing to learn! i think you’re just…not cool! you just don’t get that they’re right…that they are amazing at um everything. and, um they dress cool, too. like that flip flop thing at work…made only better with chipped pedicures and hair hanging in their faces, and clothes that look like they’ve never been within 100 feet of an iron or dry cleaning establishment. um. you just don’t get it? (that’s uptalking in print, btw).

  • Greg Gazin

    “Here’s the problem: it seems the newer entrants into the workforce are generally even more badder at communicating than most of us is.” ARE YOU SERIOUS? I find many new entrants humble and articulate. It’s sometimes the dinosaurs’ attitudes that make it look that way. No matter how good we are, we can always improve. Truth be told, I tuned out after the first paragraph!

  • Baby Calf

    This is terrible: “Alexia gives us the essence of getting this unique generation oriented, integrated and productive.” How this paternalistic nonsense passes as a legitimate goal in working with new colleagues is beyond me. In my workplace, the most impressionable, least audience-oriented, least goal-oriented, and least communications-savvy are those that have been there the longest. It’s been the job of inexperienced junior staffers to initiate strategic discussions and craft communications that are audience-friendly.

    If you want to contribute to this conversation in a meaningful way, leave your preconceived notions of our youth at the door and come to the door with an open mind and spirit of mentorship.

  • hrfishbowl

    these aren’t preconceived notions – they are based in what is now very real experience and observation. it doesn’t means it always applies…nothing does. what’s wrong with trying to understand some of the traits (positive and negative) that might characterize a particular segment of your workforce – particularly if it allows the employer to get out in front of, leverage, and/or help the employees overcome. it’s no different than my saying the baby boomers are generally pretty bad at providing meaningful feedback because they grew up in a business environment where “feedback” generally meant you did something wrong. understanding the nuances – however slight – is important.

  • hrfishbowl

    glad you tuned it at all, greg. thanks for chiming in.

  • hrfishbowl

    ahhhhh, the generational battle strikes again. sensitive topic. who knew? thanks for your entertaining uptalking, though.

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