What Boomers Can Teach Millennials About Communication

I want to start by saying I’m not here to bash Millennials for their communication skills.

Millennials are excellent communicators. They communicate across more mediums than any generation prior. They are able to distinguish subtleties in written communication that their parents and grandparents would never have noticed.

They use punctuation, pictograms, and screencaps to create entirely new ways to transmit a thought from one mind to another.

Millennials are great at communication.

There’s just one problem.

They’re not great at the kind of communication Boomers want them to exhibit in the workplace.

What’s Different About Workplace Communication?

While Millennials are excellent at communicating with their peers, and in fact probably get more information into any given piece of communication than other generations can, they often struggle with workplace communication.

That’s because workplace communication isn’t peer-to-peer.

Most frequently, the people Millennials are required to communicate with in the workplace are people who are far older than themselves.

People who didn’t grow up with abbreviated forms of language, emojis, or other common tools Millennials now use to communicate today.

Here’s a brief example:

In an instant message, a Millennial sent her boss a brief update on an invoice that had been sent out.

The boss replied “Thank you” in the IM.

The Millennial replied “np” – short for “no problem,” which anyone of her own generation would immediately have recognized as a polite “you’re welcome” to the boss’ “thank you.”

The boss was offended. He didn’t know what “np” meant, and he felt she was taking a liberty by using “textspeak” to talk to him.

The Millennial wasn’t rude, inappropriate, or out of line. She simply wasn’t communicating in the way her boss needed her to communicate in order to understand her.

How Do We Fix the Communication Gap?

I’ve got good news and bad news for all of you who work with Millennials.

The good news is very good: Millennials are great at picking up new ways to communicate. They communicate with entirely different forms of language across every possible medium, and they can easily learn the preferred mode of communicating in a workplace.

Here’s the bad news: you have to teach them.

You know.

Communicate with them.

I can’t tell you how often I’ve spoken to upper management at a company bemoaning how awful these Millennials are with the way they write and speak to their superiors.

“Have you told them how you’d like them to communicate?” I ask.

“They should communicate professionally!” the reply comes back.

“Okay, great,” I say. “Have you defined ‘professionally’ for them? Is there a guide? Are there examples of a professional communication vs. an unprofessional one?”

They stare back at me blankly. No. Of course there isn’t. Everyone knows what professional communication is.

Except Millennials don’t. Where on earth would they have learned it?

High school? No, school is a pretty informal environment these days. In college? Even more informal. At home with their parents? Seems unlikely, unless your parents are much stricter than mine were.

So the first time they’re encountering something called ‘professional communication’ is … in their first workplace.

Which is probably YOUR workplace.

Bottom line: want Millennials to communicate better? You’re going to have to start by leading by example – and communicating with them.

Paige Cornetet