How to talk to Generation Y

2015-02-02 08:00

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There are about 10?million South Africans aged between 18 and 33. Known as Generation Y, they are also called the millennials.

While the millennials have often been considered as narcissistic or lazy, they are also known to be tech-savvy, liberal and with an insatiable desire to “give back” to the world despite a poor economy.

Whether these characteristics are true or not is a moot point, but the reality is that people born after 1980 make up a major part of the workforce. The way they work and communicate is probably quite different to the way their Generation X managers do.

Direct communication

According to Arno Kemp from The Training Room Online, technology has had a serious effect on the verbal communication skills of people.

“Due to instant messaging and platforms such as WhatsApp, Twitter and Skype, communication tends to be short and direct, with little to no need for daily face-to-face conversations in peer groups. However, work is about constant communication, and while email and instant messaging are part of the scene, skilful, rich, layered conversations have not lost their importance,” he says.

Shortage of soft skills

Interpersonal skills in an organisation have almost become more important today than technical knowledge, and this is something many millennials lack.

While they leave university equipped with theoretical knowledge and a degree or two, they haven’t yet had a chance to hone their soft skills, like communication, critical thinking, professionalism and time management.

“I have worked in corporate training development and talent management for 15 years, but the technological advances of the past few years have, without a doubt, had the most profound effect on the workplace that I have ever seen,” says Kemp.

How to improve

Technical knowledge can be acquired through university or college, but how can millennials improve their interpersonal skills?

They can start by determining what their strengths and weaknesses are and, once they have discovered what they are lacking, they can begin reading books or enrol themselves in a soft skills training course.

Working in an office environment, or any environment for that matter, is about so much more than technical knowledge. It is about possessing the soft skills you need to communicate effectively. This, in turn, will assist you in progressing up the corporate ladder (or whatever ladder you choose to climb), says Kemp.

Tips for young people in the working environment:

1.Good conversation is a critical life skill – not just in the workplace – but people forget that listening, not just talking, is a critical part of any conversation. Practise listening closely to what people say so that you can respond appropriately. It’s a skill you can teach yourself.

2.Conversation is not about winning an argument, so don’t spend the time that the other party is talking, preparing for the next point you wish to make. Listen.

3. We can’t run away from technology, but we mustn’t forget that we are human. You can’t feel human touch through the click of a button. Virtual flowers, don’t replace real ones from the garden. Remember to connect with the humans in your life – even the difficult ones.

4. When you’re unsure of what to say in a conversation, just show a keen interest in what the other person is saying. You can ask them questions about their subject. It might feel safer than starting your own topic. Remember that conversations don’t only help you get to know someone else better, but also yourself. It’s an opportunity to learn.

5. Life coaching workshops – which encourage group tasks that practise conversations, debates, interaction and teamwork – are helpful. Ask your employer if such training courses are available.

6. Remember that employers prefer working with people who communicate well. Learning to do so will not only help you at work, but in life too.

Tips for managers and millennials’ older colleagues:

»Offer recognition – Millennials are aware of their strengths and weaknesses. When they do something well, recognise them for it, as it motivates them to perform better.

»Visual representation – Millennials don’t like to waste their time on long emails. Make sure your message is concise. Visuals will keep them interested.

»Use humour – Millennials are drawn to quirky personalities and they love being entertained. A little bit of humour in your morning address to the office will go a long way.

»Stay current – These guys LOVE technology above all else. Show them that you are not stuck in the stone-age and that you are willing to learn and try new things.

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