Ask anyone to list the top qualities of a leader, and communication skills will inevitably make the cut, usually somewhere near the top of the list. The importance of communication is justified by mentioning the need to articulate a vision, provide guidance and insight, and bring clarity to job responsibilities and expectations.
In most cases, though, communication skills are used as a blanket term. Leaders are expected to communicate well with every group, in every situation, in every format. But as anyone who has ever worked as part of a team knows, there is no “one size fits all” way to effectively communicate. And nowhere is that becoming clearer than when it comes to communicating with millennials.
Why Millennials Matter
Perhaps no other generation has been as scrutinized — and simultaneously praised and maligned — as millennials. They are lauded for their ability to disrupt the status quo while simultaneously blamed for “killing” thought patterns and even entire industries that have shown little change for generations. Experts can’t even really agree on what constitutes a “millennial,” although most agree that the title applies to anyone born between the years 1982 to 1994.
What most people can agree on is the fact that millennials are a force to be reckoned with, and are a vital part of today’s workforce. In fact, one recent survey indicates that within the next three years, millennials will comprise at least half of the American workforce. Many are moving into leadership roles, especially as older workers retire, and are bringing their unique work, communication styles, and expectations into those roles with them.
For leaders who are working with millennials, either as colleagues or as their supervisor, these new paradigms are presenting new challenges and opportunities. In many ways, this means taking stock of all their leadership skills, to make changes and adjustments to more effectively connect with younger workers. In many cases, this begins with reevaluating and seeking out education to improve leadership communication skills.
Communicating With Millennials
We’ve all been on the receiving end of poor communication, and experienced the frustration, confusion, and in some cases, anger that can come with it. Poor communication can destroy even the most functional of teams, and is a leading contributor to employee dissatisfaction.
Knowing that, today’s female leaders have a responsibility to learn how to communicate with millennials, and to adjust their communication style to meet their needs. For example:
- Millennials prefer short messages, preferably delivered via text message. The funny memes about people not answering their phones and demanding friends send them a text instead? They aren’t joking. Text messages (or instant messages) are the most preferred method of communication for millennials, followed by email, social media, telephone, and in-person conversations.
- Millennials aren’t terribly formal. It may seem odd in a professional environment, but adding a bit of humor or playfulness to your communication is the best way to get a millennial’s attention. Overly stuffy or formal messages aren’t generally met with enthusiasm, and may be met with resentment.
- Millennials prefer one topic at a time. Millennials tend to become overwhelmed by too much information, and will literally shut down. Communication should remain focused on one topic at a time, with meeting agendas clearly defined and focused on specific items.
- Millennials want to be heard. Giving millennials the opportunity to respond and contribute is important. They are concerned about everyone getting a chance to share, and want to build strong teams.
- Millennials want context. It’s not enough to tell a millennial what they need to do — you need to explain why. You need to express clear expectations, and explain why you are giving them the information or task. It might feel like handholding, but taking the time to make these connections helps maintain productivity and feelings of loyalty.
Learning to effectively communicate with millennials might feel awkward, or even frustrating, if you have already honed an effective communication style. Given the dominant role that this generation will play in the future, not to mention the fact that you are guaranteed to encounter millennial clients or customers, it’s important to develop these skills in order to remain successful as a leader.