Last week at a work event I witnessed a roundtable discussion on the challenges older adults face when communicating with millennials. It was interesting to hear people 10 to 20 years older than me speak candidly about their frustrations getting through to my generation. A variety of causes were blamed, ranging from the popularity of text messaging to excessive praise from parents. A professional facilitator led the session, which lasted for several hours.
I sat in the back of the room, intrigued and a bit ashamed, and didn’t make a peep. I’m not sure if anyone participating in the conversation recognized the fact that I fell into the demographic they were describing, and I didn’t want to derail the energy in the room.
The thesis statement of the conversation was that millennials were bad at communication. That we pretty much lack the ability and initiative to interact with others in a productive way. There were even suggestions that younger people should be trained on ways to better engage with older generations as they enter the workforce.
I couldn’t help but feel a little bit stereotyped.
I know. I’m the anomaly. My entire profession is based on promoting clear communication.
But it wasn’t really the criticism that bugged me. It was the feeling of being casually defined by a broad term that made me uncomfortable. Yes, I’m a millennial, based on the year I was born. But I’m a lot of other things, too. For example, I’m a great baker and I make really good mixed CDs. I’m a dog lover and a world traveler.
Sure, go ahead and sum up my existence in a few phrases. I can take it. But you don’t see me or my peers sitting around, lamenting the inability of older generations to engage with us.
I get it though. We text incessantly. We have ADD. We ask ‘why.’ And we speak too fast and say “like” a lot. But we grew up with the INTERNET for pete’s sake, and cell phones and e-books and coed dorms. We lack the eloquence of Shakespearean actors, true, but man can we tweet with finesse.
The world has become a faster place, and as people growing up in it, we’re simply trying to adapt.
I think that as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, generations will always have challenges understanding each other and figuring out how to relate. This will continue to make parents crazy and teenagers rebellious, and ensures a place for detention in high schools from now through eternity. I understand how aggravating it must be to work with people my age and our endless quirks and eccentricities, but I believe that learning how to listen to us – maybe in ways you’ve never tried – is worth the effort.
You never know what you’ll learn when you least expect it.
We use slang and we swear a lot. It’s disgraceful. But we also can do things that would blow your mind. Just give us a chance and let your listening skills evolve with your patience.