One Boomer’s Advice to Millennials

April 7, 2017

With the Millennial Generation now representing nearly 45% of the U.S. workforce, it’s clear we are experiencing a huge cultural shift. And while these younger workers may report to other Millennials, Generation Xers or Baby Boomers, there are certain protocols they should consider as they navigate their careers.

The Baby Boomer generation was largely responsible for launching the technological age we now take for granted. This required that Boomers continually adapted to change in order to stay relevant as the workplace became more technologically mechanized.

Millennials, on the other hand, don’t know life without computers and the Internet. But that doesn’t mean they don’t also need to continually adapt to change. In fact, it may be that their generation has experienced and will continue to experience more and more rapid change than those who preceded them.

Adapting to change should ultimately be seen as a way of being. This is not only true with regard to technological skills, but also business processes and the skills of interpersonal relationships, leadership development, and other soft skills. Lifelong learning requires maintaining curiosity and a beginner’s mind.

With that, I offer a few thoughts on what may be helpful to Millennials as they navigate the workplace not only with outgoing Baby Boomers, but also Generation Xers and their fellow Millennials.

Communication
Communicating effectively requires choosing the appropriate medium and using the correct message. Don’t assume that an emoji-ridden text message will be appropriate when in fact a face-to-face conversation is necessary. And a true conversation requires listening as well as speaking. It demands your full attention to be most effective. While everyone lists “excellent communication skills” on the resume, very few people are truly excellent at it. Make it a practice to continually hone your ability to write, speak and listen effectively.

Collaboration
Unlike previous generations, Millennials have been taught from early on to work and learn in groups. Collaboration is especially valuable in today’s workplace because most of the work is completed by groups of people. These groups are also more diverse and your ability to get along with your coworkers will determine how effective the group is at accomplishing its goals. This will require shared respect, trust, and effective communication. Make it a practice to continually learn how to navigate these relationships effectively.

Accountability
The modern workplace requires more self-reliance and therefore it’s important for you to take responsibility for your career. Accept that no one is going to determine your success or failure more than you are. While you will likely always have a boss, it is up to you to determine the level of direction and support you need in order to succeed at what you do. You need to take responsibility for continually communicating this to your boss. And understand that though you may be used to and feel you require constant feedback for how you’re doing, that may not be a priority or general practice of your boss. Be accountable for what you need to do your job and to advance your career.

Finally, as I’ve learned in my nearly 40 years of work, it is vitally important to stay authentic and live your values. There may be a time when you will need to make a change because where you work or what you do comes in conflict with who you are. Life is short and therefore you should do whatever you need to do to align who you are with what you do. And remember: Love people and use things. Because the opposite never works.

10 Tips to Improve Workplace Communication

December 30, 2011

In the spirit of year-end top ten lists, here are my top ten tips to improve communication in the workplace—for this and every year. Better communication is important because it can provide more engaged employees, higher workplace morale, and greater efficiency and productivity.

As I wrote in a previous post on how to improve listening, communication skills include reading, writing, speaking and listening. All of these skills are important in most workplaces and each of them should be considered.

My top ten tips to improve workplace communication are as follows.

1.  Clear & Direct. Be certain the information you need to convey—whether it is spoken or written—is clear and directly communicated. Use language that is specific and unambiguous. Check that the receiver understands the message as you intended. Avoid acronyms when there’s a chance they will be unclear.

2.  Actively Listen. Becoming an active listener means you make a conscious effort to truly hear what the other person is saying—in their words as well as their body language. Practice holding off thinking about how to respond or interrupting until you have thoroughly heard what they are saying. It should come as no surprise that the best communicators are also the best listeners.  

3.  Paraphrase. The goal of paraphrasing is to ensure you are clear about what has been said and let the speaker know that you care about what he or she is communicating. Both are equally important in effective communication. Use a variation on “What I hear you saying is . . .” to accomplish this.

4.  Face-to-Face. Whenever you have difficult information to convey or sometihing that could result in many questions, choose to have a direct face-to-face conversation. You will also have the huge benefit of non-verbal communication cues including tone of voice, facial expressions and other body language.

5.  Be Respectful. This means using the other person’s name, looking them in the eye, and nodding to aid in demonstrating you understand what they are saying. If you are communicating in writing, reread before sending your message to ensure that it could not be misinterpreted or taken as disrespectful. When on the phone, don’t multitask even if you think the person on the other end of the line does not know that you are.

6.  Message & Medium. Some of us are better communicating in writing and some are better at speaking. Some of us are better reading information and some at listening to information. In most cases, it depends on the message being delivered and received. When you need to deliver a message, consider whether it should be spoken or written depending on the content as well as the preference of your receiver.

7.  Tailor Conversation to Audience. Communicating with your boss, co-worker, customer or supplier may require a slightly different style. With your boss, be careful to pick the right time, and ask for what you need and what you expect they can reasonably deliver. For a co-worker, be direct, transparent, and open-minded. And if a customer or supplier calls with a problem, listen carefully, apologize if necessary even if it wasn’t your fault, and offer a solution.

8.  Effective Texting. More and more of our workplace communication is done via email, voice mail and text messaging. There are advantages and disadvantages to each of these, depending on the message and the audience. Texting can be especially effective when a quick question or answer is required without further explanation or repeated follow up, e.g., “What time is the budget meeting?” But don’t text when it cannot effectively communicate your message.

9.  Make the Most of Meetings. Way too many of us spend time in meetings that are unproductive and often unnecessary. Demand that those calling a meeting provide an agenda, hold to the appointed start and end time, and have only the right people in attendance. Ensure that the work done in the meeting warrants the time and resources taken away from those working independently.

10. Stay Positive. Regardless of the conversation, try to keep it positive. Even the harshest feedback can and should be delivered in a positive, supportive, team-centric manner. Stay focused on behavior or performance and not character. When you are on the receiving end, avoid getting triggered by difficult messages. Keep in mind the bigger picture and the long term implications.

These ten tips for improving workplace communication can be implemented and perfected by anyone. Take an honest look at your own communication skills then choose one of the above to improve upon. 

The work you put into improving your communication skills will pay dividends both at work and at home.

Are Your Email Messages Working Against You?

August 13, 2009

Choosing to use email to convey information versus face-to-face interaction or a telephone call should be carefully considered. Email, of course, has many advantages over the others. The trouble is, many email messages are not entirely clear and often are misinterpreted. In fact, according to a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology ((Vol. 89(6) pp. 925-936)), nearly 40% of email messages are misunderstood! This should cause all of us to hesitate before hitting the send button.

The study further found that without the benefit of paralinguistic cues such as gesture, emphasis, and intonation, email makes it very difficult to convey emotion and tone. Using ALL CAPS, bold type, or emoticons 😉 are poor substitutes for facial expressions and tone of voice. Albert Mehrabian, professor of psychology at UCLA, posited the three basic elements of face-to-face communication are words, tone of voice, and body language. Words, according to Mehrabian, account for just 7 percent of the overall content being received, while tone of voice accounts for 38 percent and body language accounts for a whopping 55 percent! If only 7 percent of information is effectively communicated via the words themselves, then a great deal of effort should be considered in choosing which words to use and the order of them in our email communication.

Should we instead abandon email altogether? Certainly not. There are many great reasons to use email, including one-to-many distribution, the timing and speed at which information can be delivered, the inclusion of hyperlinks and attachments, and the level of detail that can be included. However, too often we assume that our audience can correctly interpret our intention behind our words. Not aligning our intention with our content can lead to greater misunderstanding.

Communication can easily break down even under the best of circumstances in face-to-face interactions. With this in mind, it is essential to put great care in writing emails so they are not misunderstood. To do this, I have several suggestions:

1) Consider your audience. What assumptions are you making regarding culture, gender, age, level of education, etc? When in doubt, provide a greater level of background information than you might otherwise. And spell out acronyms.

2) Double check the title you use in the Subject box to ensure that it accurately encapsulates the body of the message. Sometimes these titles can confuse or even contradict what is written in the message itself.

3) Before sending the email, reread your message with a dispassionate eye and from an objective point of view. Ask yourself if your words could be interpreted any way other than you intend.

4) If you are sending to a large group, first send the message as a draft to only two or three people to learn whether or not your intention and the message are entirely clear to them. Only send it on to the entire group when you have agreement.

No matter what you use email for, it is essential to keep in mind the limitations of this medium. In spite of developments in video conferencing, Skype-enabled calls, and other video-enhanced technologies, the majority of our business communications are currently conducted via written words alone. The ability to clearly communicate with these words is more important now than ever.

Mark Craemer                                                                                          www.craemerconsulting.com