I was sitting in a meeting recently with someone around my age (let’s call it older than 49 and less than 60) and the conversation turned, as it often does, to the challenges of working with Millennials. On the inside I rolled my eyes and, on the outside, I smiled and nodded. My poor Gen X compadres—you remember us, that little generation that slipped in between Boomers and Millennials—have a major inferiority complex. We never really developed an identity and we are struggling with our envy of all the attention paid to Millennials. When we were in our 20s and 30s, nobody was talking about how hard it was to work with us because no one even regarded that we might have different choices about how we work. As a teeny little population without critical mass in the workplace, we were chameleons who just tried to fit in.
This X-er I was talking to was going on and on about how challenging it was for him to communicate with Millennials because they liked to text when he liked to be face-to-face or chat on the phone. He shared that their style of brevity with texts and messaging services left him feeling disrespected and wholly unheard. He wanted substance and depth in his communication with the younger generation, and they were focused more on efficiency and brevity. This was not the first time I've heard such grievances. In fact, the complaints are frequently coming from the other side. Millennials often tell me that they feel disregarded because of their lack of interest or need in having more human interactions to get their messages across or their jobs done.
It is a huge challenge for today’s leaders to figure out the best way to help foster strong and effective communication in their organizations. There are real costs to this issue beyond just gripes and grievances. David Grossman reported in “The Cost of Poor Communications” that a survey of 400 companies with 100,000 employees each cited an average loss per company of $62.4 million per year because of inadequate communication between employees.
So, how do organizations combat this problem and bridge the communication gap? As communication skills experts, we advise organizations to invest in professional development. What has often been labeled as soft skills has become more of a core skill. Being able to communicate—and communicate to those of different styles—is an essential skill set not just for leaders and managers but also individual contributors. We communicate all day, every day and in lots of different ways.
Here are some things to consider:
Everyone’s style and preference is different
Managers and team leaders need to understand the various communication styles of their teams. This is not just about generational differences but is rooted in personality traits and behaviors.
Training and development is not optional
New hires should be mandated to participate in ongoing communication skills training and practice to allow them to build baseline skills and continue to improve. A 4-hour or 1-day training program won’t cut it. Organizations need to invest in technology tools to help their employees practice and improve, and learn in the manner that suits them best both on the spot and in the moment. This approach is called “micro-learning.”
Accountability is critical
Communication is commerce and business cannot get done without effective communication. Whether it’s internal or external, most workers today spend their days talking, presenting, emailing or messaging their clients and colleagues. All of these interactions matter and employees need to be evaluated on their ability to communicate. Those who struggle and under-perform need to be identified and supported. This goes both ways. For the managers and leaders, they too need to understand that they are accountable.
Expectations need to be set
Leaders and managers need to be clear about their expectations around communication. Clear guidelines on tools to be used such as messaging technology and emails must be outlined, and employees should be required to follow the protocols.