Generational nicknames annoy me. Creating one label for a vast range of people sets all of us up to make incorrect assumptions and communicate ineffectively. Recently though, a client specifically requested I include more information in a workshop on how Millennials use the phone.
How do Millennials use the phone? How can this communication be improved?
One of the reasons I dislike generational nicknames is … apparently I’m a Baby Boomer. That means I participated in the anti-war, free love revolution of the 60s and 70s (but was only 11 when Woodstock happened, couldn’t find bell bottoms in a retail store in my small Northern Ontario town until I was in high school, and my first trip to Haight-Ashbury was last October when I attended a conference in San Francisco). Or I was a party-hardy, career climber in the 70s and 80s, years when I was finishing university and working long hours building my first business. I definitely missed the parties!
So, when it comes to Millennials, I caution all of us to be careful about the assumptions we make. I’ve worked with, and continue to work with, many people from this generation (said to be born between 1977 and 1995), as well as from Gen Z (said to be born starting in 1996). Their struggles with phone calls are echoed in every generation.
Why? Consider these two facts:
1. Time magazine named the personal computer its Man of the Year in 1982. Slowly, regardless of our generation, we all began to communicate through words on a screen, allowing email to outpace our phone conversations.
2. The first Blackberry was introduced in 1999 and by 2006 “Crackberry” (a term used to describe one’s addiction to using their Blackberry) was declared Word of the Year by Websters Dictionary.
In other words, we have all been tapping on keys to communicate for 35 years. While I grew up listening to adults talk on the phone, the Millennial and Gen Z generations watched their parents tap on keyboards. While my first jobs involved answering and communicating on a phone, their’s most often involved working on a computer. Phone conversations were the norm for me, text communication is the norm for them, and a reluctance to speak on the phone – or awkwardness during a phone call – are inevitable outcomes.
So, keeping in mind that I’m making sweeping generalizations, here are 5 things to consider when you want to communicate with Millennials or Gen Z’ers on the phone:
- Remain empathetic to the fact that speaking on the phone has a lot in common with public speaking … except you can’t see your audience! A phone call can be terrifying, unnerving and full of anxiety. Accept longer silences on the call. Speak slowly and ask open-ended questions to inspire conversation. Once the conversation gets started, everyone will relax.
- Use text and/or email to book a specific time for a phone call. This allows them to prepare. Text communication has allowed them to edit, spell check and carefully consider their words. The improv nature of a phone call is completely intimidating. Booking the call as a meeting eliminates some anxiety.
- Set an agenda for the phone call. This also helps combat the ‘in the moment’ aspect of phone communication. If they know the specifics of what the call is about, they will prepare and be more responsive.
- Give them the ‘why’ for the phone call. Let them know it will be more efficient, save them time, provide them with more information, quickly answer all their questions, and so on. Understanding why the phone call is necessary will overcome some of their reluctance, and saving time is a a key motivator.
- Don’t expect them to return messages or leave messages. Why? They grew up in a text-based world. Picking up voicemail messages or speaking at the sound of the tone … in many cases it simply doesn’t occur to them to do these things.
What are your thoughts on this topic? It would be valuable to hear from you, no matter what your generational nickname.