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American Millennials: Communicating to? Communicating with?

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Pick a POV (point of view).

One that surfaces often with regard to the Millennial Generation (Millennials) in the American workplace is ‘they don’t know how to communicate.’

For example, Millennials are frequently lambasted by Baby Boomers for ‘always being connected to their devices’ – which is the main reason Boomers think Millennials don’t know how to communicate.

Consider: The Millennials are the first generation to be raised ‘connected’ from birth. They believe technology to be their unique identifier – and they see technology as differentiating them from other generations (Millennials: Portrait of Generation Next, Pew Research Center 2010).

What does this mean – to the American culture or, more importantly, to the American workplace?

From a Millennial POV, technology hasn’t just advanced the way they communicate with each other – and technology doesn’t just span the globe to speed up the flow of information. Millennial communication isn’t just bigger, better and faster because of technology– it’s different in kind.

According to Pew, 54% of Millennials think technology makes people closer to one another and not more isolated from one another. The other living generations are more divided on this issue; especially Baby Boomers who are still working in America today.

Even though technology gets most of the press, Millennials communicate in other ways. Much like an Escher drawing, technological and verbal /non-verbal communication are interwoven to create a new type of human ‘connection’ – or relationship.

The Millennials mean something in particular when they speak of ‘connection.’ Instead of ‘connecting to’ which is how previous generations view information flow via digital technology – Millennials are ‘connecting with.’ Digital technology is viewed as a common infrastructure. It facilitates information flow, enhances face-to-face communication (both verbal and non-verbal) and, yes, it builds relationships.

These two mind-sets of ‘connecting to’ and ‘connecting with’ may seem similar, but they create vastly different realities.

How so?

To objectifies. With humanizes. To is monolithic.
With is conditional. To controls. With partners.

The Millennials communicate as though they are interweaving a rug from various colors of hand-made thread. They have created an intimate way to connect with each other. Each rug is unique. Each piece shaped by distinct hands. They weave a personal narrative…and tell a story that matters.

Millennial communication – verbal/non-verbal and digital – is different in kind.

How Millennials create the future remains to be seen. Is their ability to communicate for better or for worse? For example, does it include higher-functions such as self-reflection or is it simply transactional in nature?

All else said perhaps Millennials not only have something to learn from us; maybe we too have something to learn from them.

Organizational communication maven by day. Food, wine and beer buff by night. World traveler. Entrepreneurial spirit. Contact Eroca Gabriel, a former Fortune 100 ‘people and culture’ consultant, at




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