FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION: Communication Styles Impact Workplace Success

How we communicate is linked to how we have been socialized. Communication differences are the result of our experiences, our culture, even our gender.  In today’s workplace the most significant difference in communication style is with the Millennials.  Did you know by the year 2020, Millennials will make up half of the workforce? The other 50%, which includes Baby Boomers and Generation X, must recognize how Millennials work, share information, and socially interact. Understanding those differences will help you more effectively communicate across the generations. It will lead to better collaboration and workplace success.

Those over the age of 35 should not be hoping ‘she/he will grow up and learn how things are done in the office.’ They will realize getting ahead is linked to communication style; confidence, drive, collaborative style, and passion. Millennials are comfortable being connected 24/7. The truth is ‘they’ (Millennials) are the majority in today’s workforce; ‘we’ (the other 50%) need to understand how ‘they’ communicate.

People say Millennials have poor communication skills. What they really have is a different communication style. They are always connected to their Smartphone and don’t have a landline. The downside is their Smartphones can cause them to become more easily distracted. Many Baby Boomers still rely on a landline as their primary phone service, may be intimidated by the newer technology, and prefer face to face meetings rather than a conference call.

Millennials have grown up with technology being an integral part of their life and have seen its constant evolution. The world of DVDs or and CDs has moved to streaming. When they entered elementary school, they were taught how to surf the web; learned how to find the answer to most questions without going to the library. As tweens and teens, they were always connected; having cell phones and laptops. Think of Millennials as a social media generation. They tend to go out less but stay connected to their ‘friends’ through their devices.

If you want to be successful at work, whether interacting with colleagues, working with a boss born 10+ years after you graduated from college, or selling skills to a young entrepreneur, you need to understand how Millennials think and talk. They aren’t necessarily going to walk your walk, even if they could benefit from your wisdom and experience. Selling yourself and your ideas means understanding their communication style and what they value in the workplace.

Millennials are familiar with your communication style because their parents or grandparents are probably from those generations. The goal is to understand how they communicate so you can demonstrate what you bring to the table; a wealth of experience and knowledge coming from your life experiences. They too are professionals, well-educated, driven, and looking for success. To them success is NOW, not in 20 or 30 years.  Their way is going to become the new normal whether we like it or not.  Before we know it, they will be the majority!

TIPS for Communicating with Millennials


  • Prefer using their phones to text, email, surf the web, take photos, and check email. Making phone calls to them isn’t a phone’s primary function. They view a phone call as an interruption and/or a time commitment. Texting allows them to get and receive messages when they are available.
  • Value short communication; embrace social media. They understand how visuals foster better communication, which is why they use videos on social media.
  • Like to use abbreviations. However, this may create breakdowns in communication. Always make sure you know what an abbreviation means; when in doubt look it up.
  • Are collaborative in nature. They respond better to ‘Yes and ….’ rather than ‘Yes but…’ Using the word but tends to negate, restrict, or deny what has been said.
  • Are open to change; disruption in the workplace; leading to creative thinking and fresh ideas.

Is this an area of concern? Have generational communication styles caused your message to be misunderstood or misinterpreted?  If so, take the time to learn strategies linked to effectively communicating across the generations; helping you be more successful in today’s workplace.