Internet and social media have created a digital playground for the millennial generation. We meet people and stay in touch through Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. We can network with business professionals through LinkedIn, participate in the online dating community through Tinder and Bumble, and even order an Uber, all through our smartphones.
However, sometimes employers label millennials as “self-centered” because they observe this generation focused on themselves and their technology; unable to create meaningful relationships outside of the online world. To dispel this stereotype and strengthen millennial interpersonal skills, avoid these four modern communication mishaps.
- Multitasking Multitasking can be a good skill if you’re required to complete various tasks in a limited time frame, but not during conversations. Conversations require your full attention. If you’re constantly checking emails, social media feeds, and news on your smartphone, anyone attempting to communicate with you will be extremely irritated. Give them your undivided attention by making eye contact, asking appropriate questions, and possibly nodding your head. These verbal and nonverbal cues acknowledge that you’re interested in what they have to say, and you’re not being disingenuous! Give them the attention they deserve. Remember the platinum rule and treat others as they wish to be treated.
- Inserting yourself in the conversation Whether someone is sharing an intimate moment, a tragic incident, or an everyday occurrence, refrain from inserting yourself into the conversation. Don’t say, “Oh that’s unfortunate. You know what happened to me?” and start blabbing away about your situation. This behavior can even confirm the stereotype that millennials are self-absorbed. Be careful when offering your response because subtle things, such as agreeing and then mentioning what you experienced, may take away from the speaker’s main point. Listen to what they’re saying and apply the 80/20 rule: use 80 percent of your time listening, and 20 percent talking.
- Hearing instead of listening “Uh huh, uh huh, uh huh, wait what?” Are you actively listening or just hearing what the other person is saying? It’s easy to frustrate your friend, family member, or coworker if you’re half-hearing instead of listening. If you’re busy or preoccupied with other thoughts during the conversation, apologize by explaining why right now may not be the best time for you. Propose another time to talk. You’ll save yourself trouble by admitting this beforehand instead of getting caught and having to explain when you’re in a tight spot.
- Interrupting the speaker While inattentive listening is rude, constantly asking questions and interrupting the speaker can be unpleasant. Ask questions, but be tactful in the timing. If your speaker is getting really excited to tell you a story, don’t cut them off by overwhelming them with your questions. Be patient and listen. Also, don’t interrogate the speaker. You’re not a police officer trying to get information out of them. Be polite and make sure you’re not sending the wrong vibes.
A little nod, smile, and eye contact can go a long way. Implement good listening habits with the people around you, whether that’s at work, home, or with friends to foster strong communication skills and go against all millennial odds.
Sharon Schweitzer and Sunny Kim co-wrote this post. Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is an award-winning entrepreneur, cross-cultural trainer, and the founder of Access to Culture. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE Centre, she serves as a Chinese Ceremonial Dining Etiquette Specialist in the documentary series Confucius was a Foodie, on Nat Geo People. She is regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, and Fortune. Her Amazon #1 Best Selling book in International Business, Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, (3rd printing), was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015. She’s a winner of the British Airways International Trade Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards.
Sunny Kim is a Fall 2017 Cross-Cultural Communication intern with Access to Culture. She is currently a junior journalism student at the University of Texas at Austin with a minor in Korean language and certificate in business. She is also the founder and president of UT Asian American Journalists Association. Her main focus is storytelling people’s diverse experiences relating to race and culture. Connect with her on Linkedin.