A few weeks ago I gave a presentation to a room full of Millennial MBA students who are aspiring management accountants. The subject was how to communicate across the generations in the workplace. My best advice was to work harder on creating a cogent message that anyone could understand, rather than drive yourself crazy wondering how to convey the same thought to a Baby Boomer, Generation Xer or Millennial. After all, if you’ve constructed a clear, simple communication that’s well focused, even a pony should understand.
What made me sad was a question I received asking what book would I recommend that could assist a young person in the workplace better communicate. A book? I abhor self-help books. Oh, they may offer some useful hints but as someone once said “there’s no manual for living life.” I believe that. I smiled at the young man and told him “you already have the book. Everyone has it. It’s in two volumes–your heart and your head.” Working in concert your heart and brain process a person’s personality, social cues, truthfulness, motives, attitude, aptitude, openness, aggressiveness or timidity. That process works both over time where you have had experiences with that person or have observed their behaviors, and in nanoseconds during a particular interaction. Using both “volumes” of your personal self-help book you can make informed decisions about how to approach or respond to another human being. I especially love the “chapter” on common sense.
By the time I finished my unexpected response, the student took a deep breath of relief, as did others in the audience of about 200. My questioner then smiled with a new air of confidence as he thanked me.
So much has been written about the self-absorption Millennials may display, but in their defense they were victimized by so-called helicopter parents who did everything but go to the toilet for them, although I’m sure one such parent may be working on a tandem toilet adapter they could use. They were not encouraged to leave the nest quickly after college and had little need to think for themselves.
In my presentation I urged managers and supervisors to counteract this learned neediness by simply treating young employees the same as more seasoned staff. Those who are mature and talented enough will snap out of their stupor and become valuable team members. Those who do not have the capacity to get beyond their hovering parents will fade.
But in the end, regardless of age or experience, if we all effectively refer to our internal two-volume self-help “book,” relying on our heart and head to guide us, or risk finding ourselves on the shelf.