Insights for the generations on communication
By Phyllis Weiss Haserot
"What we talk about when we talk about communication" was the title of the 2011 Annual Symposium of the Bernard Schwartz Communication Institute of Baruch College/CUNY held on May 6th. I am fortunate to be among the invitees who were treated to a full day of keynotes, small group discussions and informal talk at meals.
From my session notes and side conversations, I've outlined some insights for the generations on communication as we observe and evaluate style, media, what employers look for and what comes next.
We need to learn to live with generational change. For example, IBM complained that kids didn't care that they work for IBM, unlike the IBM culture pride of previous generations. Now Facebook and social media provide for Gen Y the cultural glue institutions used to for Boomers and earlier generations.
What employers want from students and new employees:
- Get to your point succinctly. (140-character limit is helpful)
- Write 5 line memos; use only 10 PowerPoint slides at a time
- Know your audience; be able to read your audience; address audiences in way they can relate to
- Be ready to learn; appreciate learning
- Information literacy: not only be information consumers but also information producers and evaluators
- Listening skills, asking questions
- Critical thinking
- Knowing and articulating the value-added that they as individuals bring
- Knowing how to build relationships (networking, etc.)
Teach storytelling through pictures - Visualization is where things are going, and the visual works more effectively for global
communication. Gen Y and younger Gen Xers may do best at this for both marketing and service delivery since visual communication has been prevalent in their culture throughout their lives.
How does an individual resolve the tension between being in a meeting and focusing vs. having to respond to an e-mail? Beyond the gadget addiction, there can be an expectation of urgency. While often perceived to be, this is not just the younger generations' problem. Professionalism standards and multi-generational mentoring circles could help clarify the lines among rudeness, disengaged behavior and required urgent responses.
Determine what media and formats are best for reaching your goal. All generations need to learn discretion among media's most effective uses situationally.
Neuroscience has shown that the younger generations are losing the ability to read non-verbal cues. They don't recognize the importance of non-verbal cues in communicating fully and accurately.
An undergrad said: We need fewer lectures and PowerPoint and more conversation in teaching. Consider this in continuing education design for employees.
Laura Fitton, co-author of "Twitter for Dummies," said, "Twitter is about overcoming human isolation. " On twitter the message has become the influence; provide value to others.
Watch journalists' streams on Twitter for great value and understand what's of interest to the public or your marketplace.
Even students get overwhelmed by social media and new media.
We need to understand where cultural change is heading - and then get out of the way.
So some questions we are left with are:
- Given generational differences in style, do we and how do we, bridge the gaps? Do we get more Boomers to be more concise and adopt more Twitter conventions? Teach Gen Xers and Yers to be more critical thinkers? Teach Gen Yers not to ramble and to use proper grammar and punctuation? Do those elements still matter as much as Boomers and Traditionalists think they do?
- How much evaluation of communication style is productive?
- How do we prevent loss of the value of non-verbal cues?
- How can we shift the egocentric "me" focus of any generation (they all have been accused of it at some time) to appreciating the value of knowing and reading your audience?
Please send your thoughts on these observations to me at firstname.lastname@example.org  or post your comment below this article. Does this make you question or think about observed practices and behaviors differently?
© Phyllis Weiss Haserot, 2011.