How Are You Building Bridges To Millennials?

Have you ever found yourself in a war of words with a Millennial?

You both fire volleys of information in an attempt to be understood, all the while communication disintegrates. If you’ve ever found yourself here, you’ve probably also found that things can heat up quickly when we state our case passionately. “Why can’t you see what I’m saying?” “Don’t you GET it?” “You’re not nice.” “My intentions are good, don’t they count for anything?”

Is it because we often consider them to be cynical, self-absorbed and critical that communicating with Millennials seems so challenging? Or is it true that healthy communication is a challenge for all generations? Some time back I found myself in a heated conversation daily with one of my Gen X offspring - our youngest. Imagine a fourty-five-year-old having a conversation with a nineteen-year-old that’s generating more heat than light. Words were in abundance while understanding was in short supply.

Taking some alone time to consider our dilemma, it occurred to me that I should be the one to take the lead to resolve our communication breakdown. But how could I do that when my every word was met with a hostile return? Slowing it down and taking time to think through our problem brought about the awareness that this could be solved. Little did I know, at the time, that I was already on a path to connecting better with my daughter.

The deepest need of the human heart is to be understood.” - Stephen Covey

As I thought about it I realized the barrier to understanding the other was that we each wanted to win. As long as I believe I’m right and you’re wrong, we have a major conflict in communication. That attitude in me is a call to arms to you. Most people will respond in kind when they feel their ideals are being challenged. So it turns out that our real dilemma wasn’t so much about who’s right or who’s wrong, but rather it was one of mutual respect. How do I cultivate an attitude of mutual respect when I feel that my ideals are being challenged?

Let it go! In time I realized it doesn’t matter if I’m right, if I’m never heard. That thought in itself was liberating! Now I needed a plan. I decided to bring my alone time into the conversation with my daughter. Knowing I would be taking her to work that afternoon, I could see storm clouds on the horizon, especially if I didn’t have a game plan. My plan? I decided to stop talking and listen, to her and to my inner voice. I wouldn’t utter a word unless I received a word. What would I say? I didn’t know. It didn’t matter. Maybe I wouldn’t say anything. All I knew is that I wouldn’t be part of the problem any longer.

"It takes two years to learn to speak and sixty to learn to shut up” - Ernest Hemingway

Sure enough I had plenty to listen to on our trip that afternoon as I drove my daughter to her  place of employment. However, I sat in silence as planned, waiting for a word from within…or nothing. Sure enough when the question or statement (I don’t remember which) came that was designed to draw me into the fray…what I said next was a real game changer (This was back in the 90s so I don’t remember all the details).  All I remember is that whatever I said gave my daughter pause to think about our conversation I a whole new light. End of discussion.

That was a great day for both of us as I immediately began modeling for my new communication skill based on a new understanding? You’ve heard it, “Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy? Needless to say our conversations have been more meaningful, and yes happier, since that day. What I learned:
Always take the initiative to build bridges of understanding to allow the relationship to move  forward.
Let go of the need to be right.
Take some alone time to think over the conflict when you aer out of the fray.
Take your alone time into the conversation - get quiet and wait for an answer, or just stay quiet. Listening for understanding doesn’t mean you agree. It means you respect them  enough as a person that you want to understand them.
Expect to be surprised! I was. As it turned out, my daughter and I were really saying exacttly the same thing but expressing it differently, I according to my personality style and she according to her’s. We were so busy thinking what to say next that we didn’t even listen to what the other was saying. There is a lot of wisdom in that saying, “It’s foolish to answer  before you hear all the facts.”

Get a vision for investing in young people

I believe one of the biggest takeaways here is that before we place labels on a particular generation like Millennials, Gen Xers or Boomers, remember the generation before you thought that you were a slacker, dressed unprofessionally, lacked work ethic and entitled, yet somehow they invested in you and you made the grade. If you get a vision for investing in young people, you’ll be challenged to step up your own game. Demanding days ahead? You bet. But the payoff will be exponentially multiplied far beyond your investment or wildest dreams.


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