How To Wean Millennials from an Emoticon Mentality

smiley-150663_1280We call it social media, but is it stripping our youth of true social skills and will that be a handicap for their career success?

Despite the prevalence of ecommerce and communicating through email, text messages, and online forums, important business depends on the spoken word. Further, sales and marketing professionals understand the critical nature of personal interactions in creating long-term business relationships.

A good portion of millennials starting their careers are coming in with less than satisfactory personal communication skills. A 20-something related a story to me from her workplace the other day. She works at a spa and a coworker was explaining that she doesn’t bother using big words around younger employees because she has to stop and explain what they mean. (My friend, by the way, has a real talent for words.)

The blame game

We can blame our society’s degrading vocabulary on parents who don’t read to their kids, schools that are battling social woes as much as they are teaching the basics, and a huge array of media – social and otherwise – that has dumbed us down. I suppose there’s more blame I could dole out, but that’s not the point.

What is important is to recognize our shortcomings and work to correct them. Let’s briefly outline some problems and solutions.

Conversational speech is a big one. If the art of conversation isn’t extinct, it’s certainly on the endangered species list. It’s a bottom line requirement in business, necessary for basic telephone conversations and sales calls. Many of our youth do not have the listening skills required to hold a good conversation. A lack of patience is often the culprit.

Be quick to listen

We need to teach students and young employees that listening is 90 percent of communication. Further, much is communicated by our tone of voice and it comes across even over the phone. In a live conversation, the tone of your voice is your emoticon. Recording and rehearsing sales pitches and practicing customer interactions should be part of training programs.

Upspeak – ending a sentence with an upwards inflection – has also become a significant problem and it’s hampering employees. Business associates tend to discount people who practice upspeak. It makes them sound very young, insecure and not credible. Fortunately, individuals can wring it out of their language when they realize it’s a problem.

Multitasking combined with unending social media interactions seems to be an intellectually deadly combination. Both multitasking and social media tend to keep us swimming on the surface of communication and understanding. They do not promote deep thinking.

Just say no to Facebook

I know a brilliant young man who is studying to be a rocket scientist, literally. He graduated from the Air Force Academy where they restrict social media engagement. He would disappear from his old friends for weeks at a time. While it took some adjustment on his part, I think it was very constructive for his intellectual and personal development.

Millennials (and others) should be encouraged to track the amount of time they spend on social media and decide for themselves how productive it is for meeting the goals they have set for their lives. And, as I’ve said before, studies consistently show that multitasking lowers productivity, no matter how young or old we are. Introduce employees to the pomodoro technique to encourage greater productivity and perhaps even deeper thinking.

We need to make the most out of their strengths while at the same time helping millennials recognize their areas of weakness. Many, of course, are doing fine and we also need to recognize their strengths. But it’s incumbent on us to help them see the bigger picture and continue learning and growing as they enter the workforce and join our teams.