Let’s Talk About Millennials and Communication

A close up of a woman's hands holding a cellphone

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By Madison Baker

Millennials are the generation that continues to perplex and confound their predecessors. Their likes, their humor, their habits, what thing they’ve killed this week—all of these topics and more are frequently discussed in an effort to understand this generation.

This confusion has led to millennials being dubbed lazy, entitled, self-centered, and a host of other negative qualities, leading to difficulties communicating between generations. Though their values and lifestyles may be different from those who have come before them, millennials are ultimately just people. They communicate differently, but that doesn’t mean they do so poorly or ineffectively. Let’s take a moment to clear the air and talk about millennials and how they communicate.

Fluent in Technology

To understand millennials and communication, there’s one thing to keep in mind: They are completely fluent in technology in a way that earlier generations never have been. Whereas baby boomers and Generation Xers were introduced to the internet and mobile devices, millennials were born into this world with instant communication at their fingertips. They didn’t learn it; they grew up with it. They are digital natives.

Many millennials are able to use the internet seamlessly. It’s another dimension in which they live their lives. From attending school to doing taxes, virtually everything that can be done in-person can also be done online. Millennials even use their phones to access medical care by using health tracking apps or video calling their doctor in lieu of going into the office for their appointment. The extent of what millennials can do with the internet reaches, essentially, the limits of what the internet can do itself.

Layers of Nuance

Because of the number and nature of their online tasks are so varied, there is much complexity and nuance to millennials’ online communications. Everyone has their own style of communication and uses different avenues to express it. Even so, many millennials tend to follow the social “rules” of online interactions.

Online interactions follow complex, systematic rules, which help dictate the conversation. For instance, sending someone a text message has a different connotation than sending an email or commenting on their Facebook profile. Something as seemingly simple as using a period at the end of a sentence in a text can give the message an entirely different meaning than if it had been left out.

Though these rules may seem random to those who are unfamiliar with them, they are not. Millennials who grew up in the digital world do not need to learn these rules; they acquired this knowledge by simply inhabiting that world. Millennials are not unintelligent or only wrapped up in technology because they have this knowledge. They simply have had access to a world from a young age that gave them the opportunity to learn about the internet in a way that others did not.

Cultural Attitudes

There’s one big problem concerning millennials and their digital fluency: Many baby boomers and GenXers see it as one of modern society’s flaws. The perpetuated stereotype is that millennials don’t care about anything if it isn’t on their phones and that they avoid face-to-face interactions at all costs. The many stereotypes about millennials only work to trivialize an entire generation of capable adults and widen the gap between generations. What people fail to realize is that being digitally literate is simply one of the many realities of living as a millennial in the world today. Millennials, just like those before them want to live with purpose, value, and impact.

People forget that millennials are growing up quickly, and the youngest of them are not Instagram-obsessed teenagers, but adults living in the real world and making their way. And even if they were, so what? The most social media-addicted teenager can still grow out of it. This same teenager just wants to be seen and valued. Whether or not a young person fits every stereotype about millennials in the book, they are still humans who deserve respect—not ridicule.

Yes, millennials have had greater access to technology from a young age. And, of course, this access has allowed them to communicate in new ways. It is not bad or ineffective—just different. And this difference is one of the first steps people need to acknowledge to understand and communicate with them.