The way we communicate and language itself is always in flow. It’s alive. Words and entire methods of talking go in and out of vogue. Slang is naturally an issue because it can change quickly. And almost always, humans. feel like the new generation will be the murderers of clear communication. There are lots of feelings of ageism in both directions. We can’t address communication without considering somewhat generic generational differences.
What’s changed even more than normal, though, is the velocity of all this.
I’m sharing this because it impacts internal and external interactions with your customers, employees, and all of your stakeholders. There are some concrete ways we can embrace some of this change while reinforcing what’s good about the way things typically have been. Let’s look at it all like problems.
Problem 1 - No One Teaches This
There may or may not be “proper business communication” courses in college, but I’m presuming that if there is it’s not one students are lining up to take. For one, it would be boring. For another, I’d presume it would be years out of date, seeing as language changes all the time.
But you can put together a quick “best practices for email” course at work (either in person or even a webcast kind of thing) and help people coming into the company (and refresh existing employees) as to how to better interact. You know, “Subject lines save time” and “How to get someone to answer your questions in fewer emails” and “How not to write an email.”
Teach everyone in the company how to start, fill, and stop an email so that it’s useful. Teach how to make and receive a business call, and so on. (If you’re cringing, realize this: it’s much better than the frustration of enduring responses that don’t match the company’s culture.)
Problem 2 - We Get Hung Up on the Look and Feel
Similar to problem 1, we all have to realize that incoming generations of business professionals were “born and raised” in a mobile-first communications environment. You and I might have been raised by word documents and emails. Newcomers to business started with text messages and tweets. Brief. Simple. And with quickly changing language.
If I tell my teenagers something like “One Punch Man needs a new season,” I’ll hear back “ikr” and that’s it. They’ve said, “I know, right?” but that’s not what is actually sent.
To the benefit of all parties and around communication, brevity is a great thing. Sending pictures and gifs and emojis is a good thing. It’s not yet all that acceptable in common business interactions, and there probably aren’t all that many legal documents with emoji or memes written into them, but there is a time and a place for them internally.
- Suggested reading: The New Rules of Email (Hint: Emojis are OK)
Problem 3 - We Hate the Phone
“The phone is just a seldom used app... on my phone.” - Gary Gulman
Verbal communication has fallen into deep decline, even though it’s still the second most effective way to communicate with another person. There are great times for a phone call. Sales close a lot better with phone support (nothing beats in-person, I know).
It’s helpful to teach everyone proper phone etiquette for different types of calls, including internal requests, consensus gathering, and so on. It might also help to train everyone how to use methods other than the phone for interactions. One big drawback to voice communication is that it must be conducted in real time. There are many situations where it’s easier to message someone than to talk via the phone.
Problem 4 - Communication Will Forever and Always Be Multi-Channel
This has changed and it will never go back: we all use more than one method to reach and interact with people. Think about messaging apps alone. You could text, Skype, Facetime, Slack, or DM someone on any number of social networks. You can use Whatsapp or Signal or Telegram, Line, or WeChat and so on and so on.
People now communicate with multiple channels in action. You might send an email, then text a follow up comment, and later switch to the company’s Slack channel to check in with the group. Companies who embrace this method usually get more done (and done faster) compared with those who force formal single-channel methods of interaction. Frustrating as it is (and there are some cool software tools that help mitigate this), this is how people communicate these days.
Problem 5 - Only Our Generation is Right
I said ageism plays a key role in fixing communications challenges at a company. It’s pretty much the core of all the other problems. Younger people think older people are too formal and stiff. Older people feel that the new generation doesn’t value interaction the same way.
Everyone is right and everyone is wrong and none of that matters. Communication is an art more than a straight recipe. There are great parts worth keeping in every communication method. There are parts that aren’t as preferred where people might have to meet in the middle. Every generation has a point of view, but also no generation is all that monolithic, either.
The best way to improve communication? Learn to listen more, ask more questions, and work on these “problems.”
You don’t, like, have to talk like anyone other than who you are, and it’s always way better to speak in your own diction than to ever try and use modern slang. (Don’t do it. Oh-kerrrr?) (I cringed even writing that.)
But DO understand that a much more conversational, visual, brief, and informal communications method is the nature of things. You can’t stay completely rigid and think that anyone finds your company modern or progressive. And yes, you come off as staid and stodgy if you don’t at least attempt to communicate a little less formally these days.
It’s not all going to be your cup of kombucha but understand that communication upgrades are business upgrades. If you help your company communicate better internally and externally, everyone benefits.
About Chris Brogan
Chris Brogan is an author, keynote speaker and business advisor who helps companies update organizational interfaces to better support modern humans. The age of factory-sized interactions is over. We all come one to a pack. And it’s time to accept that we are all a little bit dented. Chris advisesleadership teams to empower team members by sharing actionable insights on talent development. He also works with marketing and communications teams to more effectively reach people who want to be seen and understood before they buy what a company sells.
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