Communicating for Gen Y   Leave a comment

Gen Y: The Face-to-Face Problem  

Schuyler McCurdy

Currently many people are losing their ability to communicate effectively. My generation, people less than 29 years old or Gen Y, is the most affected. The medium of virtual communication is causing the youth who have grown up with it to become skilled with technology, but less skilled with face-to-face interactions. The skills to communicate effectively, face-to-face, are hence a learning imperative, especially for those in my generation (Lebo, 2009). If these skills are not learned, we may end up with a generation that has trouble building relationships. Generation Y is going to have to learn to communicate to confirm the climate; what will help to do this is to learn to understand nonverbal messages, monitor one’s own nonverbal communication, and self-disclose personal information to build relationships.  

Creating a confirming climate is hard to do when communicators do not validate others. When working in groups with people from different age groups supervisors have always cited “the problem” with younger people. They are lazy, talkative, or disrespectful. While the complaints of supervisors and people who are your senior may seem to be just some griping that comes with old age there may be substance to what they are saying. Many people complain that Gen Y employees are generally uncommunicative (Baurelin, 2009).  Specifically people are talking about Gen Y’s trouble with face-to-face interactions. Executives also criticize Gen Y’s face-to-face skills (Lebo, 2010). When people are not looked at when they are speaking, it makes them feel as if they are not being regarded as important (Wood, 2010).  It is important to adapt to the communication style of those you work with because if you do not it can cause communication barriers between co-workers and supervisors with you. The type of communication climate you create is going to determine the satisfaction you have with your job (Wood, 2010). Therefore, it is important that you understand the factors that affect your relationships with your co-workers. People will judge you based on your age, looks, and numerous other factors. More importantly though is when you create relationships with others you need to invest yourself, commit to the relationship, be trusted, and find some comfort in the tensions in the relationship (Wood, 2010). 

You work with others and you give your time, ideas that will hopefully improve the company, and energy into finishing tasks. All of these things are investments that you make into others. You can never get these things back, but you do benefit from the relationships you are building. Your supervisor will realize you are there to work, your colleagues will respect you for doing your fair share, and you will find satisfaction from a job well done.  Commitment can be shown by coming to work every day, not bailing out when things get stressful, and making an effort to adapt to the communication styles of others. Commitment will show others that you are dependable and are willing to make continued investments (Wood, 2010). Trust is already being built up by your investments and commitment. When others see you are reliable and making a commitment, they will begin to trust you more. Another way to increase trust is self-disclosure, which will be discussed at the end. The last factor is finding comfort in the tensions in the relationship. The fancy names for these tensions are relational dialectics. These are normal in relationships, but we do not always label them as so (Wood, 2010). Going into a new workplace communicators have to understand that some prefer closeness while other want space, some want the familiarity and others want novelty, and lastly some like to share much about themselves while others are more private (Wood, 2010).   When I worked at McDonalds, I always wondered why I could not get ahead. The reason was that I did not look my supervisor in the eye, I did not speak with others, and I was constantly frustrated about how others wanted to share so much and not follow the procedures. The supervisor really questioned my people skills. In contrast, respecting others communication style, their work style, and validating them will encourage positive relations (Wood, 2010). Not all people have the same preference for how they want to communicate. Figuring out the communication styles of others means learning to read their nonverbal messages and emotions.

Gen Y is knowledgeable in reading emoticons to interpret nonverbal messages, but reading faces is going to take practice. Reading nonverbal messages comes from acculturation and not education (Baurelin, 2009). Those who have not been out of the house in a while should go out and practice reading these silent messages. Reading others nonverbal messages is a great way to see how others feel about the relationship between the two of you. The emotions of others can give information that can make interactions more manageable (Ward & Schwartzman, 2009, p366). Most of the time people will not immediately express what they are feeling, but nonverbal messages can give information about what they are not expressing with their words. Reading nonverbal messages is going to take giving the person some face time and this is already one step towards validating them.  A bringing together of the eyebrows may indicate anger, a smile can indicate satisfaction, or a glazing of the eyes can mean you lost the person. A communicator must look at the other person to get these messages. Other nonverbal messages will come through speech though.  Volume, pitch, and inflection are all nonverbal cues that come out in speech that can help decide what the other person is really thinking (Wood, 2010). If a colleague comes to you and you do not look at them, if he or she feels you are not listening he or she may speak louder, breath out loudly in exasperation, or trail off. When I am talking with my boyfriend, I may not look directly at him and he will begin to trail off and not even finish what he is saying. I know from this he realizes I am not being mindful about what he is saying. The same concept is involved in a job. The boss will come in and has a special project for you, but because you are writing in your I-phone, he begins to trail off. You might ask a colleague what he said and he would not know because he was doing something else. The next thing you know somebody else got the project and a big bonus. When someone is trailing off it is a good thing to start looking at him or her and making sure he or she knows you are listening. Working on your own nonverbal communication can help you communicate your attentiveness and help adapting to others styles of communication.

Monitoring the nonverbal messages you send and how others react to them will help you improve on the communication climate. People are different on whether they want to be looked at when you are talking to them or when they are talking to you. The amount of hand gestures people prefer is going to change too. Sometimes hand gestures are going to be distracting.  Culture is going to play a big part in how important these nonverbal messages are. Women and people from high context cultures: Japanese, Middle Eastern, Spanish, Chinese and Latin American are going to look for nonverbal messages more than what is actually said (Title, 2009). When speaking with my friend Kila, I will notice her looking me up and down and making observations about my mood that I did not even notice I was communicating. When at work people may judge your friendliness by how close you stand or if you maintain eye contact. Watching how others from high context cultures keep space between them and how they send nonverbal messages and emulating that is a good way to be sensitive to their communication style (Title, 2009). Being able to make friends in and out of the office is important for creating connections that will enrich your life. Making the first connections are going to important to and one way to do this is through self-disclosure.

Self-disclosure is a great way to help you build relationships. The importance of this for Gen Y is not mainly because of the idiosyncrasies’ of Gen Y, but because they are young, and this time in their life is where building lifelong relationships start. In addition, younger people are more likely to make the mistake of revealing too much or too little because they have not made the mistake yet. Letting another person know something personal about yourself is a relationship builder, because it will make you less of a stranger (Adubato, 2010). When people know more about you, they will trust you more. When disclosing personal information it can be troublesome trying to figure out what to reveal and what to keep to yourself. When first disclosing personal information to someone, try something like your thoughts about the news, but something non-confrontational (Adubato, 2010). When I start a new job and when I have a chance, I will ask questions about what people like to do for fun. Asking questions gives me a chance to tell others what I like to do. We might find something we have in common or not. Either way we have become a little less of a stranger to one another. Do not become too personal, because this would be inappropriate in a professional environment.  A person does not want to reveal that they enjoy the strip bar or they have a drinking problem. These things are inappropriate for many social interactions.  In contrast, if I did not reveal something about myself people may find me unfriendly and ultimately untrustworthy. The importance here is finding a medium between too much information and too little, remembering the goal is to build a positive relationship.

Learning to validate others is important so that one can let others know you think they are important. Creating a positive communication climate will improve the satisfaction you get from the job and relations between colleagues. Reading others nonverbal messages can take you to great lengths in understanding their preferences, but not everyone is going to use them as much or in the same way. Monitoring nonverbal communication will help in understanding what each particular person prefers. Disclosing personal ideas or stories will build others trust in you, used to show empathy, and help others to become more comfortable with you. All of these skills put together are going to confirm positive climates. Reading nonverbal messages will let you know if you are communicating in a way that validates others. Monitoring your nonverbal communication will help you adapt to different styles. Disclosing personal information will make the feelings between you and your colleagues more comfortable.  What Generation Y is going to need to learn will also entail the bad communication habits they have picked up from their parents and what Generation Y needs to know to be effective communicators is going to be different from person to person. The complaints of supervisors give some insight into what they think of Generation Y’s interpersonal skills, but how this differs concerning gender is not discussed. The skills for making a confirming climate will aid Generation Y in interpersonal communication in the workplace and this can lead to for further communication competencies by learning from other competent communicators.  


Adubato, S. (2010). For better communication, try getting more personal. njbiz, 23(13), 13.                       Retrieved May 7, 2010 from MasterFILE Premier database.

Baurelin, M. (2009, September 4). Why gen y Johnny can’t read nonverbal cues. Wall Street         Journal. Retreived May 7, 2010 from

Lebo, B. (2009 ). Employing millennials: challenges and opportunities. New Hampshire Business Review, 31(26), 21. Retrieved May 5, 2010 from Regional Business News database.

Title, S. (2007). Communicating Across Cultures. San Diego Business Journal, 28(14), 14.            Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier database.

Ward, K., & Schwartzman, R. (2009). Building interpersonal relationships as a key to effective    speaking center Consultations. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 36(4), 363-372.             Retrieved May 1, 2010 from Professional Development Collection database.

Wood, J. T. (2010). Interpersonal communication: Everyday encounters. Boston, MA:                               Wadsworth.


Posted May 29, 2010 by schuylerryan in School Projects I got A's on

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