Toolbox Talks: 5 tips to better communicate with millennials


Spoiler Alert: It’s the same as communicating with everyone else.

Since the dawn of time, I imagine the older generation has looked at the younger generation and assumed they couldn’t relate to them. “Look at those entitled kids. When I was growing up I had to wait for a lightning strike if I wanted fire. Now kids can just conjure up fire any ol’ time. I tell ya, they don’t know how good they have it.”

Intergenerational communication has always been a challenge, but lately, we have become more and more comfortable using the “entitled millennial” trope as a scapegoat to avoid putting effort into the way we communicate. We will take some outlier anecdotes to justify calling a whole generation of people “snowflakes” and then throw our hands up.

Well, here’s the good news/bad news. Good news! The best way to communicate with millennials is to follow the same best practices you should be using to communicate with everyone else. Bad news. Now you should give millennials the same effort and consideration you give everyone else.

Here are some tips for communicating with millennials … and everyone else:

  1. Keep it tight. If you can get the message across in 144 characters, then why use more? Do you want an email or conversation to drone on and on, or do you want it quick and to the point? We would all prefer that communications be more succinct. Don’t tell me about the labor; just show me the baby.
  2. Don’t defend your thesis. Nobody wants to be lectured or talked down to. Keep written and verbal communications simple and conversational. Why “facilitate disruptive shared-space paradigm shifts” when you can just “move the coffee machine?”
  3. Be collaborative. One-way communication gets you limited perspective and results. This adage outdates millennials and is just as applicable today: “God gave you two ears and one mouth so you should listen twice as much as you speak.” Talk less, listen more and when you do talk, ask a question.
  4. A picture is worth a thousand words. Ask yourself this: What do you reference more often: the owner’s manual or YouTube? Right. Millennials are no different. Get away from describing and start showing. Use pictures, videos, infographics and other forms of data visualization to generate better engagement from everyone.
  5. Tell me what to do. Communication needs to be explicit and specific. Too often we talk about the big picture and don’t address what it means to the person hearing the message. What everyone really wants to know (not just millennials) is “How is this going to impact my world? Do I need to do something different on Monday? What do you need specifically from me?”

Put a little twist on these tips and we could easily head down the road of millennial bashing. Imagine rolling your eyes and state the following: “Millennials need quick messages in common language with pictures and videos. They need to have their voices heard and need to be told specifically what they should do.” But when you think about it, they aren’t asking for anything we don’t want ourselves. Don’t do anything special when communicating with millennials; just do a better job communicating in general.

Toolbox Talks offers quick insights and thoughts to use for your toolbox (tailboard) talks. Dave Sowers is a founding member of Knowledge Vine, a veteran-owned human performance training and consulting organization that strives to reduce the frequency and severity of human errors in the workplace. He has almost 30 years of experience in power generation and the utility industry. He is a veteran of U.S. Navy Nuclear Power Program and holds a bachelor’s degree in resources management and a master’s degree in both management and emergency management and homeland security.