When’s the last time you called someone on the telephone out of the blue, just because you wanted to? When’s the last time you wrote a letter or even went up to someone you know just talked to them? Well, I’ve done all these things in the past week, just so could write this article. However, usually I cannot come close to emerging from my shell to approach stranger -- not the creepy kind -- write letters, or even call customer service. But why is this? Why is it so difficult for millennials to communicate with other people both in their personal and professional lives? I do not have the answer, but I have a few suggestions.
My whole life I was raised on the effortless conversational skills of girls in 80's and 90's movies. Even the flinchingly awkward kids could still get it together enough to talk to the popular crowd or make their grand gesture by the end of the movie. This highly romanticized view of how interacting with other people should go has ruined me. It’s definitely made me approach situations with more hope for how they might turn out, but I’m usually disappointed. In today’s world, waiting for people to approach you with a boom-box and a declaration of interest is way too much to ask and also extremely weird. I confess, as a millennial, that I want these things to happen, but in a way that requires no effort on my part. I don’t want to have to work at talking to people. I want it to happen as easy as if it was written into my life’s screenplay. But life does not work that way and millennials are not as lazy as people think. So why do we still sit and wait for the conversation to come to us when it’s easy enough to start it ourselves? This brings me to my next point.
Hiding behind a computer screen, much like what I’m doing by writing this article online, erases virtually all responsibility from those doing the posting. When you’re sure you’ll never meet someone from the Internet in real life, who knows what you could say? I’ve messaged people countless times with a completely blasé attitude, oozing confidence I really do not possess in person. But it was easy for me.
In my personal experience, there is a divide between virtual conversation and actual conversation. Sometimes things will be said in group chats that are never mentioned off-screen. It really is like being strung between two worlds, as cliché as that sounds. When we post things online -- avoiding a lecture here -- we don’t think about what we’re really saying. It’s easy to talk at a person’s picture and reply slapped above you in the comments section. It does not occur to us that these are real people doing the exact same thing as you: Searching for a way to appear confident in a realm where confidence can be fabricated through a few nicely filtered selfies and well-calculated keystrokes. I wouldn’t know what to do if I faced people in real life and was told to say the same things to them I might say online. This applies to the professional world as well. According to a recent Linkedin article, it’s been observed that managers prefer to communicate in person while few millennials “see in-person communication as essential to accomplishing the task at hand.” This pushes us towards my final point.
The lost art of communication
I think a huge part of why millennials suck at communication is because no one knows how to hold a conversation anymore without overanalyzing everything. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had small talk with someone and afterwards thought how awkward I must have sounded. The key, that we all need to realize, is that you’re not as important as you think you are. No one is going to remember that thing you thought was super cringe-worthy unless it was actually really bad. Millennials, myself included, need to know that all you can really do is be confident, act like you know what you’re doing, and just be yourself. No one will say, “hey I hate that person because they’re awkward and know who they are!” Your conversational ability will flourish if you remain calm, don’t overthink everything, and actually try, as hard as that might be for our generation.