Jackie L. Hartman
Kansas State University
Colorado State University Millennials, those individuals born between 1980 and 2000, compose the largest cohort of college students in the United States. Stereotypical views of millennials characterize them as technologically sophisticated multitaskers, capable of significant contributions to tomorrow’s organizations, yet deficient in communication skills. This article offers insights for business educators to help millennials understand the influence of communication styles when optimizing communication effectiveness. Developing style-typing and style-flexing skills can serve as building blocks for millennials’ subsequent interpersonal skill development in key areas such as audience analysis, active listening, conflict management and negotiation, and effective team building. An in-class exercise highlighting communication style-typing and style-flexing is included. Keywords: millennials; communication skills; style-flexing
MILLENNIALS, THOSE INDIVIDUALS born between 1980 and 2000, compose the largest cohort of college students in the United States. Stereotypical views of millennials characterize them as technologically sophisticated multitaskers, capable of significant contributions to tomorrow’s organizations, yet deficient in communication skills. According to jobweb.com (n.d.), a career development and job search website for new college graduates, effective communication skills continue to be the top-ranked criterion for managerial success. Although this has been the case since at least 1964 (Bowman, 1964), today’s employers conclude these skills are most lacking in recent graduates (jobweb.com, n.d.). Therefore, a key question is what should business educators do to better prepare today’s students in this important skill area? Communication skills, including the ability to problem solve, work in teams, and adapt to various audiences, are critical when developing solutions in today’s workplace (Levy & Murnane, 2004). These interpersonal skills must be honed for today’s student population in order for them to succeed in the 21st-century workplace. Business Communication Quarterly, Volume 74, Number 1, March 2011 22-44 DOI: 10.1177/1080569910395564 © 2011 by the Association for Business Communication 22
Hartman, McCambridge / OPTIMIZING MILLENNIALS’ COMMUNICATION STYLES
The purpose of this article is to offer some perspectives on today’s millennial student population that may be influencing (inhibiting) their communication skills development and to provide some suggestions for how to address these acknowledged shortcomings in this next generation of workplace leaders. More specifically, we articulate key characteristics of today’s undergraduate and graduate students, provide evidence of the importance of effective communication skills for both individual and organizational success, and offer several recommendations for how to improve millennials’ communication skills. We believe that educating students about the concepts of style-typing and styleflexing will help them become more effective communicators by deepening their understanding of the communication process. We describe a specific assessment tool and an in-class exercise that, as business educators, we have successfully used to address the interpersonal communication skills shortfall among our undergraduate and graduate students as well as participants in executive development programs. After having studied millennials and having worked with them closely during the past several years, we believe there is a gap between where these students are and where they need to be in terms of effective interpersonal communication skills. Understanding the implications of those acknowledged differences can help overcome millennials’ communication deficiencies. We believe an appropriate place to begin this task is to understand more about who millennials...