While few humans are comfortable with the notion of talking to aliens, some people feel like they are doing that all the time … when speaking to Millennials, also known as Generation Y, those born between 1977 and 2002. Laugh if you want, but put yourself into the Baby Boomer generation and try to be relevant to those half, or less, your age.
A lot of adults, especially parents of Millennials, who are often members of the Gen X crowd that bridges the gap between boomers and their grandbabies, think they have a solid handle on how to talk to the younger generation. After all, in our heads we are a similar age. We like their music, or at least some of us do, and we understand their slang, Instagram, Snapchat, and, possibly, how to play beer pong. Or at least we think we do.
Baby Boomers, though, could probably take lessons from linguists like Daniel Everett from Bentley University in Massachusetts. According to Greg Uyeno, writing for Livescience.com, Everett worked to understand and document the language of the Pirahã people of the Brazilian Amazon.
Uyeno wrote, ““There are all sorts of cultural interpretations of even the simplest phrases,” Everett said. “That's why conversation is so difficult,” especially for two people with different native languages and cultures.
When it comes to aliens, he added, “That difficulty seems less than ideal in sensitive situations, when a minor miscommunication could result in interstellar warfare, or at least, the death of an explorer (whether human or alien). “Cooperation from both parties is essential,” Everett said, “because mix-ups are unavoidable.”
It’s unlikely that misinterpretation between human generations could result in warfare, but sometimes it’s funny. For instance, Earl Creps, writing for Relevantmagazine.com, noted, “When you say ‘Lipitor,’ they think ‘Viagra.’ This one actually happened to me … Speaking to a group of about 50 Millennials at a small conference, I attempted to define the Baby Boomer generation as ‘people my age who are sustained by Lipitor.’ To my surprise this usually sure-fire joke got not a whisper of response … because the students had the wrong idea about Lipitor, having confused this cholesterol-lowering medication with Viagra, the only drug they had ever associated with aging Boomers.”
Creps also noted, “When you say, ‘My third point is …,’ they think, ‘When is this going to be over, anyway?’… In communicating with young adults, it might be more accurate to say that they have short attention spans when talks are not engaging.”
As a result of focus groups that he conducted, Creps offers a bit of advice for older speakers when talking to the Millennials—speak for no more than 25 minutes. Think of it as if, he said. “Every young hearer is holding a remote control in her or his hand, which they will use to change mental channels the instant the talk becomes less engaging than their competing thoughts.”
There are other things to keep in mind as well when talking to Millennials, says Tim Eisenhauer, co-founder of Axero Solutions. Writing for his company blog, he included an impressive list: honesty is important, they are smart and want to be part of the decision-making process, they’re looking for promotions at a fairly quick rate, they’re confident, they want to connect with—and be heard by—top-level leaders, they’re open to feedback and criticism, they’re not afraid to let you know where they stand, they focus on success for the whole rather than only themselves, they appreciate quick wit, and they tend to equate newer with better.