The old ways are the best ways for the new generation


Ishbel Smith believes the new generation can offer valuable insights on communications

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27th February 2019 by TFN Guest 0 Comments

Making the annual pilgrimage to the SCVO’s recent Gathering reminded me of some of the aspects of conferences that I enjoy – the chance to hear great talks; the time to learn about new ways of working and of course, lots and lots of free pens.  But as always, what I love most is experiencing the buzz and banter of conversations as old friends and new meet to share their stories.  Yes, even with all our multiple platforms for digital connections, there really is nothing like that old fashioned means of communicating – talking face to face with the folk we meet. 

And yet some have said that the art of talking is a dying one and that our communication efforts should be increasingly (and some may even say exclusively) focussed on digital connections.  Lots of great training is available to help teach old dogs the new tricks of the “yoof” where Facebook is just so yesterday and Snapchat and Instagram brainstorm about who will replace them.  Much of the justification for this is the understandable belief that this is the only way to engage the younger generation – and as someone with three teenagers who appear genetically welded to their phones, I used to agree with them.

Ishbel Smith

Ishbel Smith

Which is why research conducted by US HR market leaders into the actual desires of Generation Z (25 and under) employees is so interesting.  While it is of course dangerous to judge a whole generation on a poll of 800 American twenty somethings, the conclusions they draw about how younger people wish to be seen – and heard – are surprising.  One of the three main recommendations drawn by the researchers was this:  “One of the biggest misconceptions is that they only want to interact by using hand-held devices and don’t want to communicate face to face.  [In fact] they want the human element”.  Indeed, the results showed that, by far, this generation’s preferred communication style is face to face.  Unlike the two generations before them, they have embraced the philosophy that the old ways are indeed often the best.

Anyone reading this report would be hard-hearted not to be inspired and excited about the generation that are now entering the working and volunteering world.  Despite having grown up in a “Depression-like” era, they have a strikingly principled but realistic view of the world and “seek connectedness and context because they thrive on genuine relationships”.  The writers enthusiastically conclude that this generation strive “to solve problems nobody else has solved”.  There could be few better descriptions of what the whole Third Sector seeks to do, no matter what age they are.  It seems like a match made in heaven with the potential of possibility seemingly limitless.

So we should listen to the warnings that those who wrote the report give to those of us who are not quite (ahem!) in that Gen Z demographic.  The key for making connections with this new life blood in our community is authenticity – and the most valued characteristics sought in any new boss are honesty and integrity.  Employers (and by extrapolation volunteer coordinators) are encouraged to  “talk with them face to face, making genuine connections that go beyond technology”.  And this is where the communication style research becomes even more interesting – because face to face is not the overall preferred style for those of us over the age of 25.  We usually prefer to email rather than pick up the phone; write a LinkedIn post rather than attend a meeting or record a 30 second video clip rather than speak at a conference.  We often fear that face to face conversation may reveal something in our authenticity we prefer to hide – a lack of confidence; a gap in knowledge or an uncertainty of convictions.  We can worry that casual conversation may put a spanner in the works of our carefully crafted key messaging.  We can angst about how many hits our social media attracts without remembering that personal connection is still the best way for us to change hearts and minds. 

Maybe it’s time to learn a lesson or two about the skill of communication from the new experts.  The younger generation has a thing or two to teach us old dogs.  Let's be inspired by those who want to talk about the causes that matter.  Let's be energised by their passion for transformational relationships.  Let's learn from our youngest that when it comes to communicating, the old ways are the best.   Let's talk. 

Ishbel Smith is the founder of communications consultancy Heart In Mouth - who offer specialised support for people in the Third Sector who like to talk about the stories that matter, they provide training on presentation and conversation skills