Millennials and Picking Up the Phone

In 2016, millennials will make up the largest percentage of the workforce compared to Gen X and boomers, resulting in some big changes to the workplace. To all the millennials reading this, I know you get a lot of flack, and I know you are tired of reading articles about yourself. Trust me, I do. I myself am a millennial – I just happen to fall on the earlier side of the generation. But I have one more piece of advice for you.

Having the perspective of an older millennial, I fell right into the gap of entering the workforce before big changes happened. Now, with digital natives taking the workforce by storm, face-to-face and telephone contact is being lost. The art of stellar verbal conversation is becoming a rarity in young workers. When I joined the workforce as an early millennial, I learned the value of a phone call.

I remember walking into the office for my first “adult” job out of college, my brand new suit and a total lack of confidence in tow. My cube was tucked in the corner, its color a sterile vanilla. It was nearly barren with the exception of a stack of resumes, a computer and my chair. It had a florescent light directly above it, giving it an ultra-bright, padded-room-look. After I set my empty bag down, took a quick tour of the office and grabbed a cup of coffee, my boss walked me back to my cube. He walked me through a couple of resumes, some buzz words and a few orders I was to set to work on.

Then he pointed to a stack of resumes and said, “Ok, call these folks.”

He might as well have told me that I had to testify in front of congress. I was mortified – and as lost and confused as any barely-over-their-college-hangover fresh grad could be. To make matters worse, my boss pulled up a chair. I quickly realized what was about to happen – a trial by fire. Without beleaguering you with details, let’s just say “debacle” is the closest word to summing up that experience.

However, weeks passed and I soon found the feeling of sheer dread fade and a new feeling began to take over. I started getting really good at these conversations; in fact, I began to enjoy it. I was connecting with people all day, people looking for a better opportunity. Sure there were some jerks, but the overwhelming majority of people I talked to saw me as conduit to a better job, a better balance, and ultimately a better life, and I thrived on that. Eventually I found success on that side of the business and it was time to move to the client side, where a whole new set of challenges awaited me.

I remember getting my hands on my first marketing list and thinking, if I pick up this phone I’m going to get shot down, hung up on, belittled, maybe even chewed out – but someone is going to want to hear what I have to say. They are going to recognize my value and I’m going to win their business. All of the crap I’m going to take will be worth that one call because my competition is emailing to gain the business. Turns out I was right; I did take abuse and get roughed up, but I developed my craft and generated business.  

Now here we are eight years later and it has become even more of an email, text and direct message world. There are a whole new crop of people I work with coming out of college that, in all likelihood, haven’t even picked up a phone with a cord. These are millennials younger than me, who text faster than I talk and can make a keyboard smoke. But they fear the actual phone call. In all of this instant connection, no connection is made. Information that demanded a verbal conversation is no longer getting its due.

So, when you have an opportunity to speak with someone and the situation requires the finesse or directness of a human voice, but you choose to text, you are losing. There are things that can set you apart, and the art of conversation and building rapport are two of those things. While electronic communication has an incredibly vital role in any profession, there is a lesson to be learned for those who only use electronic communication: it is the best workers that recognize the timing and need for a real, traditional phone call.  

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