Millennials,

(finally) tongue-tied?

 

It does ring slightly bizarre that as the smartphone continues to propel in popularity, their original prime purpose of phone calls has plummeted in prevalence.

Millennials are opting instead for the more modernised form of communication: text.

The text comes to us through an obscene number of apps, all accessible through the same device.

Can’t get hold of your friend? Have you iMessaged? Sent as SMS? WhatsApp? Facebook message? Snapchat? Twitter? Instagram? Email? Kik? Swiped left on their Tinder? Maybe they’re ignoring you because your message seemed harsh. Send Emoji. Still no response? Send Bitmoji.

So last, and absolutely least, preserved for the upmost of emergencies, you’ll call.

Your phone’s ringing. Is it meant to do that? Is it an alarm you’ve forgotten about? You stare at it for a few moments, eyebrow raised—don’t move, they’ll go away. Why is that your ringtone? Still ringing. Carefully picking up the phone so you don’t accidentally hit the answer button. Cue unjustified flashbacks of every phone-based horror film you’ve ever watched (The Ring featuring heavily).

You press the answer button and lift it to your ear. You have to clear your throat because despite having participated in 3 group chats and maintained 4 Snapchat streaks and uploaded a picture of your office dog to your LinkedIn network, you haven’t actually spoken to anyone all day. “Hello?” your voice cracks, your tone thick with caution and inconvenience.

A familiar rustling…

Phew, pocket dial.

So, with “Get on the phone!” being chanted in sales offices across the modernised world, sending a shiver down the TM Lewin’s suited-and-booted backs of millennials everywhere; where has this reluctance to ring come from? And how do we rein it in to use it to our advantage?

Tele-phobes

We have been dubbed, whether deservingly, mockingly, rightly or wrongly—the “anxious generation”. A term that will likely trigger scoffs in some and drags us dangerously close to the “Well what do you have to feel anxious about?” topic, which I will be steering well clear of.

We have been spoiled by technology now allowing us the luxury of asynchronous communication, giving us the option of not having to immediately respond to something that we haven’t had time to contemplate. The thought of being in a real-time conversation, where the responses and reactions of each party are emotionally and instinct-driven, can be pretty daunting–particularly if you’re still relatively new and not 100% on what you’re talking about.

Every salesperson has been in the situation where you’ve said the wrong thing. You’re on the phone to a customer or client, and it just slipped out. Your boss is opposite you mouthing “What the ****!?” and you’re trapped in an unintentional confrontation that has the potential to damage your business relationship and reputation.

However, by text or email, you remove the potential of slipping up. You can carefully draft what you’re going to say, read it, re-read it, edit it, have your colleagues proofread it, ensure you’re inferring the right tone when you put “Regards” instead of “Kind regards” to show how incompetent you think the recipient is.

And yes, once in a while, you will put something that you shouldn’t in an email. You’ll call someone by the wrong name, or send them something you shouldn’t, and yes, the paper trail will be there forever. But it’s these mistakes that provide endless entertainment for your colleagues, put you back into your place when needed, and provide excellent lessons in damage control.

Paper trail or it didn’t happen

Arguably the biggest advantage of sending something by text or email is that both parties have an exact, time-stamped statement of the exchange. No one can lie about anything in the content because you both have evidence of precisely what was said.

Even if you prefer to talk on the phone, most offices will promote following up every client or customer conversation with an email. It covers your back in a lot of cases. The only real deniability you can play on if you haven’t done something you were asked to do over email or text, is to say that you didn’t see it. Which no one believes. Ever.

Of course, having a paper trail of everything does have obvious disadvantages. For a start, a paper trail can work just as well against you as it does for you. As mentioned above, if you make a mistake, it’s there forever.

It’s also surprisingly easy to offend over text because it’s very hard to infer tone. The recipient may find the email blunt or harsh, which regardless of if intended that way, can be damaging to the relationship.

And last but not least, who doesn’t live in constant fear of having a typed interaction print-screened and posted on a social networking site? It’s hard to go a day on LinkedIn without seeing a name-and-shame post of what should have remained a private conversation that’s now gone viral—regardless of the content and whether it’s deserved or not, it always evokes a reaction of half cringe and half empathy.

Where are your manners?

The prospect of receiving a “cold call” seems to completely split opinion. Some people respect it, taking the time to engage with the caller even if it’s just to give a polite “Not this time, but I’m happy to stay in touch.” Others seem to take it as a personal attack, demanding to know how you can possibly have the audacity to contact them—as if you’ve tiptoed into their house, seated yourself down on the side of the bath and started to run through a business proposal while they’re on the toilet.

I see no pattern as to the people who do/don’t approve of a cold call. I think we’re all potentially guilty of swinging between these two outlooks depending on how our day has gone.

I do personally struggle to get away from the feeling that I am imposing myself on the other party’s time if I call them seemingly out of the blue. I suppose this links back to the point about asynchronous communication.

By simply texting or emailing the other party and asking permission to initiate a telephone conversation, you’re making yourself far less imposing. You’re giving them the option of not only whether or not they want to engage with you, but also when they want to engage with you—which can start that call off on a much more positive note than you spluttering out an introduction in 10 seconds and hoping they take it the right way/don’t hang up.

The obvious disadvantage here is that, while you’re waiting for a response (if your message has even reached them), you’ll more than likely miss out to someone who’s got over themselves and just picked up the phone.

And your point is…?

We are talking about the generation that was raised with Nokia 3310s and were allowed about £10 of credit a month—where a text was up to 140 characters, otherwise it would cost you another 10p. We’ve learnt to be extremely frugal with our communication (if nothing else), portraying our point in as few characters as possible.

This suits email or text perfectly. Don’t make it cluttered, involve the information you want to share, and the information you hope to gain.

Even as I write this with my director 50 miles away in a client meeting, I can feel him shudder and cringe, as he has rightly highlighted the downfall of succinct, virtual communication to me on numerous occasions.

When you engage with someone on the phone, or in person, you naturally—almost accidentally—end up asking questions you wouldn’t have by email. Whether it’s prompted by the desperate need to avoid an awkward silence, or sparked by an off-the-cuff comment, you will always get more information from someone by having an actual conversation than by instant message.

So, by rushing to get to the point, are we as millennials, missing the point completely?

Emma Wood