How to Speak so Gen Y Will Listen

Posted by

In my last blog (see previous post: How to Speak So Gen X Will Listen), I discussed Gen X, the generation that was born between 1965-1980. In this blog, I’m going to discuss what events shaped the Gen Y psyche and what key words to use when talking with them. As a reminder:


Who are the four generations?

Traditionalists: Born between 1924-1945
Baby Boomers: Born between 1946-1964
Generation X: Born between 1965-1980
Generation Y: Born between 1981-2000

Each of these generations was influenced by certain events that shaped their psyche during their formative years. The formative years tend to take place 10-20 years after a person was born, so let’s look at the events that shaped Gen Y during their formative years.


Generation Y
Born between 1981-2000
Formative years between approx. 1992-present

Gen Y is also known as Millennials, Echo-Boomers, and the Net Generation. No matter what you call them, they are a powerful force of 79+ million (almost as big as the Baby Boomer generation). They were wired from day 1; consequently, they are called Digital Natives, while the rest of us are known as Digital Immigrants. This generation was born with a mouse in its hand and studies are showing that as a result, they process information differently than the other generations. What does this mean? Not only are they tech-savvy, they also expect everything to be “downloaded” immediately. They believe in instant gratification; if they can download a song, book, article or video immediately, why can’t everything come as instantaneously?

Studies are showing that a 10-year old Gen Y has the maturity level of a 16-year old Boomer. Why? Because of globalization and instant, streamed news. They saw the planes crashing into the Twin Towers again and again. Any global event, both positive and negative, is online in seconds. Consequently, this generation is as diverse as the globe. When it comes to food choices, politics, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or religion, this generation sees itself as diverse as possible.

Not only did 9/11 impact Gen Y, but this generation also saw AIDs kill their friends and family. They were the first generation to have safety laws enforced…bike helmets, car seats, seat-belt laws, and strong drunk driving laws. The message from this was “You are special. We value you.” Consequently, this generation value connections. They want to be part of a community…at home, at work and at play. They will work with their friends at the same company, if they feel it’ll allow them more time with their community. So when someone complains “Why does Gen Y have to text me 10 times a day?!”, I remind them that Gen Y values connection, and since they are hardwired, texting is their form of communication.

The .com boom and bust showed them that the corporate world can be unreliable. So this is a generation of entrepreneurs. They had a voice at “family meetings” from the age of 5, so they have the confidence to articulate their vision, the tech-skills to create their vision and the community to support them in their vision. So welcome to a generation of entrepreneurs and creative collaborators! Work and life balance is vital to a Gen Y; they saw their parents in the go-go 90’s of the Internet boom and want more balance. So this entrepreneurial career path lets them do yoga at 4PM and work at midnight; it’s all a continuum to them.

Now that you understand which events shaped this generation, and how Gen Y view the world, how can you best connect with them? You use key words that resonate with them. When you do this, they then feel understood and are willing to listen to you. You build rapport, so they will engage with you more willingly. If you continue to use their key words, you will have an effective conversation with them, simply by using their own language.


Key Words for Gen Y

  • Global citizen
  • Balance
  • Diversity
  • Community/connections

So if you’re trying to convince a Gen Y’er to launch a new website, you would say something like “This will bring together our different stakeholder communities. This feature will allow our members instant access to the information they need. It can be built in stages, so we don’t have to work 80 hour weeks for the next 2 months.”

You wouldn’t use the same language when trying to convince a Gen X, Boomer or Traditionalist to launch a new website. They have their own key words that resonate best with them. Yet using the Gen Y key words, and understanding the Gen Y psyche, will help you bridge the cultural gap.

Remember, you will not succeed when trying to change a generational perspective. You will only succeed when tailoring your pitch to each generation. In other words, speak their language. When you do this, they feel more connected to you and more willing to answer your questions. This then helps you overcome their concerns and move forward.

Get Monthly Leadership Tips from Anne Loehr
Is your leadership ready for the future workplace? 

Leave a Reply