You didn’t see that title coming, did you? But it’s true. Gen Z, the people in their teens and early twenties right now are much better at communication than we may appreciate. To be clear, I’m not using “communication” as a synonym for “grammar.” Those skills appear to be in decline, based on average SAT scores for critical reading and writing for the past 45 years. But using the dictionary definition of communicate, “share or exchange information, news, or ideas,” Gen Z is well ahead of previous generations.
There are three parts to how they are leading the rest of us into the future:
- Collaborative Communicators
- Social Media Expertise
- Inclusive Mindsets
Last year I surveyed 1,600+ college students with an ethnic and socioeconomic diversity reflecting the U.S. population. When asked about their preferences for working autonomously or working in teams, 58 percent wanted to spend the majority of their time working in a team where everyone plays an active role in achieving the outcome together. That’s not the interesting part, because that could easily be attributed to individual personality style. While those who preferred to work autonomously were twice as likely to score introverted, those who preferred to have group involvement and accountability were an even mix of introverted and extroverted.
At the same time, Gen Z is actually more likely to want to gather face-to-face than their Millennial brethren. Bloomberg Businessweek recently reported “Millennials Tried to Kill the American Mall, But Gen Z Might Save It,” talking about how the younger generation is actively socializing at malls and other brick and mortar establishments again. Yes, they may be texting each other while they are in a group, but they are extremely social!
Social Media Expertise:
You may have used the business chat-app “Slack” and thought you were cutting edge. (If you’ve never heard of Slack, catch up!) Did you know that Discord now has even more daily active users? And while Discord had been the app of choice for gamers, it’s now a resource for collaboration on homework. Snapchat has 190 million daily active users, and most of them are Gen Z. And because of the “streak” feature in Snapchat that tracks how many days in a row you “snap” with others, users find themselves required to actively engage once or twice a day just to avoid breaking a streak online and thereby losing a friend in real life.
Vero, Musical.ly, Houseparty, Steemit … the list of new and giant social apps goes on and on! You can’t possibly keep up unless you live in their world. They’re extremely good at seeing and adapting to online trends rapidly. Marketing executives may study social media, but Gen Z has always had it, so it’s a way of life. It’s best if you just hire a team of young people to tell you where to go and what to do online, because you’ll never catch up on your own.
The social media language is becoming increasingly visual, but much less verbal. Your ability to communicate through images will be the key to your success in the future. While we try to complain that the younger generation is “too lazy” to read, the truth is that most “older folks” won’t make it this far in my blog post, because it has so many words, and so few pictures.
Spelling and grammar are necessary insomuch as they make it possible to understand what the writer is trying to say. Language evolves, though. Very few of us enjoy reading Shakespeare or Chaucer when it’s written in Old English. Our language has evolved and continues to evolve.
This brings me to the last part of how Gen Z communicates better than previous generations. Because Gen Z is the most diverse generation ever, they actively embrace diversity. This includes embracing the language differences that come from different cultural, socioeconomic and national backgrounds. Gen Z will adjust their listening or their speaking to adapt to the needs of those around them, because they were raised in a generation that celebrated difference.
I was part of a team reviewing proposals from small vendors, and one of the older reviewers voted against a proposal because the person writing it had poor grammar. Several of the younger people on the committee immediately jumped to the defense of the vendor, noting that the writing style was clearly that of a non-native English speaker, but that the vendor had stellar references and products. Because we were not hiring the vendor to write English papers, the Gen Z people on the committee brought the vote around to be more inclusive of different communication styles.
This is how they think, and this is who they are – much more so than previous generations.
McKinsey recently released a study on Gen Z in Brazil where they noted that Gen Z could be renamed “TrueGen” for their drive to express individual truth while understanding and connecting through different truths. They are more likely to initiate difficult conversations in conflict scenarios, and they are more likely to be open to different perspectives and disagreement.
In the end, Gen Z communication looks very different from that of previous generations, but I think their communication style brings many benefits that we should learn from and embrace.
Jamie Belinne is the author of The Care and Feeding of Your Young Employee: A Manager’s Guide to Millennials and Gen Z. Millennials are currently the largest segment of the work force, but Gen Z is more than a quarter of the population, and they will soon outnumber Millennials at work. Belinne surveyed more than 13,000 Millennial and Gen Z employees as well as hundreds of their employers, to share stories and data demonstrating the differences and best practices for managing expectations, communication styles, productivity, motivation, and recruiting with the youngest and largest generations in the work force today.