Managing millennials can be tricky. Often, the trouble isn't "entitlement" or work ethic, but ineffective communications, particularly digital.

But there's a trick that can help communicating with millennials -- and everyone else. It's something simple that can add emotional intelligence and make interactions more effective.

Before we get to the answer, let's talk about sarcasm. Sara Peters, an assistant professor of psychology at Newberry College, wrote in The Conversation about sarcasm in texts and emails. The use of this form of ambivalent communications, where the meaning tends to be opposite of what is literally expressed, is widely practiced.

However, it's not always easy to figure out if a writer is being sarcastic - particularly as we march ahead in a digital age that has transformed the way we communicate, with texting, emailing and online commentary replacing face-to-face chats or phone conversations.

You've probably been part of some awkward digital communication in which one person tried for a sarcastic tone that fell flat. The reason is clear: the exchange misses body language, facial expressions, and vocal tone. What went missing were the parts of the conversation that could reduce the ambiguity and signal that the words were meant to mean the opposite of what they seemed to say.

The two-part answer to the problem is emojis and hashtags. The little icons that indicate an emotional intention have been around for decades in text form. Increased choice availability and their graphic representation have brought the tool to new heights. And hashtags, intelligently used, can express a subtext or a more direct clue -- #sarcasm, for example -- to the intended interpretation.

In many types of business communication, adding emojis wouldn't seem appropriate. In such cases, the writer presumably creates a straightforward message with no ambiguity.

But even straightforward exposition can appear to carry an emotional undertone because of a recipient's inference, accurate of not. Despite normal "corporate style," it's smart to look for potential ambiguity in communications. If multiple possible interpretations exist, either revise the email or text or social media message to eliminate other choices or add emoji to reinforce the intent.

One danger, though, is a reverse type of sarcasm or disingenuousness I've seen. The sender means one thing but adds emoji to disavow the message's intent. You have to be honest with what you mean and convey it in a genuine manner.

You'll still have problems at times when what you are really saying is unpleasant, just as some people don't like receiving sarcastic messages. But sparing and deft use of emojis overall can improve your communication skills and get your points across better. Even if someone really doesn't want to hear it.

Published on: Mar 13, 2018
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