Over a number of decades, I have taught undergraduates, coached up-and-coming executives, listened to the groans and complaints of people starting their career, and started a consulting firm with a group of New York hipsters, so I have had a unique opportunity of having mentored several generations.
None have intrigued me as much as the Millennials, but I don't subscribe to the idea that they are that radically different. Being hip, cool, and fast have been around for a long time. Working in real time rather than methodically planning has always been part of the game. Ambition is not the exclusive realm of the young generation. Nor are quick fixes and pithy language.
That said, much of it has gone a bit to the extreme. What Millennials need is not a change in behavior, but to nuance their behavior. This is not to say to Millennials to put your ambition back in the closet or suppress your bravado. Don't stop working in real time. Certainly, don't stop having a sense of entitlement. My advice is just to nuance your behavior.
In other words, maintain the core of what you're about, but realize the impact of it. Here are some tips:
1. Slow down the solution. One of the things I notice is that young people are driven to come up with solutions. They think that to stand out they have to come up with the solution more quickly than anyone else in the room. Slowing down the rate you offer a solution buys you a degree of legitimacy. This isn't the classroom where you can just blurt out the first thing that pops into your head. Be more thoughtful.
2. Use the complexity of language. It has been noted many times that this generation talks in shorthand, overuses the word "like", and speaks as if they are texting. Complex sentences and complete paragraphs, whether spoken or written, simplify expression by making it clearer and more complete. If a topic is worth discussing, make sure that your use of language projects mastery of the content.
3. Try to be a little less cool. The line between glib and cool is very thin. What you think is cool, people my age may read as glib. Cool has an air of nonchalance, and a subtlety of excitement, but it also has a non-concrete, non-authentic sense to it. You can keep the beard and flannel shirt, but don't talk as if you're burdened by a suit.
4. Seek advice. The generation ahead has something to offer, and we're constantly being coached on how to coach you. Give us a chance to coach you. Give us a chance to mentor and share. I, like others, pick up when someone is not interested in my advice. When advising a Millennial, sometimes it seems to me that they are just pacifying me, listening for the sake of listening. If nothing else, have the common courtesy to fake your attention span.
5. Project a value commitment. Millennials are sometimes accused of having hedonistic tendencies. Your capacity to make a value statement that is greater than short-term self-interest, your ability to project commitment, and your ability to believe in a more transcendent collective reality helps to bridge the generations, and will help build better relationships.
The workplace is about relationships. Use the tools of projection and language, and your focused mindful attention on who you are will get you and the generations ahead of you on the same page--so that you can move forward together. And that is a win-win for everyone.