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Online or not, we’re all in this together

  • Lynn Lancaster is a generational expert and author
  • She says when it comes to social media, communication at work can be tricky between various generations
  • See her tips for better cross-generational communication
M Factor jacket

Editor's note: "Generation Overshare" is a series about the blurred lines between what we share online and what we keep private. All week, HLN brings you content that examines the impact of putting it all out there, especially for a younger generation that's growing up on social media.

Lynn Lancaster is the co-founder of BridgeWorks, LLC and author of “The M Factor: How the Millennial Generation is Rocking the Workplace” and “When Generations Collide: Who They Are. Why They Clash. How to Solve the Generational Puzzle at Work.”

Last year, we introduced a new speaker as part of our multigenerational speaker team. Though young, he was sharp, talented and charismatic, so he readily absorbed my speaker coaching.

The day of his first keynote to a financial firm in New York, I was -- as a Baby Boomer and mentor -- understandably nervous. I wanted him to do well and wanted this old-school firm to see that a member of Gen Y could dazzle. I waited all morning, thinking I’d at least get a text message, if not a phone call, telling me how it had gone. Nothing.

I started to get aggravated. What kind of ungrateful, wet-behind-the-ears-punk would not know he needed to follow up the minute he walked off that stage?

Later on, a 20-something co-worker called me and announced: “Wow, Jeremy kicked butt in New York!” 

“What?” I said, crankily, “How do you know?”

“Dude,” came the reply. “He posted it on Facebook hours ago!”

Another smack upside the head; another reminder the world of communication is spinning out of control.

The rules of the game have been smashed to smithereens and all of us are left grasping at pieces. The proliferation of media choices has complicated all of our lives, exacerbated by the explosion of social options. It’s not just what we share -- it’s when, where, and how publicly we do it.

Concepts like privacy, security and appropriateness are up in the air. Do you post on Facebook that your boss is an idiot? What about those drunken YouTube videos now that you’re looking for a serious job?

The good news is we’re all in this together. The bad news is we all think we’ve got it right. 

I hear it all the time: “Why do we have to sit in endless meetings when all this information could have been posted on our company’s Intranet for everyone to use?” Or, “The young workers I’m supposed to be mentoring never come into my office; all they do is text me!”

It’s confusing for everybody. Millennial employees feel like they’ve entered a foreign country trying to learn the communication mores of their new companies, especially when they often seem secretive and layered. Their desire to share and trade information freely impact both privacy and hierarchy. Experienced workers feel threatened and even insulted by the Millennials’ willingness to pass along information their elders spent a lifetime acquiring.     

Hidden dangers lurk everywhere in the social media sphere, from identity theft, to porn and pedophiles, to loss of control of information, to the nagging feeling that we are somehow being left out. They only way to cope is to stay very aware of what is best for you. U.S. President Barack Obama recently talked about how he only owns two colors of suits in order to limit the number of choices he has to make in a day. We all need to be equally aware of where to put our energies. Here are some tips…

  • In business or personal settings, always ask “What is the best way to communicate this?” Be clear on what can or can’t be shared and why. Don’t overlook the fact that sometimes more open access channels can produce new kinds of positive results.
  • Be open to exploring what social media can do for you personally. LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest and all the rest are evolving so fast, our uses for them are evolving just as quickly. Many Millennials are burned out on Facebook and moving on to more personalized options. Be willing to try new outlets as your needs change. 
  • Don’t opt out. Social media is here to stay and can be a fantastic tool for those who learn to put reasonable boundaries around it. 
  • If you’re a Millennial trying to get ahead in your career, make sure you have mentors from other generations who can coach you on navigating communication etiquette. They can tell what’s going to get you ahead and what’s going to get you into trouble. Don’t assume you know.
  • Parents, teach your kids how to use their brains properly, not just the tools. They need to know when to trust an information source, how to maintain safe personal boundaries, how to navigate the often cruel side of social media (think cliques and bullying), and when to give their brains a rest and go for a walk outside or read a good book. 

That Millennial speaker and I have achieved a meeting of the minds. He texts me with his speech updates so I’m kept in the loop, and I’m currently following the planning of his upcoming wedding on his favorite social networking site. If we hang in there, I know we will all work it out together.  

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