Like every generation, Gen Y is subject to its share of myths and stereotypes as it enters the IT workforce. Sometimes painted as privileged, technology-obsessed individuals who avoid face-to-face interaction, Millennial workers actually have many basic needs in common with their more experienced colleagues, including recognition, constructive feedback and a healthy relationship with one's boss. That said, there are some real differences in the communication styles of different generations.
If you're like many of your Generation Y colleagues, you prefer frequent communication with your boss. In fact, in a survey of more than 1,000 21-to-28-year-olds conducted by Robert Half International and Yahoo HotJobs, 60 per cent of workers said they want to hear from their managers on a daily basis. Thirty-five per cent of Millennials prefer to touch base with their supervisors several times a day. While Gen Y employees want to work autonomously, they like to know that they are on the right track.
Keeping the lines of communication open is a good thing for any IT department, but your manager may not be able to provide such fast and frequent feedback, especially if he oversees numerous people. Here are some time-tested communication tips that will help you enhance your relationship with your boss:
Be a "model" employee
Study how your supervisor and other high-performing colleagues communicate in the workplace, and model these behaviors as appropriate. You can learn a lot by simply paying attention to office dynamics. Are meetings scheduled weeks in advance, or do they occur spontaneously? Does your manager have a BlackBerry in hand at all times, or does he ask for status updates in person? Most successful IT teams and departments naturally develop their own style of communication over time; your goal should be to observe and adapt to the existing style.
State your style
If you're unsure of what approach will be most effective, express your communication preferences and politely ask your boss to do the same. Chances are you'll find some common ground. Even if a demanding schedule prevents your supervisor from being as accessible as both of you would like, you can still come to an understanding about when -- and how -- to touch base.
Be all ears
Especially among IT professionals, communicating well is often more about listening than talking. When speaking with your manager, be attentive and focus on what is being said instead of trying to formulate a response in your head. Also, take detailed notes, and don't be afraid to ask for clarification of points that remain unclear. By practicing active listening on the front end, you can significantly minimize the need for redundant follow-up conversations.
If you're not receiving the type or level of feedback you want, request a meeting with your boss. When you explain your concerns, make certain to note why you'd like more feedback -- for example, to ensure that you're doing your part to keep a particular IT initiative on track, or so you can quickly make necessary adjustments. Work with your supervisor to devise practical ways to stay in touch, such as weekly check-in meetings or more frequent updates via e-mail. Be prepared to accept a less-structured arrangement if that's what your manager prefers.
At the end of the day, professionals of all ages need to adjust to the work styles of their supervisors. If that means no meetings on Mondays or an e-mail blackout on Friday afternoons, so be it. Your smartest move is to communicate your needs while remaining amenable to suggestions and accepting of your manager's communication-related preferences and concerns.
For IT workers of any generation, a key to communicating well is not taking differences in style personally. If your boss seems less responsive when you stop by with questions than when you send an e-mail, for example, don't take it as a personal slight. Instead, make a note of it and adjust your style accordingly. Adapting to what works, after all, is a style that professionals of all ages can agree on.
Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis.
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