I Can’t Believe You Said That! 10 Statements Not to Make to Millennials

John Stoker is the author of “Overcoming Fake Talk” and the president of DialogueWORKS, Inc.
I recently had the opportunity to attend a team meeting where the manager was giving feedback to his team of 30 millennials who worked for him in a local catering business. I remember some of my supervisors in the past saying the same type of things to me. His statements brought back a flood of memories and reminded me how ineffective such statements can be.

Whether making the following statements occurs out of frustration for the current situation or to express dissatisfaction, you should know that using the following language does not improve the situation, nor does it improve your relationship with your people or help them achieve the desired results.

If you want the performance and motivation of your people to improve, avoid using the following statements to people of any age:

1. That will never work! Don’t be so sure. If you took some time to explore the person’s resistance to what you are asking them to do or to identify what isn’t working, you might find out that there is a better way to do what you are asking them to do. Millennials aren’t stuck in the past, in fact, they like to look for ways to improve and come up with new and innovative ways of doing things. You want to foster, rather than stifle, their creativity.

2. Quit whining and complaining about everything. You must remember that negative statements are really indicative of positive values that are being violated in some way. If a person is complaining, you want to understand what is behind the negative and identify the value that is at issue. You might find that their value is your value, and that some attention needs to be given to improving whatever is frustrating them. Once you can identify what is challenging the millennial, you can address it. Millennials want to understand how what they do adds value to the organization’s goals. If they can’t see or understand that, they don’t feel like they are making a difference.

Taking the time to understand your millennial employees’ thinking, challenges, behaviors, and aspirations will help you to manage them more effectively.
3. Don’t question me–just do what you are told.  It’s important to remember that questions aren’t a bad thing. Perhaps what you are asking them to do, isn’t clear or they need more information, so that is why they are asking. It’s quite possible this manager saw the questions that he was being asked as a challenge to his authority, rather than an honest expression of curiosity. The statement above really does more to shut people down rather than encourage engagement and participation. Open communication and sincere feedback is important to millennials, so allow their questions to be asked and answered as a means to improve their performance.

4. You need to be here on time. This may be a challenge for millennials who don’t often adhere to fixed parameters in the way things are done. You will need to make a case for commitment and punctually and help them understand how their disregard of a specific time impacts the work, the team, and the goals you are trying to achieve. Once they have the big picture and how they contribute to that, you may have more success with a fixed-time commitment.

5. You don’t know what hard work is. Such a statement might be interpreted as, “You are lazy,” or “You are so spoiled!” This statement could apply to almost any generational group. People seem to struggle with taking the initiative to do things outside the parameters of their “normal” work. They may fear that their extra efforts won’t be noticed or appreciated, or they worry about making a mistake. No matter who you are dealing with, you cannot assume that they understand what it means to go the extra mile or be proactive unless you define and encourage it.. You will have to teach, mentor, reinforce, and applaud the behaviors that you want people to enact.

6. You don’t know what you are doing! That very well may be true, but to make such a statement does not improve the person’s performance. Take time to understand why the person is doing what they are doing, and then make the needed adjustments. It may be that they are understanding and trying to address a challenge of which you are unaware. If you don’t take the time to explore the thinking behind the behavior producing undesirable results, you can yell all you want, but that still might not change their behavior. Help individuals to understand with absolute clarity what you expect them to do, and then recognize and reward that behavior when you see it. Remember that people positively respond to encouragement, not to being belittled or demeaned.

7. You are way too stressed out. If a person becomes emotional to the point that they can’t function, you would do well to understand the source of that stress. Perfectionists become stressed because they feel like they can never measure up or get things right. You might be contributing to that stress if you have not clearly defined expectations and directions for performance. Explore the source of a person’s stress and help them to manage it, rather than complaining about it and making it worse.

8. Because I said so! Millennials like to understand why. Making such a statement infers that they should just do what you are telling them without understanding the rationale or reasoning behind your requests. Such behavior will likely prompt more questions than you want to hear or shut them down completely, which may add to your frustration. Let go of your expectations that everyone that works for you will behave exactly as you would behave.  Help people understand why you are asking them to do what you need them to do. It will save you time and improve performance.

9. You are taking too long to do this. If you find yourself saying this, then perhaps you should ask if you have clearly identified how long a task should take, or if you have plainly outlined the steps to be followed to complete a given task. Take the time to explore a person’s thinking rather than blaming them for taking too long and not understanding what barriers to performance they encountered.

10. I don’t want to be your friend. Millennials like to have personal relationships with people who can mentor and appreciate them. Making such a statement roughly says, “I am not interested in you as a person.” Take the time to get to know your younger employees. Encourage them and look for opportunities for them to grow and develop. Someone who works with a manager who isn’t interested in a respectful relationship will soon look for other opportunities to forge relationships that are more rewarding.

Taking the time to understand your millennial employees’ thinking, challenges, behaviors, and aspirations will help you to manage them more effectively. Doing so will also ensure their success as well as yours while creating respect and building the quality of your relationships.

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