I’ve been thinking a lot about the future. Specifically, the future of the workplace in America and globally. Millennials now surpass Gen Xers as the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. The good news is that Millennials are enthusiastic digital natives who want to make a significant contribution to their organizations. Hooray! The bad news is that Millennials are more comfortable communicating via email, text, and instant messaging than their older colleagues.
I recently read an article where the Millennial author excitedly wrote that she and a family member were able to resolve a conflict via text message. My theory is that the author and her family member were able to resolve their conflict via text because the level of trust and personal history between them as family members was at the highest level-higher than we typically have with co-workers.
I took an informal poll on Linked:HR and of my LinkedIn network asking whether workplace conflict must be resolved face-to-face or if text and email could be used. The overwhelming response to my admittedly unscientific poll was that face-to-face discussions are needed for effective, lasting workplace conflict resolution. A few people said that electronic communications might work for low level conflicts or in a high-tech environment, or could be used for logistics such as scheduling a meeting to discuss the conflict. Most commenters said not only was face-to-face discussion necessary but that emails can make a workplace conflict WORSE.
One person cited Professor Albert Mehrabian’s 7-38-55 Rule of Personal Communication. The rule breaks down the elements of personal communication as follows: 7% spoken words, 38% voice and tone, and 55% body language.
Conflict resolution rests upon not just words but also the participants’ tone, volume, inflection, eye contact, and other body language. It is the combination of words, tone, and body language that we rely upon to determine if we will trust the person we are experiencing conflict with and whether we believe they are being genuine in their efforts to come to a balanced resolution.
The implications for workplace conflict resolution are clear—voice, tone, and body language cannot be conveyed via text or email; so, those electronic modes of communication will be insufficient tools for resolving a conflict. If Millennials are more comfortable with digital communication, how will conflicts and difficult conversations unfold in our workplaces?
I read another article yesterday, citing research by consulting firm Korn Ferry, that said that Millennial managers overwhelmingly prefer instant messaging to face-to-face conversations. You can see where I’m going with this. Some of these enthusiastic digital natives may have room to grow when it comes to face-to-face communication in the workplace. Truth be told, we can all benefit from conflict resolution training.
I can confidently declare that conflict isn’t going anywhere. It’s going to pop up in all workplaces from time to time. Since face-to-face discussions are, in my opinion, the most effective way we humans have of resolving conflict, the need for workplace conflict resolution training will continue to grow as Millennials become an even larger segment of the workplace. Conflict resolution is a skill like any other workplace skill and we can provide employees with the tools they need to succeed. Will your organization be prepared or fall behind? Either way, the need for this training is already here.