When you’re a Millenial, people sometimes have trouble talking to you. I blame all the hand-wringing think pieces about us, which have convinced some of our elders that we’re downright incomprehensible. This leads people to talk to Millenials the way that well-meaning but uninformed parents will approach their unpredictable teenagers — by trying to adapt what they believe to be our icons and language.
Of course, that always comes across as disingenuous and pandering, which is why it never works. Think about it: you’re not talking to me about zombies because we both share a genuine interest in that conversation, but because you’ve heard that zombies are something Millenials like to talk about. To you, I’m just a caricature of a group of people. To me, you’re just a jerk who couldn’t be bothered to sincerely engage with me.
But because of this, I’ve grown attuned to insincerity: I’m really good at distinguishing between genuine conversation and cynical attempts to look connected by lazily dropping the names of bands or television shows.
How Not to Talk to Anyone
And I’ve learned that this lazy insincerity doesn’t just happen when scared baby boomers try to talk to terrifying Millenials — it’s a chronic problem in HR and recruitng, and regardless of the generations involved.
For example: the subject line for April 3’s TLNT Daily email was “Leadership and Narcissism, or Things We Can Learn From Kanye West.”
Obviously, I had to open it right away, for two reasons: first, because Yeezus was the best record of 2013; second, because I couldn’t wait to see what sort of ham-handed point TLNT was trying to make. I steeled myself for another disappointing attempt at relevance. And that’s exactly what I got.
West is barely even a plot point in the article. His name is just a way to grab attention, enticing people to click while they momentarily believe that something interesting and sincere is about to happen. So the cycle continues: the writer doesn’t even put enough effort in to properly use a cultural icon, which makes him come across like he’s not even all that interested in the intelligence of his audience; this, in turn, makes his audience feel put-off by his clear disinterest, as well as embarrassed for the guy because of his awkward attempt to look hip.
No one wins.
Why is This Important?
This sort of thing happens all the time in HR and recruiting, especially during sourcing and hiring processes. Often, HR professionals and recruiters think they’re putting in the time to get to know new or prospective hires, but all they’re really doing is engaging in the same sort of cynical, surface-level communication that TLNT was in this case.
You’re hiring a Millenial candidate? Drop a reference to zombies. She chuckles politely. No real connection was made. Workplace culture wasn’t improved thanks to good friendships. Neither of you actually knows each other any more than you did.
You’re hiring a baby boomer? Talk about how crazy kids are these days. He nods politely. See above.
We know that workplace culture is important, and that HR professionals and recruiters are especially responsible for building and maintaining strong workplace cultures. But strong cultures require strong communities, and strong communities don’t come from shallow interactions. They come from the hard work of taking genuine interests in other things and other people.
Just Be Sincere
Take a look at this piece from Fistful of Talent: “The Definitive Miley Cyrus Guide to HR.” It succeeds where the TLNT piece fails, because it doesn’t use a pop culture icon as a cynical hook, an easy way to grab attention or fool audiences into thinking they’ve been understood.
Instead, it take a sincere effort in uncovering HR lessons in the unlikeliest of places — a Miley Cyrus record. It’s silly. It’s goofy. It’s tongue-in-cheek. But it’s sincere. It means what it says. Miley Cyrus becomes a point of mutual understanding and communication between writer and audience, not a perfunctory talking point.
The lesson is that sincerity is what drives genuine connections between people. HR professionals and recruiters should follow Fistful of Talent’s example: try to make sincere connections, for the good of the culture.