Relationships Blog Post

Interpersonal Communication Struggles

George Grombacher June 16, 2023

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Interpersonal Communication Struggles

Gen Z is struggling with interpersonal communication in the workplace. 

Why is this happening, and what can be done?  

George talks about how this and shares some simple frameworks for having fun and impactful conversations. 


Here’s the WSJ article:


Here’s the quote from Socrates:

“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.”


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Episode Transcript

It’s these days, get off my lawn, get to work, pull your pants up. Unbelievable. I think that it’s pretty common for the older generation to look at the next generations coming up and the generations that are coming up behind them, and to view them as soft. But you know, just just to look at them and think, wow, there is a problem here. And this is not a new thing. So I am, I am a member of Generation X. And certainly, the headlines about millennials over the years have been have been pretty laughable and comical and and then the next generation whatever that is, that gets Gen Z coming up, but I’m probably wrong about that. There’s some pretty funny headlines about that. But reality is, it’s always been this way. Literally, always been this way. Have you heard this one? Here’s a quote from Socrates. Oh, little while back. Says the children now love luxury they have. They have bad manners contempt for authority. They showed disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants in their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room that contradict their parents. Chatter before company gobble up dainties at the table crossed their legs and tyrannized their teachers. I mean, you thought Millennials were bad? Are they crossing their legs are gobbling up the Auntie’s at the table? No. So when they take it in context, they’re actually doing great. And of course, kidding about millennials, I think that y’all are great. And I think that Gen Z is all great. And I think that all people are all just fantastic. So but I thought that that was pretty funny. I was reading a Wall Street Journal article this morning and read about how a lot of young folks are struggling with return to work and they are struggling with basic niceties and office. I don’t know why I’m struggling to find the right word for this. But they’re having a hard time navigating the office environment. They’re having a hard time going into a workplace. They’re having a hard time dressing correctly, eating properly sending emails, just being in offices. There are some interesting quotes, one said or just talking about some of the problems. One recent grad found working in person to be draining thanks to professional attire and stain energetic consistently. Well, that’s probably gonna be a problem, and another attended an etiquette dinner. And it was important that they learn how to eat at the other people’s pace to discuss neutral topics and avoid personal questions. If that’s not just the worst advertisement for corporate life, I don’t know what is it? Gosh, discuss neutral topics, avoid personal questions. Yuck, what are we talking about? The most vapid nonsense ever that would reading that I’ve worked younger person and be like, No, thanks, I opt out of that 100%. Now it could just goes on to talk about how there’s problems with understanding proper dress code, literally, how to send emails, navigating interpersonal communication, and interpersonal relationships. And that one’s that one’s obviously a little bit tricky. When I read I thought, how long was the pandemic, that, that we have this group of people who were isolated, we were all isolated to a degree at this group of people in their formative years where they were they ought to have been doing lots of interpersonal communication with one another and not able to do that. So no question about it. It was an awful thing that is going to slow the development and has slowed the development of a lot of people. When I read that, I am surprised by it. I am. I’m saddened by it. I am shocked by it. But I guess I guess I shouldn’t say that I’m surprised by it. Because I think that we’ve been incrementally getting a little bit worse and worse and worse at having interpersonal communication and just making connections and making new friends and all those kinds of things. But I heard this once, what’s obvious to you is brilliant to somebody else. And I am very comfortable. With interpersonal communication, I think that my superpower is being able to talk to anybody, it’s one of my favorite things to do is to talk to people, I love having coffee, or having a drink with somebody or whatever lunch just having the opportunity to meet somebody new. And obviously, on the podcast, I get to do that just about every day. So I’ve gotten better at it. Interpersonal Communication is a skill like any other. It’s more like a dance, I think, than anything else. It’s a give and take. But you will get better. And if you don’t do it ever, then you will not have that skill. Maybe it’s like martial arts. Look at me, in my all my all my analogies this morning, probably more like martial arts, where you start out as a white belt, and you can work your way all the way up to a black belt. I think that is certainly a thing. I remember when I was doing my, when I was in college, I took an interpersonal communications course. And it was just the most obvious stuff in the world to me. And I thought I don’t crazy that people buy textbooks out of this stuff, because it is so basic to me. And so obvious to me, but I am blessed apparently, with the ability to with with with with those skills and those abilities and and other people, particularly these young folks who are now entering the workforce, for whatever reason, do not have. So the answer is that there are now going to be new training programs that companies are going to be implementing. And they are going to be teaching people how to handle conflict, how to have a navigate in or office relationships, how to make eye contact, how to introduce yourself, which again, seems really obvious, but not necessarily obvious or not practiced, perhaps that’s the best way to put it. Just because you intellectually know and understand somebody doesn’t mean you can actually put it to work. You can read all the karate manuals in the world, but it’s a different thing when you’re actually doing karate with another human being. So you could read all the all the texts, or take all the courses in how to have a business lunch, or how to ask somebody out on a date or how to introduce yourself, whatever. But until you actually do it, that’s a whole nother whole nother thing. So I am talking myself into the value of these courses as I am talking. So I think I think it’s I think it’s really really an interesting thing. And there are big problems with with expectations as well. And this is also a really important part of I think human relationships that this article highlighted was that a lot a lot of teachers are, are bemoaning the fact that students will just relentlessly email them and contact them even over weekends and holidays about things that they want or things that they need. And they appear to be in a lot of circumstances really blind to different expectations. So when you take a big step back, I think that these are some of the most important things and some of the most important skills that we can learn, know, get better at, which are interpersonal communication, and then properly setting expectations for a relationship. Because if we do not have proper expectations in our relationships, that’s when things do go sideways. That’s when people get let down to they get frustrated, they get mad. So being really upfront with what the expectations are with what next steps are with. Are we on the same page here? How do you like to process information? That is a really, really, really valuable skill to have, and not at all obvious.

So managing expectations, on the front end, managing expectations while you’re having a conversation with people and gaining permission along the way, and then figuring out what next steps are at the conclusion of our interaction. Where do we go from here? Kind of a thing. And if you’re not comfortable having those kinds of conversations because that can be comfortable, that can be an uncomfortable thing. Well, just know that the more you do it, the better are at it, you will be. So I think some really kind of some Greatest Hits in terms of how to become a better interpersonal communication in a better interpersonal communicator. Number one is that you have two ears and one mouth. And that’s for a reason. So, at some point you’re going to have to talk, but there’s so much power in asking a good question. Because when you ask a good question, and you actually listen, and give the person the opportunity to respond and answer your question, there’s so much wonderful things, there’s so many wonderful things that are happening there. Number one, you’re doing a good job listening, and you’re becoming an active listener. And number two, people find people who are interested to be interesting. So if you want to be interesting, be more interested. So having the right questions to ask having topics ready to go or prepared in advance, will help you to be more comfortable, it’ll help you to be more interesting than or just help you to be a better communicator, people will like you, because you’re asking questions you are interested, if you’re just asking questions, and then tuning out and not paying attention, well, that’s not going to get it done, you need to give somebody 100% of your attention, I believe and know that one of the greatest gifts that we can give to anybody is our complete 100% undivided attention. So we do that by answering good quote asked asking good questions, and listening to the answer. So when you ask a question, it also allows for you to take a little bit of a break, if you are nervous, when you are having conversations with people or you are whatever the case may be when you have a question ready. And you can ask it gives you a minute to catch your breath a little bit. And just hit the tennis ball over the net to the other person and let them and let them play for a minute. So if you want to be interesting, be interested, a couple of different topics that you can just keep in the back of your mind. And for our HR listeners out there, you may have grievance with me on these. But that just is what it is. Essentially, the opposite of what that dinner table etiquette or business etiquette dinner was all about. Discuss neutral topics and avoid personal questions. Well, we don’t need to ask people about the most personal aspects of their lives, but we can ask them, whatever city that you’re currently in. If you’re in Omaha, Nebraska, you can ask the person you’re talking to? Did you grew up in Omaha? And they will tell you Yeah, yeah, I did. Or they’ll tell you no, I’m actually from Florida. I’m from Connecticut, whatever the case may be. And there’s a million questions there too, then that that kind of gets you going? I always want to ask people what they’re interested in. So think about what their hobbies are. Do you have any hobbies? What, What hobbies do you have? And they will answer and you’ll be able to find commonalities. And you know that that’s always a valuable thing is to look for common ground with people. But more so I’m interested in, in talking to somebody that I have absolutely no experience or no context with what they’re talking about. If somebody is from a country that I’ve never been to, I think that that’s such a wonderful opportunity, because I’m a curious person, and I’ll have a million different questions for them. But just ask them where they grew up, or if they grew up here, wherever here might be. If you are running out of wealth, you talk about vacations, so you have any travel plans going anywhere soon. So think about vacations, think about what they’re consuming. So you read any good books, listening to a good podcasts watching any good movies these days watching any shows binge in any shows. From a funny question standpoint, I am fond of asking people what their favorite dinosaur is. Because it’s funny. I like to ask people what their favorite color is. I would like to ask people silly questions. Like, would you rather be a pirate or an astronaut. And you can have fun with this stuff. People like to have fun. Breaking news. Spoiler alert. People like to have fun. So we can have fun. It’s okay. And then finally, you could have dinner with anybody you could have if you were the host of a podcast and you can have anybody on anybody from any point in time in history. Who would that be? And so there’s just a handful of good questions that you could be asking to help with your interpersonal communication skills, kind of break the ice a little bit, get the conversation moving, and those are valuable to have in your back pocket. So the next time you’re going to something where you are perhaps dreading what it is We’re going to be talking about who am I going to be talking about? Have those questions ready, have a little bit of fun, and think about your own fun questions, whatever they might be. But I think the fundamental thing here, talking about what’s really going on, why it is that young people are struggling to be successful with interpersonal communications, why we struggle, and are tired by these kinds of environments, and it’s hard to keep our energy levels up. I think that the really big culprits here are first and foremost, obviously, technology. It’s really having a horribly detrimental effect on so many different aspects. I can’t imagine dating today. Thank goodness, I am a married person can’t imagine dating. And just using, you know, a dating app or dating off of social media apps and stuff like that. I think that there’s probably benefits to it. But it’s going to be I fear that we’re going to lose the ability to walk up to and be able to strike up a conversation with people. And that’s true for a lot of reasons. I think that we have on top of technology, we’ve also caused everybody to walk around on eggshells, and to be nervous about walking up to strangers and talking to them. We are nervous and have created a culture of awfulness, where if you say the wrong thing, that you will lose your livelihood, you’ll lose your friends, you’ll get canceled, and all this other bullshit. And I think that’s really if I were really to think about why people are so reticent and so uncomfortable with interpersonal communication, interpersonal interaction, it’s because we have allowed this culture of awfulness to proliferate, and to grow, and we dogpile on people when they make a mistake, and we virtue signal and call them, you know, bad people or bigots, or we call them racists or whatever. And, you know, it’s impossible to know what’s in the heart of anybody else. But we need to give ourselves grace to be able to have conversations of all different kinds, but not to be terrified, that the wrong word if my mouth makes the wrong noise, and that comes out that my life is going to be over. I maybe took this one a little bit too far. But you get the idea here. Start at the beginning, older generations are always going to look at younger generations, and think them soft or mildly problematic, or something like that, doing something stupid doing things you shouldn’t be doing that as good as that generation. So that’s always been going on, it’s always going to be going on that interpersonal communications are a muscle like any other. And it’s a skill like any other that can be learned and can be strengthened and need to look at the conditions that are making that have made the need for additional training, necessary. It’s technology, but it’s also the culture that we’ve decided to, to proliferate. And it’s the culture that I think we’re a little bit tired of, I know, I’m certainly sick of it. I am not somebody who is going to discuss neutral topics at a dinner and avoid personal questions. In fact, quite the opposite. I like to chop it up. I’d like to I’d like to have real and authentic, difficult conversations with people that are different than me. And the only way we can do that is to go into interactions with genuine in, in good faith. And, and to be able to have fun and work together and to challenge one another’s thinking.

If we’re not able to do that, either because we’re not comfortable doing it or we don’t have the skills to do it. That’s going to hold us back. That’s what got us here was certainly not discussing neutral topics and avoiding personal questions. So need to be able to chop it up. We need to be able to talk about whatever it is that’s on our minds and to give ourselves and one another grace and a little bit of space to do that and to make mistakes, because it’s going to happen. So, bottom line support your coworker who is a millennial or a Gen Y or a Gen Z or XYZ LMNOP, whatever, put your arm around them, help them out a little bit. Maybe don’t put your arm around them. You get the idea. Anyway, as always, do your part by doing your best

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