When you think about millennials, what are the words that come to mind? For me, it is one of these: Lazy. Entitled. Phone addicts. Social media junkies. Unfocused. Distracted. Emotional.
And I’m describing myself, a millennial, and millennials that I know.
It’s not easy to work with millennials. When you try to engage them, they don’t seem very engaged. When you try to interest them, they seem more interested in what’s in their phones. When you try to facilitate a conversation, they sit quietly, waiting for someone else to speak up. Despite the causes they want to drive, some millennials can seem detached and distracted. How do you facilitate change for them? How do you run a virtual workshop with them, when distractions are a mouse click away?
Here are 2 principles I have learnt that can help.
1. What are you leaving at the door?
I’m seated on the floor, talking to a youth. She’s seated on the sofa. On the sofa, there are stray school uniforms strewn across. There’s a wrapper on the sofa. She hugs a pillow in front of her, and sits, looking at me.
The conversation starts awkwardly. I bring up the elephant in the room.
Me: Why don’t you go to school?
Her: It’s too cold in the morning.
I think to myself, this is Singapore, how cold can it get? But I ask her, what do you mean?
Her: I don’t have hot water to bathe with.
Just then, her brother walks out of the room.
Me: Oh where is he going?
Her: He’s going to the McDonald’s opposite for free WIFI.
Hot water and WIFI, the things I take for granted, are not so for these youths.
When you facilitate workshops with young people, it’s tempting to go in with certain conceptions of how they will be like. You know the advice of keeping an open mind. But this isn’t just about going in with an open mind on what you will expect. It’s being conscious of what you are bringing into the room. And more importantly, it’s what you are leaving out of the room.
As a facilitator, you bring your own stories into the room. You bring your own history. Some of that history may be ugly, messy, and vulnerable. As a facilitator, during my first workshop with young working adults, I left all of that mess outside the room.
I thought that by going in with my fancy qualifications, sharing stories of my achievements, the young working adults would be impressed. They would listen.
But they didn’t seem engaged. Their videos were off. There was a strange awkwardness in the air. There seemed to be a big gap between us.
Later, I found out what it was. It was my pretence. They didn’t know it, but I knew. I knew I had hidden behind my achievements and qualifications.
I positioned myself as the expert, and they didn’t seem that interested.
I wanted to build credibility.
But millennials, they seemed more interested in authenticity.
How did I know?
2 months later, during another workshop with university students, I brought in more of myself. The stories of depression, binge eating, and struggles I went through.
Strangely, these millennials started messaging me privately over Zoom. They shared their own stories of struggle. They shared their pains at university. They were open and honest. They felt safe.
I don’t mean baring your deepest, darkest secrets. I mean sharing stories you’ve worked through, rather than leaving it outside the room.
To build connection with millennials, and to truly facilitate change, we can start with leaving the professional at the door.
Come in as a person.
A human being who’s there to discover the way forward with them, not do it for them.
2. What are you listening to?
I stared at the facilitator on the screen and thinking to myself: This was crazy! What was he asking us to do?
In a Zoom room full of thought leaders, business leaders, and government leaders, he was asking us to sit and close our eyes. For 2 minutes! WHAT?!
And he was still smiling as he gave that instruction. I guess we had to do it.
So we sat. And listened…to nothing.
All the chatter within me, about the things I had to do, the conversations I needed to have, quietened down. The volume reduced, and soon it was just a small whisper.
All that was left was the breath. Breathing in and breathing out.
That night, I learnt to listen, without listening for anything. I learnt to sit, without needing to be anywhere else. I learnt to be, without needing to do anything else.
Facilitating for millennials seems challenging, especially when their world seems to have so much chatter.
Sit with them, and you see their handphone notifications going incessantly.
They are walking, typing, listening to you, and messaging someone else.
They seem to be always talking…
How do you get them to listen to you?
I learnt that facilitating millennials starts with listening to what they say, and don’t say. When there’s an awkward pause in the room, learn to be comfortable with the silence. Don’t be tempted to fill it with another question, or comment.
It’s okay to sit and be with your millennials. It creates that safe space where they feel comforted by not needing to perform and giving quick answers. It is facilitating their personal change at their own pace.
There are chairs scattered in a haphazard way at the back of the room. People are sitting in different corners, having deep, personal conversations with their mentor.
I walk over to this old man. His beard is scraggy. He looks at me with blue, kind eyes behind the round spectacles.
I share with him my current difficulties.
He offers some advice. I sit, ponder, and consider what he’s said.
Then without saying a word, he bends down and kneels beside me.
It takes a while as he attempts to kneel. “What is he doing?!” I think to myself.
Then he gives me a hug, gently ushering my face onto his shoulder.
I start crying. And crying.
Facilitating personal transformation for millennials can be done without fancy tools, the latest tech, and the newest platforms. Often times it is about being human with them.
Going down to their level. Seeing them as they are. And being seen as you are.
Contributor: John Lim
John is excited about helping employers to work with millennials, so that millennials bring their fullest, passionate, and purposeful selves to work. He shares regularly at liveyoungandwell.com.
Do you desire to better build connections with millennials and facilitate their personal transformation?
If you do, please check out our SPOT on Facilitation course (https://fns.sg/spot-3-0-on-facilitation-workshop-singapore/) to equip yourself with ‘tried and tested’ process facilitation skills. Or contact us at email@example.com for more information.