The Negative Impact That Growing Up Digital Has Had on Communication


Millennials have a stronger connection with technology than any previous generation. It makes sense that they would: They grew up alongside the internet and smartphones. Experts in all things digital, millennials have certain advantages when it comes to adopting and deploying the latest workplace technologies to drive results.

However, the millennial affinity for technology may also be the source of what many deem to be this generation’s greatest weakness: poor communication skills. Many older professionals who work with millennials note that the members of this generation seem to be lacking when it comes to face-to-face interaction, making eye contact, and communicating with tact.

While the effects of technology on communication skills may be most evident in millennials who grew up with tech, other generations are not immune. Even those who did not grow up digital have started to see their communication skills slip as technology becomes more pervasive in every aspect of our lives.

Here’s what you need to know about the negative impact the digital world can have on your communication:

1. Your Ability to Make Eye Contact Suffers

A little more than half of millennials report experiencing some form of anxiety if they don’t have their phones on them, and people across generations check their phones 80 times a day on average. Part of the reason why we’re so anchored to our phones is that receiving emails and social media notifications actually releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes us feel good, in our brains.

Given this sort of phone addiction, it’s not surprising that many millennials (and others!) struggle to make and sustain eye contact. The discomfort one experiences when separated from their device is real.

Being able to make eye contact helps establish connections and trust with other people. If you struggle with eye contact, it could have a devastating impact on your professional life. Try going to dinner with a friend and keeping your phone off the table. Challenge yourself to make it through the meal without checking your phone once.

2. You’re Shying Away From Face-to-Face Conversations

A recent study found that requests delivered in person are 34 times more likely to result in positive outcomes than requests sent via email.

To make meetings as successful as possible, keep your digital device off the table. It may be hard to imagine going into a meeting without having your device handy, but unless you are expecting important information that will impact the outcome of your meeting, there’s no need to check your phone or tablet until the meeting is over. Checking your device not only takes your focus away from the topic at hand, but it also sends a message to other people in the room that they are not worthy of your full attention. Basically, checking your digital device during a meeting can negate all the positive effects of having a face-to-face meeting in the first place.

3. You’re Less Comfortable With Nondigital Conversations

When most of your communications are virtual, two things happen: You get used to being in a constant state of control, and you lose your ability to be vulnerable.

With texting and email, you can edit and tweak your message until you’re ready to hit send. This pattern of communication makes it hard to let your guard down during a conversation. Vulnerability starts to feel foreign and even scary. You might not think vulnerability matters in the workplace, but it can actually help you become a much better leader.

4. You’re Shielding Yourself From Both Conflict and Conflict Resolution

Millennials avoid phone calls. Why? Because they’re less likely to run into conflict if they use texting and email instead. This aversion to conflict, while understandable, may also be harming conflict resolution skills in younger generations. When conflicts inevitably do arise — and they will — younger workers may not be able to handle them effectively. That could be disastrous in a professional environment.

There is no doubt that technology is driving change in our personal and professional lives, and much of the change is actually positive. However, as outlined above, there are some pitfalls to growing up digital. By making yourself aware of the drawbacks, you put yourself in the best position to overcome them.

Feeling consumed by the digital world? It may be time to take a much needed break. Try a digital detox and reap the benefits.

A version of this article originally appeared on the Atrium Staffing blog.

Michele Mavi is Atrium Staffing‘s resident career expert.

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