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Are Your Project Communications Lost in Translation?

Communicating with Generation Z

This post is sponsored by London Translations and is a guest contribution by Pete Bennett.

In the non-digital age we had no choice when it came to language and interpretation. We had to develop social skills and grace through trial and error.

Some fundamental social skills can only be learned through interaction with each other. However it seems that language in the workplace and its use among generations is becoming heavily influenced by social media, email and texting.

Managing the Gen Z communication style

The diversity of Generation Z (those born between early 2000’s to present) could soon cause confusion in Britain’s businesses. Communication between these new employees and their colleagues may become ambiguous, which poses a potential problem for project teams.

Generation Z’s technical proficiency has made them confident and independent. Their experience with social media means that they’re accustomed to engaging with people from all over the world at any time. But their addiction to technology could result in them struggling to focus on work tasks.

Pete Bennett, London Translations

Pete Bennett, London Translations

The impact of jargon

With their own style of language, often using abbreviations to communicate quickly with each other, what might be the impact on formal written language?

For instance using ‘ASAP’ and ‘ATM’ might be considered fine when texting friends but too casual for business use. So what makes an acronym professionally acceptable? ‘FYI’ could be okay as well as ‘cc’, however, ‘BRB’ and ‘ARVO’ (afternoon) could be considered too informal. Add project management jargon and the language of your particular project and you’re almost creating a whole new language for those in the know.

With this tech-savvy generation instinctively using shortcuts to get things done faster there’s a (small) risk they’ll eventually communicate entirely through acronyms and abbreviations leaving more senior colleagues baffled by their new language.

Companies are already reporting a reluctance amongst new hires to attend face-to-face meetings or even pick up the phone as they prefer to communicate via chat applications avoiding conversations entirely and responding only through the medium of emoticons. That could be a positive for project teams split across several locations and reliant on tools to bring the team together. But it also has disadvantages: it will take longer, for example, to build trusting relationships between the teams.

The changing requirements of leadership

Are firms prepared for this style of communication? Are they willing to make changes to the style of language they’ve been using for years? Similarly, is this generation really prepared for global communications within a conglomerate that might not get what they mean right away?

What’s evident is that language is evolving all the time. Now we are in a digital age, organisations and their employees will need to extend their social skills given Generation Z is their future workforce. Firms will need to rethink their recruiting practices to attract this group whilst changing both their messages and channels of communication to reach and engage with them company-wide.

3 tips for addressing the Gen Z style

Language has evolved and will continue to evolve – businesses weren’t using terms like ‘project leadership’ 10 years ago in the way they do today. Here are some tips for managing the Generation Z style of communication.

  1. If it isn’t acceptable for your business, say so. People of all ages will continue to communicate in the style they find most natural but if it isn’t appropriate for their work environment let them know so they can do something about it.
  2. Accept that different standards are appropriate for different tools and to different audiences. If your project involves a youth community, then the preferred communication style of your senior managers could be equally inappropriate.
  3. Don’t let meanings get lost in translation. If you don’t know what they mean, ask. If you think someone else on the team won’t know what they mean, ask the sender to clarify.

LondonTranslationsLtdLogoDo you think business language will evolve to the point where shortcuts and jargon replace the formal written correspondence that project managers have relied upon for years? We’re interested in your view on what the future may be like, and it doesn’t have to relate to the business world. Perhaps you have your own funny, or even awkward, lost in translation moment? Let us know in the comments below!

About the author: Pete Bennett is CEO of London Translations, the UK’s leading business and professional translation company. London Translations helps businesses communicate better and grow their international presence.

About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth HarrinElizabeth Harrin is a Fellow of the Association for Project Management in the UK and the award-winning blogger behind A Girl's Guide To Project Management. She's passionate about demystifying project management and making tools and techniques work in the real world. She's also the author of several books including the PMI bestseller, Collaboration Tools for Project Managers.


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