Millennials and Emotion

I read an article this week that said millennials have higher emotional intelligence than others, that is, they have the ability to read others better than most ( I was a little shocked by this article and was researching to support their findings and was unable to find any, or even how they were defining emotional intelligence. Some were skeptical of this and actually felt the opposite was true, that millennials do not have as much emotional intelligence as others. That they are not as open or empathetic as other generations. Yet, there is some truth to the fact that they have been brought up in more a team-oriented environment throughout their education and, as a result, they may know how to function in a team better. However, working in teams does not equate to improved emotional intelligence.

I spent some time searching for research on the topic through the local university and would have to say that there is not much in the research area to really support or disprove millennials having greater emotional intelligence. I did, however, have the privilege to talk with Dr. Jack Chisum and Glenn Brown at their motivation interviewing lab. It is an amazing lab that has the ability to not only read the emotions of the face, but also in the voice and the physiological responses by the people in their lab. (

They are working on providing better health care by helping patients identify their emotional responses to what doctors say and also to identify their own thoughts about their health. They can follow a discussion between a patient and a doctor and pinpoint the moment a patient’s emotions jumped and which emotion was most strongly felt.   In this work, Dr. Chisum noted that an unanticipated finding in his research was that people under the age of 25 have a difficult time dealing with the emotional expressions made by people older than themselves. That is to say, when someone older than them expresses strong emotion, they didn’t know how to deal with it and it caused a strong counter emotional response in them.

While he said further research would be needed to explore the reasons for this, it was important to note that this emotional response does occur, and if people are working with the younger generation, they may want to be aware of how much emotion they are expressing good or bad. An emotional hijack will lead to a reduction in performance because the logic center becomes disengaged.

So what does this mean to you?   Be aware of your own state before talking to someone under the age of 25. Be aware of the state of others as well, but more importantly be aware of the affect your state has on others, especially those under 25. The more you can do to put the person at ease when you meet with them, be it feedback about work done, or an annual review, or a potential conflict that has been occurring, the more likely you will be to engage and reach a productive outcome. In the case of the doctors, Dr. Chisum said it is good to lead with a positive or neutral conversation, like ‘How was the weather on the way to work’, or ‘so great to see you today’, ‘I can tell you take pride in …’.

Dr. Chisum also suggested you lead with their ideal image of what they hope to have happen. Where would they like to be or what would they like to see if the conflict was resolved? What would that look like to them? This line of discussion can then lead to a response such as, ‘That is great, so what do you think the next steps are for you to make that happen’? ‘If you made progress, what would short-term success look like that you would feel good about’?

So what do you do if you don’t have the great technology in the lab? There are other ways to get to know millennials such as using a DISC-based assessment to understand potential emotional triggers which are amplified by their age. This will help you understand how to adjust your communication and reduce emotional triggers before they happen.

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