From an upcoming book – on the rise of the Millennial generation and what it means for society.
Co-authored by Evan Mitchell, Co-founder Millennial Brand Specialists HOW&Y
How it is
It’s a beautiful concept, negotiation. In the face of conflict, standards of cooperative benefits are imposed, towards an agreement that all parties can live with. It works in a dialectical way. Thesis, confronted by Antithesis, is resolved into a final Synthesis, one that emphasizes cooperative gains. The process itself is self-reinforcing, ensuring that the psychological mindset of firm fairmindedness and mutual obligation is perpetuated in future negotiations.
The Social Contract is honoured, the social fabric preserved from untenable rifts. That’s how it’s always worked. But, with the coming ascendency of the Millennial generation… not anymore.
The Gen Y mindset rejects previous norms of compromise, concession-trading, and legitimate quid pro quo. And the consequences will be far-reaching, not merely in those institutions built on the foundation of negotiation (law, politics, government, public and private business…), but on the nature of social interaction as well.
Examples of a generation-wide intractability abound. The mantra “haters gonna hate” (or, if you prefer, #h8tersgonnah8) has become an anthem, literally, for Gen Y. In fact, numerous anthems, figuring as it does in a bunch of pop lyrics, the most prominent of them Taylor Swift’s “Shake it up” (however, the song’s sentiment of resilience has been far less culturally intrusive than the message that all critics are “haters” who indulge in wholly-malicious and unreasonable dissent). It’s even become a meme-driven acronym/acrostic:
This is more than an inoculation against criticism. It amplifies the blanket sense of contrived victimhood and exhaustive abandonment of standards, that the phrase “haters gonna hate” really invokes. To disagree, in the sanest voice of reason, is to invite dismissal as a “hater.” The ramifications for negotiation couldn’t be clearer. Negotiation requires the simultaneous intimate understanding of your own interests and the manner in which these are in conflict with the requirements of the other party. Negotiation is predicated on an understanding of the reality of compromise, and a willingness to compromise. How can this proceed from a generational mindset which wants to claim ex cathedra infallibility?
In 1831, Schopenhauer penned a wry little book titled The Art of Always Being Right – 38 ways to win when you are defeated. His intention was to be both mischievous and to expose a multitude of flawed/false arguments which undermine legitimate argument, mediation, and the reconciliation of differences. These three little words “haters gonna hate” (well, two genuine words and a demotic contraction) are able to embody 33 of Schopenhauer’s 38 ways to win when you are defeated – including false premises, claiming victory despite defeat, begging the question, persuading the audience not the opponent, appealing to authority not to reason, putting the opposing thesis into some odious category, a determination that will is more effective than insight… No wonder its appeal is so generationally saturating.
The requirement to compromise is further undermined by the echo-chamber/groupthink bubble of social media. In perpetual contact with a digital peer group whose tastes, attitudes, beliefs, and convictions are identical, it becomes second nature to see diverging views as just wrong. Consequently, compromise towards them is righteously intolerable, and intractability is seen as a mark of principle rather than pig-headed obstruction.
Changing manners and mores of communication have also wreaked havoc on the social skills required to negotiate deftly and persuasively. These are everywhere under attack, from the miscommunication excesses of Generation emoji to the general impersonalizing of companionship. Consider two individuals buried in their own devices, scrolling, swiping, posting, commenting, uploading, downloading, liking, following, friending or unfriending… socialising in communal isolation. And that’s a first date. The digital feed eclipses flesh and blood interaction. As much as employers vent their frustration at this, what of the warping of Gen Y minds? Facial expression, body language, nuance of tone and timbre and emphasis… the essence of human communicative co-experience, critical to the diplomatic aspects of the negotiation process, are on the path to obsolescence.
The frequently cited generational sense of entitlement also plays against a mindset needing to acquire the instincts, skills, and behaviors at the heart of effective negotiation. Never before has a generation been so full of the expectation that change just “happens.” Tactical and strategic planning requires anticipation and foresight to be worked at and worked through. FOMO, a paradoxical suite of dissonant convictions, married to the position that the grass is always greener, that one deserves better and that somehow it’s the responsibility of the universe to supply that “better” …, sabotages the legitimacy of the essential need to negotiate in order to further our own interests.
These aspects of Millennial behaviour are disabling to negotiation and the effective resolution of differences. But while it’s easy to be critical of this generation, they are not the culprits. What they are is a result of what they’ve come from. Circumstances conspired to ensure that Gen Y never developed the negotiation intuitions and skills that previous generations acquired as a matter of upbringing.
There is no doubt that the Millennials are causing the hustle and bustle in the world of work, there have been numerous discussions in the HR world on how to best solve the problem and mold the millennials as model employees. I think it’s a short-sighted approach: Rather than judging their behavior and trying to change it, it would be better to accept that this generation is here to stay and take the best of their ways to operate. This does not mean throwing away all the previous work values and practices, but finding a way to best meet all the employees. What’s interesting is that just start digging you realize that there are many more similarities between generations than differences. Even a little older staff give importance to flexibility and frankness, just like Y generation, perhaps simply struggling to express it.
Powerful,frightening, hopeful and very true.
Cheers, Larry. Most frightening, from our viewpoint, is an eventual (inevitable?) world in which negotiation as a process and social institution has devolved into more and more aggressive advocacy of ambit claims, with less and less tendency to compromise, or even see the necessarily sustaining value of compromise. To Millennials out there, though (and couched in terms of pure self-interest) – perhaps the most effective way for you to steal a march on your peers is to actually acquire just a modicum of the negotiation intuition, insight and skills that previous generations had the luxury of taking for granted. To paraphrase (if not butcher!) Erasmus, in the land of the intractable the negotiator is king – or queen.
Well said. So, in the time-honored tradition of placing blame, who do we blame for this condition. Who created these younger generations that are so self-absorbed, egotistical, unyielding, and expecting everything to be handed to them? Parents, teachers, religious leaders, government, judicial system? Perhaps all the above?
Compromise is certainly a must to resolve this mess. Perhaps these “wet behind the ears” kids will grow out of it, helped along by some hard knocks of reality by living life in the real world.
Ken, we share your hopes as to a generation “growing out of” the worst excesses of their general intractability – unfortunately, though, the majority never “grew into” the instincts, tactics and communication soft-skills that would replace what’s grown out of. It’s certainly true that many Millennials, on leaving the extreme cossetting of today’s colleges and universities, do experience some shocks at “hard knocks” of the real world. However, living life more and more digitally and in the social media echo chamber, makes the imposition of IRL realities somewhat more problematic. Let’s hope your optimism might be borne out – but the signs aren’t good.
Dr. Mitchell, your article is spot on and yet way above my form of writing, and I would only say that the finesses of all that you mentioned in this millennial age has passed and been forgotten, not by those you speak of now, but the parental generation who are the culprits.
Parents do warrant their share of blame, but unfortunately a good deal of their capacity to make up for damage done is now limited by their relatively limited “influencer” role. Exacerbating the problem further are other institutions – schools, universities and businesses, through their ad/marketing messages and social media responses to Millennial angst – which seem now to train Gen Y, in a simple stimulus-response kind of way, in the maladaptive aspects of bargaining rather than the socially and personally constructive.