5 baby steps on effectively engaging with younger people

Dec 01, 2015 by Brendan Jack

In this day of lightning-speed online communications and globalization, the work force comes in all shapes, sizes - and all ages.

Being understood is more and more challenging, and trying to understand is just as challenging. A difference of say 10 years can be a big divide in this new world of digital distraction. As a man in his 40s, I sometimes struggle to understand guys in their 20s … their pants sag, their mobile phones are always in front of them, and they speak funny, sometimes using the word ‘fleek’.

Don’t do it

Don’t try and talk like them, that’s just not cool. Be yourself, speak like yourself.

Don’t make fun of them either – live and let live. Make fun of yourself, but without putting yourself down too much and coming across as the techno-illiterate uncle who doesn’t know how to reboot a laptop. Or acting like a bumbling Chevy Chase in the National Lampoon movies. If you know the movie reference, then you’re definitely not in the younger category (you’re with me). Just saying.

Mobile madness

One thing is for sure, when people say, “Let’s talk” they don’t often mean face-to-face. You probably won’t have a lot of luck with phone calls. Texts, WhatsApps, Twitter DMs, even a “please call me” on Instagram is more likely to get a response.

I am cool with all this digital tech, but up to a point. Tell your young friends to try speak to you, face to face, or over the phone - that way you will be in the same space. Otherwise it’s often all gibberish, misunderstood and disconnected.

Don’t diss their chat texts, but at some point, reply with “Let’s talk on the phone – I will call you in 5 minutes” … give them time to pull up their pants, and then chat. It might even be a novelty to them.

In a meeting, consider an icebreaker like Mobile Flight Mood to freak minds out about destroying their precious smartphones. Or perhaps just try give them a buzz with Fly Bye.


Sit down, make eye contact and talk normally. Put away your phone, it may inspire them to do the same.

Treat them like adults, with respect. Never forget the fundamentals. Offer them genuine empowerment and interest in their input, not just lip service. As with everyone, people are willing to engage more when taken seriously. You could even show them some respect.


Brush up on what is trendy and cool, but don’t fake it. Otherwise you will be talking about the original Ninja Turtles and being laughed at.

If all else fails, ask to get a selfie with them and tag them on social media. Consider having some social media presence, even if you’re not active. It gives you a go-to contact point to share contact details with a younger crowd.

Like and favourite some of their pics and posts, but don’t be too creepy about it.

Offer them swag. Consider handing over a gift like physical icebreaker prop.

Say no to drugs

Drugs are not good things, say no to drugs. And if you come from a private school, say no and thank you.

Seriously, each to his own - but bonding with the youth over narcotics is not a good idea. A beer is cool, a dozen beers is probably a bit on the dark side. When the party starts heating up, consider leaving, maybe. You don’t want to have to get them to pay for your Uber home.

Summing up

The youth are always misunderstood, especially wen dey speak like dis – r u following?

Hey, the new world is a scary place. No one seems to have time to bond – we are all so wired. Make them laugh. Icebreakers never go out of date and they are old world ideas that capture all ages of imaginations. Have fun, make fun of yourself, don’t mock the youth culture. Remember, you were a youth once upon a time - remember the optimism and ‘go with the flow’ attitude. We all experienced what it was like to be a crazy monkey.

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