Finally! A soft skill GenY has mastered better than other generations. Can you guess what it is?

The typical complaint about GenY is that we act entitled, lazy and even rude.

But here’s a soft skill GenY has mastered far better than other generations: Millennials are generous. Particularly in professional situations, 20-somethings understand the value of helping others, that what goes around comes around, perhaps especially in an increasingly digital world.

Whenever I chat with new acquaintances who are interested in learning about me or my business, some look at the conversation as something that’s benefiting them. Regardless of whether I contacted them or they contacted me, they ask how-can-this-help-me questions.

But GenYers tend to approach these conversations differently. Yes, they’re eager to learn about how I’m selling digital guides online or helping small businesses with social media or whatever project they’re interested in. But they also ask how they can help me.

That question is essential. It establishes a mutually-beneficial relationship, giving me a reason to want to stay in touch. Even if there’s no immediate way for that person to help me succeed, knowing they’re open to the idea and will watch for opportunities to give me a boost turns a one-time conversation and one-sided relationship into a potentially long-term partnership, one I want to maintain.

Why do young, digitally-connected professionals get the concept of what goes around, comes around? Likely because it’s so closely tied to social media, another of GenY’s strong suits. Because social media isn’t just about using the tools. Sure, Millennials know how to schedule a tweet and create a flashy newsletter and grow a Facebook page. But social media revolves around connecting and cultivating communities, including your own one-on-one relationships — a skill that’s useful both in business and in life.

In other works, social media works best when you give rather than take, which means young professionals are getting an awful lot of practice at giving.

That’s the key here: giving, or helping others achieve their goals, is what will help you create powerful connections.

Millennials know that if they help someone make a new contact or reach a goal or build an audience, that person is likely to reciprocate in some way in the future. They understand that the best way to build a new relationship isn’t to take, but to give.

Of course, efforts at reciprocation have to be heart-felt; you have to express a genuine desire to help someone for them to want to help you back. But once you’ve done that — whether in person or online — you’ve made yourself far more appealing. Even if your reason for reaching out was selfish, tacking that all-important question, “How can I help you?” onto the conversation will take it to the next level.

So next time you want a favor from a contact, find a way to offer that magic line. Consider not only what they can do for you, but what you can do for them. Maybe that will help GenY shed the ugly entitled label and replace it with one that’s a little more shiny.

Alexis Grant is managing editor of Brazen Life. A solopreneur, she writes a weekly newsletter about how to transition from working for an employer to working for yourself.


  1. Colleen

    I’m sorry but I respectfully disagree that Gen Y’ers are the only people who are good at reciprocation in professional and//or personal settings. I have met many people in other age groups who are very good at this. Likewise, I have met Gen Y’ers who don’t yet understand the concept. I think this has more to do with personality than age.

    • Alexis Grant

      Hey Colleen! Thanks for disagreeing respectfully — those are the kind of comments I like! This is what I’ve seen in my experience, though you’re right, a generalization like this certainly doesn’t apply to everyone. Perhaps it IS more personality and understanding of this concept than age!

    • Anonymous

      I didn’t read it to say that Gen Y’ers are the ONLY people who are good at reciprocation. Instead, Gen Y’ers are good at is as a generation. Sure there are “give and take” people in every generation, but we have mastered the skill percentage-wise. We are the generation that seeks feedback on our work, etc. Every generation is different and they each have their own strong suits. We are criticized plenty – this is our area to shine!


    Sure there are “give and take” people in every generation, but we have mastered the skill percentage-wise. We are the generation that seeks feedback on our work, etc. Every generation is different and they each have their own strong

  3. Anonymous

    As with all blogs I see with these assertions and speculations…

    Show me research that accurately quantifies these generational differences in giving.

    I think I hear crickets…

    • Alexis Grant

      Hey Jonathan — Would be great to find some stats on this! It’s always hard to find research on soft skills, maybe because they’re more difficult to measure and quantify.

      • Anonymous

        Yes, but until you have evidence beyond your own anectdotes, you shouldn’t make such sweeping claims. This post could have been written from a “here’s what I see, do your experiences match” angle and it would still be useful.
        Instead, when I shared this with colleagues I had to preface it with “I read it on the internet, so it must be true:”

      • Anonymous

        No, they are not.

        Ever hear of something called observational research?

        Look up Albert Bandura.

  4. Karen Siwak

    I would hope that Millennials, as well as every other generation, would understand the concept of reciprocity. It’s a basic social skill that should have been mastered by the end of kindergarten, and it’s not really a trait that defines a generation.

  5. Erica Roberts

    This was a really refreshing read. Gen Y is pretty consistently dubbed as “not capable” or “selfish,” and it simply isn’t true. There are obviously incapable and selfish people in every generation, all over the world; but there no entire generation acts one way. Understanding that relationships are what cultivate opportunities is vital, and I really like the concept of social media as an example of how well Gen Y understands this. Thanks!

    – Erica, YouTern social media intern

    • Alexis Grant

      Thanks for getting the point of this article, Erica! I don’t mean to say any other generation is particularly BAD at this (a few other readers read it that way), but I wanted to point out something GenY is good at — since that’s often overlooked.

  6. TalentTalks

    While the underlying concept of applying effective social skills is valid, the entire premise would have been far more credible without the overly broad and completely unnecessary generational stereotype. As others have pointed out, without some type of objective and tangible evidence, it makes no sense to suggest that an entire category of people automatically does something better or has more capacity for something than any other group.

    As much as I can appreciate the sentiment behind the “how can I help you?” mentality, that too has become a tired cliché that is so poorly executed by people of all generations. Every time some new acquaintance robotically utters those words it makes my skin crawl.

    The vast majority of people are taking this idea far too literally. Of course, we all should be helpful to others and not in “taking” mode, but for some reason, the context of the exchange is being ignored and something is being lost in translation.

    That question comes off as disingenuous and opportunistic more often than not. Most of us can see right through that ploy and would prefer being flat out asked for something instead of pretending this is a mutually beneficial scenario between two virtual strangers who haven’t yet established much beyond knowing each other’s names.

    Rather than reciting that silly question as if it somehow checks off the “give back / pay it forward” box, people should be showing an interest and learning about the other party. If it so happens that something pops up during the interaction that presents a logical opportunity to offer help, fine.

    Otherwise, It is completely presumptuous, premature and preposterous for a relative stranger to pose that type of inquiry to another person. What makes them think they are in a position to offer help someone they just met and what makes them think the other person is interested in their help.

    The “experts” that keep telling people to automatically do that when networking are dispensing shoddy advice.

  7. RecruitingANIMAL

    Hi Al. I didnt know that GenYers were posting nonsense articles like this anymore but some people on Twitter pointed me to it.

    If you’d like to come on my radio show and defend the statement you make here I’d be happy to have you. You can read my Intro for potential guests here.

    Really looking forward to it. I know it wd attract a big crowd.

  8. Cindy Fahnestock-Schafer

    Enjoyed reading this, makes me wonder.

  9. Bonnie Rauwerdink

    I see some truth there.

  10. Roger Martin

    Thanks for the informative article. Really helpfull

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  11. RecruitingANIMAL

    Al, I see where my comment came out as a reply to someone else’s but indeed it was for you and I invited U2 come on my show to defend your claim. U got plenty of mentions on Twitter but maybe you dont check your account. Got to http:OccupyRecruiting to see if the recruiting animal show is the place for you. It’s not for everyone. Regards

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  13. Joel Rigonan

    They even say Gen Y will go nowhere. And since we are going cyber about jobs which I’m very sure that this generation can relate fully. This generation consists of the digital natives and digital migrants. And with the rampant growth of technology, the people of this generation(including me) can make a humongous change with social media. I mean, the Internet, as I always say, is a world of possibilities and almost everyone can get jobs and make money with a click of a button. I’m sure this will get us somewhere great!

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