Improving Generational Communication
If we put stereotypes aside and strive for common ground by understanding communication methods, we’ll have a much better chance of building valuable relationships that impact the triple bottom line. Following are guidelines for communicating with Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials.
Communicating to a Traditionalist (born 1922-1944)
Because traditionalists respect authority, put duty before fun, and strictly adhere to rules. They tend to lead with a command-and-control style. They’re very directive and prefer to be communicated with formally and through the written word (think…memos). They take satisfaction in a job well, so make sure that you share with them how much you respect their experience. When it comes to providing feedback, no news is good news, so only approach them with something that is paramount to their performance.
Communicating to a Baby Boomer (1945-1964)
Baby boomers are known to be workaholics, desire high quality in their products and services, and aren’t afraid to question authority. They want to be collegial leaders, so working with them as a team member is relevant and valuable. Communicate in person, but try to avoid meetings, one-to-one will be the best method. Relay the message that their contribution is needed, reward them with money, and give them a meaningful title. Boomers work to live, so converse with them about their work more than you do about their home lives.
Communicating to Generation X (1965-1979)
Individuals born between 1965 and 1979 want structure and direction and are often skeptical of the status quo. Because Xers view everyone as being the same, feel free to challenge them, and communicate directly. Having a conversation immediately after an event is more relevant than waiting too long. They like hearing feedback, so give it freely, but also remember that autonomy is important to them, so inspect what you expect. To fire up small talk, feel free to talk about both personal and professional lives.
Communicating to Millennials (1980-1996)
The folks from Generation Y are always wondering about what is next. They're entrepreneurial, goal-oriented, and feel comfortable with multitasking, so feel free to create participative conversations. We all know that Millennials like to communicate electronically, so send SMS messages, e-mails, and social media wall posts. They want their work to be meaningful, so provide feedback continually and put them on teams with other bright and creative people.
With a minimum of four generations in your office, you can be sure you’ll encounter plenty of miscommunications and misunderstandings. As a leader, it is your job to wade through the distraction, improve your verbal and non-verbal communication skills, and focus on validating the other person’s experience in that moment. Validation helps to stop the fight before it begins and takes the defensiveness out of the equation. That builds trust.
Stephen R. Covey once said, “Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships together.”
Sherri Elliott-Yeary, the Generational Guru and best selling author of Ties to Tattoos, Turning Generational Differences into a Competitive Advantage, is a speaker, coach and trainer in the area of Human Resources and Talent Management. Sherri specializes in helping employers maximize their human capital by collaborating across the generational gap. Her expertise in human capital management and organization includes: workforce planning, company culture, training, assessments, HRIS implementation, regulatory compliance, strategic alignment, payroll, compensation and benefit programs. Learn more at generationalguru.com.