Generational Differences & Improving Communication
In 2009, I released the first edition of my book about the various generations in the workplace and how they were similar. The title of my book Ties to Tattoos: Turning Generational Differences into A Competitive Advantage, discusses how all generations are similar in the following areas:
Value Structure – the values that matter most, i.e. family, integrity, honesty, trustworthiness
Wanting Respect – even with slightly different definitions, we all still want to be heard and valued for our contribution
Trustworthy Leaders – without trust, relationships falter, communication stops, and productivity is lost
Nobody Likes Change – the stereotype says that Millennials love change, my research shows the opposite, no one generation is more or less comfortable than the others
Loyalty – not a function of age, but a function of position in the organization, the higher you are the more time you work
We All Want to Learn – people want to do a good job and are willing to acquire new skills to do so
Everyone Likes Feedback – we want to know how we are doing comparatively
I have found that: the so-called generation gap is, in large part, the result of miscommunication and misunderstanding, fueled by common insecurities and the desire for clout.
So, if we strive for common ground by understanding each other’s unique method of communication, we will have a much better chance of building valuable relationships that impact the bottom line/ROI. 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 to formally and through the written word (think…memos). They take satisfaction in doing 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. Relaying the message that their contribution is needed, reward them with money, and give them a meaningful title. Boomers work to live, so to connect with them its best to discuss their work more than 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 X’ers 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. Their entrepreneurial, goal oriented, and feel comfortable with multitasking, so feel free to create participative conversations. We all know that Y’ers like to communicate electronically, so send SMS messages, e-mails, and social media 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 workplace, 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.
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.