Communicating across the generations

By Kirsty Maxey on Tuesday, 23 June 2015

As we work longer and encourage the next generation to get work experience at younger ages, we are starting to see, for the first time ever, five different generations all operating in the workforce. One of the core challenges for many organisations will be how to communicate across these different generations, who have wide-ranging value sets and often conflicting communication styles.

The generations: which one are you?

  • The Silent Generation (born before 1946)
  • Baby Boomers (1946-1964)
  • Generation X (1965-1979)
  • Generation Y or Millennials (1980-2001)
  • Generation Z from 2002 who will start to enter the workplace before too long

A lot of research has gone into what works and what doesn’t and Dana Brownlee, a Corporate Trainer, gives us five great tips to consider:

1. Match formality to culture

The workplace used to be much more formal, but now it’s more casual and colloquial. However, older generations often feel younger people cross the line, writing emails to clients and colleagues as if they’re texting or not taking the time to check grammar and spelling. So, while you might have a more informal environment, there is still no excuse for not spell-checking.

2. Use multiple communication avenues

Whilst some Baby Boomers tend to prefer talking face-to-face or by phone, some Millennials tend toward text-based mediums like instant message and texting. Too much reliance on one or the other can alienate someone with a different approach. Getting comfortable with each medium and understanding how your clients and colleagues prefer to communicate and taking a more personalised approach will make a big difference to your relationship.

3. Be aware of motivating factors

While older generations tend to be motivated by the job itself, younger people often seek more guidance, feedback and acknowledgement, says Brownlee. This can cause an essential misunderstanding. Older workers think the younger group is ’’needy’’ or ’high maintenance’, and younger workers may feel in the dark or unappreciated. The solution is on both ends, and leaders need to realise how important that acknowledgement is.

4. Be willing to teach and learn

Each generation can learn from each other, says Brownlee. Reach out and offer help. Older colleagues can share their vast industry knowledge and experience. Younger workers can shed light on pop culture, demographic or technology trends. A baseline of respect goes a long way. Find ways of not only sharing your experience, but also taking on board other people’s ideas and insight.

5. Acknowledge the differences

’’The natural tendency when you get people of different generations together is to not talk about the differences,’’ says Brownlee. However, avoiding the issue only strengthens the generational barrier. Rather than getting overly frustrated or taking miscommunication as a sign of disrespect, we should encourage colleagues to talk about the differences and get them in the open.

Here is a great checklist for how to communicate to different generations.

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