Communicating Across Generations
Posted by Anni M.
Last week I wrote about the importance of avoiding ageism in the workplace. Quality older workers are more experienced, they see the big picture, and they are masters of their own performance. If you are lucky enough to have an integrated workplace with employees from different generations, you are likely reaping the benefits of that experiential diversity, but you may also face some challenges. While individuals are always infinitely variable in personality and temperament, there are some general trends that correspond to the decades in which a person spent their formative years.
The World War II generation, people born between 1922 and 1945, lived through the World War, the Stock Market Crash and subsequent Great Depression, the Korean War, the GI Bill, and the atomic bomb. They grew up listening to the radio in a pre-Internet, pre-television world. These people are characteristically frugal, loyal, hard-working leaders. They believe in duty and are comfortable with authority. My friend’s father was born in 1944 and he embodies all of these characteristics. He is close to retirement but is still hard at work at his law firm alongside 20-something litigators fresh out of law school. The 20-something millennials, born between 1982 and 2000, are the youngest group in today’s work force. They grew up through the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Columbine shootings, 9/11, and the Iraq war. They are a technology generation, in love with the Internet, iPods, and cell phones. They are characteristically optimistic multitaskers with street smarts. They sometimes have a hard time with consistent work ethic and attention.
The two middle-of-the-road generations are the baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, and the Generation Xers, born between 1965 and 1981. My parents are baby boomers and I’m a genXer. They lived through the civil rights and women’s rights movements and Vietnam. They’re rebellious and competitive movers and shakers. I grew up in the MTV era, through AIDS and the Challenger explosion and the immersion of the Internet. My generation is skeptical, independent, and realistic (often to a fault). I think the boomers and genXers have the easiest time communicating. I had my parents to help me learn solid communication skills with the older generation, and they had me.
Clearly, with such a multiplicity of formative cultural phenomena, the generations sometimes struggle to understand each other. The best strategy for good communication is empathy. Try to understand your co-worker’s context. What qualities does he value in a colleague? Try to let him know what you value and expect from him. Don’t assume you know more about the culture simply because you are younger. Alternatively, if you are older, don’t assume you’re wiser just because you have more experience. The way the organization handles communication is important too. If you are in charge of making organizational decisions, consider holding multi-generational meetings dedicated to addressing age-related communication problems.
As a Creative Communications Strategist, Victoria is known for her electrifying Keynote Performances™ and the transformational workshops and coaching sessions she creates for elite executives, high performing teams, thought leaders and entrepreneurs..