Communicating Across Generations

It seems to be a common occurrence to discuss generations these days and the most talked about generation within my earshot seems to be Generation Y, also known as the millennials (born after 1980). This also happens to be the category I fall into. My perception is that popular topics relating to Gen Y range from work ethic and “unrealistic” expectations, to simply how to keep us engaged. However, what may be more important than discussing Gen Y or any other generation in a vacuum, is a discussion of the generations coexisting.  On a daily basis we can have interactions that span four generations – Veterans (born before 1946), Baby Boomers (born between 1946 & 1964), Generation Xers (born between 1965 & 1979), and Generation Y. Each generation, in general, operates differently with varying values, and more specifically, prefers various communication methods. A recent Forbes article I read “10 Tips for Communicating across Generations” provided reminders for how best to successfully manage communicating across these generations. Here were my top three tips:

  1. Match formality to the culture – The article discusses the gap between an old-school formality and new-school informality. This is represented through the preferred communication method, i.e. phone or in-person meeting vs. an email or text. It’s recommended that all employees consider the formality of their office culture and use this as a baseline for communication.
  2.  Individualize your approach – “The best way to communicate across generations is to individualize your approach and figure out what works with each person”, says Dana Brownlee, a corporate trainer. We can get caught in the pitfalls of assuming we’re right or by stereotyping people based on their age. The better approach is to work to understand how each person prefers to be communicated with. Take cues based on how they communicate with you or others that you observe, and if you can’t tell what they prefer, just ask.
  3.  Understand value differences – knowledge is power. Simply understanding the different values that span the generations can make for more effective communication, particularly when communicating with a boss or client.

As a Gen Y myself, I find that it’s more natural for me to send off an email to a client rather than pick up the phone. Sometimes this is the most appropriate avenue based on the question or time of day. However, I’ve found that when the opportunity is appropriate and I pick up the phone and call my client, it gives me a chance to connect a little more with them and build on our relationship.

In the world of an ever-filling inbox, if the audience is right, it’s a great opportunity to pick up the phone or set up a lunch just to catch up.

Jessi Englehard