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Why We Should Learn to Communicate Generationally

“Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.”
— Bernard M. Baruch

When was the last time you had meaningful conversations with several people from different generations on the same day?

  • If you’re a parent and if your parents are still living, you’ve probably engaged in several multigenerational conversations within the past twenty-four hours.

  • Today we have five generations simultaneously in the workforce, thus complicating even the most basic conversations.

I have written and spoken extensively about the challenges of having five generations working together and getting everyone on the same page in the past four years. Leading multigenerational teams requires us to understand each person’s unique motives and values representing each generation.

I believe now more than ever, leaders and managers must develop and master the skills of active listening and social etiquette to better understand the needs of a multigenerational workforce and customers/clients.

Challenges Facing the Social Media Generations

Author Hayim Herring writes, “Social isolation, loneliness, and suicide are conditions we often associate with the elderly. But in reality, these issues have sharply increased among younger generations. Baby Boomers, Gen X’ers, Millennials, and post-Millennials all report a declining number of friends and increasing health issues associated with loneliness.

Even more concerning, it appears that the younger the generation, the greater the feelings of disconnection. Regardless of age, it feels as though we’re living through a period of ongoing disequilibrium because we’re not able to adapt quickly enough to the social and technological changes swirling around us.

These powerful changes have not only isolated individuals from their own peers but have contributed to becoming an age-segregated society. And yet we need fulfilling relationships with people our own age and across the generations to lead lives that are rich in meaning and purpose.” (1)

The Connection Inspection

Bryant H. McGill says, “One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.”

Did you know more than half the problems leaders and managers encounter can be traced back to miscommunication? Dealing with multigenerational team members requires a more intentional approach to communication.

  • Have you taken the time to get to know your people?

  • Are you listening to or merely hearing what people are saying?

  • Are your customers/clients feeling appreciated and validated?

  • How would you grade yourself on understanding younger and older coworkers?

Becoming Familiar with Generational Paradigms

“Sociologist Karl Mannheim summarized the generation theory back in the 1950s, positing that those born in the same era have a similar set of fundamental experiences, and are significantly influenced by the socio-historical environment and events of their youth. As a result, generational groups are to some extent bound by similar attitudes, ideas, values, and beliefs.

But this knowledge isn’t merely academic—it can be applied to improve communication in the workplace.” (2)

To improve communication with the younger workforce, Steve Adcock advises, “Resist assumptions when it comes to the younger generation. While many do use slang and prefer text messages, some may not.

A healthy workplace enforces enough standards to make the office professional and productive but stops short of enforcing policies that put people, from a wide variety of generations, into a single box with strict and unbendable communication standards.

In other words, younger people may not all use Snapchat, Venmo, and TikTok. Assuming that they do helps create a void between generations that hurts communication.” (3)

In Conclusion, Three reasons why I’m approaching the challenges of connecting intergenerationally with optimism

  • In Gen X’ers, Gen Z’s, and Millennials, we see the future leaders of society.

  • We are better prepared heading into the future with a more diverse workforce.

  • We have the opportunity to leave deposits of wisdom for multiple generations.

With wisdom gained from experience, we are now exploring new ideas from differing perspectives, creating initiatives with new and innovative technologies.

End Notes

(1) Connecting Generations: Bridging the Boomer, Gen X, and Millennial Divide by Hayim Herring

(2) From Boomers to Zoomers: Crossing the communication divide at work Alistair Gardiner

(3) Boomers, listen up: This is how to communicate with the younger workforce

*** This article was authored by John Picarello, Chief Leadership Officer at Lions Pride Leadership Co. ***

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