Success Across the Generations

I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on the frivolous youth of today,

For certainly all youth are reckless beyond words.”

8th Century Greek Poet Hesiod

There have been breakdowns in communication linked to generational differences since at least the 8th Century. Each generation has had different experiences. Each generation is a product of how they were raised, the culture they live in, their gender, their personality, and even their learning style.

In today’s workplace, these differences are represented by 5 generations; the Silent Generation or the Greatest Generation, the Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y more commonly called the Millennials, and Generation Z, the Nexters. Did you know by the year 2020, Millennials will make up half of the workforce and by 2022, the GenZ’s will be part of that 50%.

The other 50%, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and the Silent Generation, often hope Millennials ‘will grow up and learn how things are done in the office.’ Change has happened and will continue to happen; all generations must embrace these changes. Differences occur because each generation experiences life differently; impacting how they work, share information, and socially interact. Learning to understand each other will not only reduce conflict in the workplace, it will lead to better collaboration, creativity, and workplace success.

We send messages verbally, vocally and visually. These messages highlight our confidence, drive, collaborative style and passions. Some people say Millennials have poor communication skills. What they really mean is they have a different communication style. As tweens and teens, they were always connected through their cell phones and laptops. Most Baby Boomers didn’t even use a computer until they were well into the workforce.

Think of Millennials as a social media generation. They tend to go out less and stay connected to their ‘friends’ through their devices. Their constant connection means they are more easily distracted. Many Baby Boomers still rely on a landline; they also prefer meetings rather than a conference call.  These are merely differences; no way is right or wrong.

Millennials have grown up in a world of rapid change. Technology has been an integral part of their life from birth. The world of DVDs and CDs has moved to streaming. When Millennials were in elementary school, many of them learned how to surf the web. Surfing, to a Baby Boomer, was something you did on a beach in Southern California. Baby Boomers went to the library; looked things up in the encyclopedia. Millennials learned they could easily find the answer to most questions without going to the library or reading a book. In 1990, the world changed with the beginning of the World Wide Web. Most generations use their smartphone, tablet, or computer when searching for an answer to a question, leading to a shift in the role of public libraries.

“No generation has escaped it – one morning, your skill with the eight-track or the record player or the cotton gin suddenly ceases to impress. It’s just one of those inevitable disappointments that come with growing up, like the realization that Santa doesn’t exist or the way that music always takes a turn for the worse after you turn 30.”

Alexandra Petri; Columnist and Humorist

If you want to be successful at work, whether interacting with colleagues, working with a boss born 10+ years after you graduated from college, selling skills to a young entrepreneur, or marketing products to the other 50%, you need to understand how they think and talk. They aren’t necessarily going to walk your walk, even if they could benefit from your wisdom and experience. Selling yourself and your ideas means understanding their communication style and what they value in the workplace.

Millennials are familiar with the communication style of the other 50%. Why? Their parents or grandparents are probably from those generations. The goal is “for us” to understand how “they” communicate. Each generation brings something unique to the table because of their life experiences.

Each generation sees success a little differently. Millennials view success through the NOW lens; not in 20 or 30 years. Older generations were willing to work their way up the ladder of success. Baby Boomers did not have a work-life balance; putting in 60-90-hour weeks as they climbed the corporate ladder. Millennials are an entrepreneurial generation, and often times they are the ‘boss.’

Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it

And wiser than the one that comes after it.”

George Orwell; 20th Century English Novelist

In order to bridge the generational divide, it is important to understand how Millennials communicate. They…..

  • Prefer to use their phones to text, email, surf the web, take photos, and check email. Making phone calls to them isn’t a phone’s primary function. Many view a phone call as an interruption and/or a time commitment. Texting allows them to get and receive messages when they are available.
  • Value short communication; embrace social media. They understand visuals foster better communication, which is why they use videos on social media. They also understand the value of using videos when branding and marketing.
  • Like to use abbreviations. This may create breakdowns in communication. It should be no surprise each generation has its own abbreviations and slang. This isn’t something new. The key is to ask when you don’t understand or look it up. Never assume you know what the abbreviation means, as it could lead to misunderstandings.
  • Are collaborative in nature. They respond better to ‘Yes and ….’ rather than ‘Yes but…’ Using the word but tends to negate, restrict, or deny what has been said.
  • Are open to change. They like to see disruption in the workplace; change leads to creative thinking and fresh ideas.

In order be a successful member of a multi-generational workforce and avoid generational miscommunication or misunderstandings…

  • Embrace the value of a Conversation. Be open and honest. Ask questions, state your opinion. Keep in mind, having a conversation means telling WHAT you think and also explaining WHY.
  • Learn Perspective Taking. Understand the other person’s It doesn’t mean you must agree with that person. It allows you to learn their point of view.
  • Provide Every generation benefits from feedback. It clarifies expectations, is a learning tool, and builds confidence.

“If I were given the opportunity to present a gift to the next generation,

It would be the ability for each individual to learn to laugh at himself.”

Charles M. Schulz, Cartoonist