The average workplace today includes people from four generations: baby boomers (1946–1964), Generation X (1965–1980), millennials (1981–1996) and Gen Z (1997–present). With the potential for wide age gaps between colleagues (and plenty of generational stereotypes floating around), it’s important that everyone learn to communicate effectively.
Entrepreneur magazine says Gen Z employees typically prefer to interact with their managers in person, while managers (who tend, naturally, to be from prior generations) assume these young professionals would rather receive a chat message instead. Forbes adds that baby boomers and millennials are typically at odds over when and where work gets done, like working from home versus in the office, even though both have the same expectations on the quality of the finished product.
So, with the potential for conflict to arise over what you say or simply how you say it, it’s important to connect with those around you in the right way, regardless of age.
To each their own
Knowing how your co-workers and family members might like to communicate based on their age can be helpful in avoiding conflict.
“There are definitely differences between the generations,” said Justin Bollingmo, LMFT, licensed therapist at Baptist Behavioral Health. “Some older people have gotten really tech-savvy, but generally, kids and younger generations prefer more text-based communication, whether it’s through a cell phone or messenger app. Middle-aged people tend to prefer a phone call, and I would say older generations are a bit of a mix, but meaningful gestures, like a card, go a long way with them.”
On the home front
Of course, generational differences may be most apparent at home. Families can include the four generations seen in today’s workplace, as well as older ones.
“The biggest generational issues I run into are when I meet a grandparent raising his or her grandchild. There tend to be a lot of clashes in those situations,” said Bollingmo. “There are differences in each age group, but put an additional generation between and it becomes even worse. Both sides tend to not think about seeking the other person’s perspective, so I try to help grandparents understand the teenager’s side, and then assist the grandchild in understanding why the grandparents have their point of view.”
So, if you want to make sure your message is received exactly how you intend, Bollingmo suggested you reach out to the person with whom you want to connect and ask him or her a simple question.
“I think the best method is to ask, ‘What’s the best way for me to reach you?’” said Bollingmo. “A lot of kids could care less about a card, but they would really appreciate quality time, such as picking them up and doing an activity with them. Someone your grandparents’ age typically isn’t going to respond as effectively to a text, whereas if you want to get in touch with your 12-year-old nephew, that's probably your best bet.”
Lastly, Bollingmo suggested people from all generations consider a person’s individual background and upbringing before jumping to any conclusions while you’re interacting. For example, you may not have had social media growing up, but networking sites are ingrained in your child's or young coworker's life.
“It helps a lot to think from the other person’s perspective and recognize that even though these worries may not have existed when you were that age, they do now. Talk it out and hear their experience. You don’t have to agree, but try to understand why they’re having those thoughts.”
If you find yourself struggling to communicate or understand people from different backgrounds, Baptist Behavioral Health can help. Call 904.376.3800 to for more information or to schedule an appointment with an expert provider.