Communicating Across Generations

In today’s diverse workforce, it is common to encounter differences in communication preferences and styles across different generations. Stereotypes such as “These young people can’t talk on the phone!” or “Boomers hate texting” highlight the need to understand and address these disparities. As consultants, it is crucial not only to identify the problem but also delve deeper to uncover the underlying reasons for these differences and provide effective strategies to foster inclusive communication in the workplace.

Millennials and Gen Z individuals have grown up in an era of technological advancements, where smartphones and multiple communication options are readily available. For this demographic, texting has become the preferred mode of communication due to its convenience and flexibility. Unlike phone calls that demand immediate attention, texting allows for delayed responses, reducing the pressure to respond instantly. In some instances, younger generations may feel anxious about making phone calls, fearing they may be intruding or bothering the individual that they are calling. As a response to this, some individuals from these generations may send a text message to see if a phone call is convenient for the recipient. Although they possess the ability to make phone calls, they simply feel more comfortable when they have a sense of “permission” to do so.

Conversely, baby boomers and Gen Xers often express frustration with texting and gravitate towards in-person communication or phone calls. This preference stems from their upbringing, during a time when interpersonal connections were highly valued. This demographic is accustomed to a sense of community where people worked in an office and communication was conducted in a more personal manner. In-person or phone conversations make them feel more connected and engaged than does texting, which is why they maintain these preferences.

Why is this important? Well, almost every workplace has individuals that belong to each of the generations that have been listed. Further, none of the generational communication preferences are right or wrong, therefore we must acknowledge the need to account for communication gaps in the workplace. The acknowledgement of generational differences in communication is crucial, but it is equally important to comprehend the reasons behind these disparities so that we can effectively address communication breakdowns across generations and cultivate a more supportive environment for our teams and clients.

To create a more accepting work environment, it is vital to be mindful of individual communication preferences within our teams and with our clients. Communication styles will inevitably vary, and as consultants it is our responsibility to understand and respect these differences. If this is not achieved, it negatively impacts the work that is being done. Further, it will not cultivate empathy or support our team members’ and clients’ growth and confidence in their communication skills, especially when trying to communicate in a manner that is beyond an individual’s generational preferences.

A way to combat this is to determine the best mode of communication for a given work engagement. As consultants, it is essential to be proficient in various forms of communication and to recognize which mode is most suitable for a given scenario. Some instances may call for written communication to have a record for future reference, while sensitive topics may necessitate a phone call to effectively convey tone. Each mode of communication carries advantages and disadvantages that should be considered and communicated across the organization. If everyone understands these expectations, regardless of the generation that they are from, all forms of communication can be conducted effectively.

When tempted to judge a young professional for phone call anxiety or a baby boomer for their in-person communication preference, it is crucial to pause and reflect. Recognizing and appreciating these differences in communication styles allows us to show empathy and kindness, which will enhance the effectiveness of the communication. Embracing these qualities will not only make us better professionals but also foster stronger connections among colleagues and clients to enhance overall team dynamics.

Written by: Dean McMann

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About the Author: Dean McMann is a Founding Partner at McMann & Ransford with 35+ years of experience in consulting and professional services.  He is a sought-after expert and speaker on topics of: B2B differentiation, professional services best practices, and overcoming commoditization.  In addition to his extensive experience in the Professional Services space, Dean also serves on the board of various non-profit organizations.

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