Communicating Across Generation

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Workplace generation gap is not a myth. With baby boomers working well into retirement and millennials making their mark in the corporate world, the workplace has a diversity of assets, knowledge and competencies to harness.

Different cohorts do indeed have different working styles, expectations of the work environment and energies. According to the Burns & McDonnell Career Blog, Baby Boomer employees are generally optimistic, driven, loyal and seek instant gratification. Gen X employees are more practical, self-sufficient and are usually fairly commitment-focused and loyal when it comes to a career. Millennials are technology natives who are adventurous and interested in CSR, focused on work-life balance and geographically mobile.

Yet, with their various virtues comes also cross-generational bias. According to Stephanie Vozza from FastCompany.com, Baby Boomers complain Millennials are easily distracted and lack discipline, focus, and commitment. Millennials believe Boomers are sexist, defensive, insensitive, resistant to change, and lack creativity. Yet, stereotyping is hardly productive. Workplaces must innovate to resolve intergenerational conflict and bridge the chasm in communication and viewpoints.

This week, we bring to you a series of steps in approaching workplace intergenerational dynamics that the authors of the book Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High (McGraw-Hill, 2011) suggest:

1. Start off on the same page

Begin by clarifying your respect as well as your intent to achieve mutual goals. Communicate by asking questions to resolve all resolvable issues before they snowball. Make your case briefly but firmly earlier on, while remembering that everyone involved has a common purpose. Remind others that you’re not standing between them and their goal. Be obvious about your motive, and ask if you can share your ideas. “Lead from heart, not from head,” says Maxfield.

2. Lead with the facts

Don’t lead with your judgments about someone’s age or your assumptions about why they behaved the way they did. Be cognisant of your prejudice and put them away when responding to a co-worker, such that you respond impartially and rationally. Tell the person what you expected to see and what you actually saw, describing the gap.

3. Don’t pile on criticism

Be genuinely interested in resolving a conflict through respectful communication, not just the act of it. According to Maxfield, make it a point to state the facts as you see them, without droning on more than 30 seconds otherwise attention the dialogue turns unproductively into a monologue. If your colleague becomes defensive, pause for a moment and check in. Reassure him or her of your positive intentions.

4. Invite a response

Finally, after sharing your concerns, encourage your colleague to respond and share his or her perspective. Be willing to listen, remembering that you’re on the same team. “Inviting a dialogue will result in greater openness,” says Maxfield, “especially if the person has less authority, power, or age than you do.” However, being open to the concerns of more senior workers and responding constructively to them can also help you in building respect at the workplace.

This post was originally published here on FastCompany.com in November 2014. TheYoungProfessionalGroup.com takes no credit for the work of the author.

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About Author

xinni.kung@digneconsult.com'

Xin Ni is a final year Sociology student at the National University of Singapore. As an intern at Digne Consult, she manages the Young Professional page and writes for its blog. She enjoys reading up on intercultural communication and baking in her free time.

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