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Bridging the Great Generational Divide

March 23, 2017

 

 

I know what you are thinking. "Yet another attempt to explain the varying communication styles of the (fill in the blank) generation vs the (fill in the blank) generation". Hold tight. Not at all. Let's take a deeper look beyond the already established divide.

Most of us, over the course of the past couple of years, have attended some type of training in the workplace explaining that we are essentially all speaking different languages based upon our age. Great! I don't understand you, you don't understand me. Now, what?!?

When my son was young (he is now an adult Millennial) he watched a Saturday morning cartoon simply called "Recess". It was one of the very few cartoons that I sat down to watch with him. I was abundantly amused by the characters and characterizations of the different grades that attended "Third Street School". The Kindergarteners, in particular, were my favorite. They were a rowdy little bunch who wore face paint and carried tribal weapons. They harassed the older children and spoke a language all of their own. This rogue little bunch had their own subculture. The older kids never understood the kindergarteners, nor did they want to. The kindergarteners never understood the older kids, nor did they want to. While I have yet to find the meaning of life hidden in the plot line of a Saturday morning cartoon (wouldn't that be great!), I can't help but draw parallels between the kids who attended Third Street School and the generational gaps we find in communication in today's business environment.

I recently had two separate, very interesting conversations with two business associates. These associates do not know each other and were recounting very different experiences. The first was a conversation with someone who may be considered a "Gen-Xer". This person was expressing some very strong frustration with some recent business experiences with, what may be considered, "Millennial" decision makers. My associate felt that the relationship that he had spent years building and nurturing with the company that employed these Millennials, was dismissed, disregarded and disrespected. Needless to say, he did not feel that the communication was effective.

Just a few short days later, I was discussing business with another associate. This associate most likely would fall into the category of a "Millennial". He expressed frustration with a recent exchange that had taken place with a potential customer. The decision maker, in this case, was someone who would most likely be considered a "Gen-Xer". The decision maker made it clearly known that, although he acknowledged my associate was from a younger generation, it should not be forgotten that his generation was still "signing the checks".

Neither conversation was ever allowed the chance to become a vital or meaningful exchange of information.

It was quite eye-opening for me to have these conversations take place just days apart. I deeply respect both of these business associates. They both offered their vantage point of this ever growing "generational communication gap". The common thread? In both scenarios, one generation felt dismissed, unimportant. So why the animosity? Why the unwillingness to bridge that gap?

Admittedly, I have never used "text speak", even while texting. Those of you who communicate with me via text, quick - check your phone. I guarantee that you will not find one "LOL", "B4", or "CU l8tr". Nope. Not happening here. Maybe that makes me one of the proverbial 6th graders at Third Street School. However, I feel strongly that if you can communicate an entire thought without using one fully spelled out word, that does not make me better than you. It makes you darn creative!

I am in a business that incorporates and designs high-end technology solutions on a daily basis. This means that speaking across generations is not only important, it's vital! When training Channel Executives, I have always stressed the importance of effective communication. That does not mean always spelling out words or learning how to keep every thought under a 140 character count. It means talking to your partners, customers, and business associates. Ask them their preferred method of communication. Be willing to adapt. What works best for them? How do we communicate effectively to get the job done?

Instead of constantly focusing on, and generalizing groups by their "generation", how about we look at each individual exchange as an opportunity to refine our communication skills and learn something new from the person sitting across from us, no matter their age. After all, none of us should ever be "done" learning. Let's just slow down. Maybe, just maybe, if we listen and give others a chance we can all find one common and effective method of communication to get the job done.

Happy Communicating, and Happy Selling!

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