Mastering Cross-Generational Communication

Cross-Generational Communication

Let’s face it, cross-generational communication can be a real struggle. Just try talking to your Greatest Generation grandpa about Snapchat or TikTok – it’s really hard! But, in today’s society where we’re constantly interacting with people from all walks of life and a wide variety of ages and life-experience, it’s important to know how to navigate cross-generational communication to avoid confusion and misunderstandings. So, let’s wade into several generations and learn about their different communication styles so you can finally talk to your coworkers, family, friends and acquaintances without wanting to pull your (or their) hair out.

Understanding the Different Generations

Before we can improve our ability to engage in cross-generational communication, we need to understand a little bit about each generation. Here’s a quick breakdown of the different generations and try to understand some of their unique characteristics:

The Greatest Generation (born 1901-1924)

The Greatest Generation. That’s setting the bar about as high as it can go! In any case, this generation is known for its strong work ethic and dedication. The Greatest Generation grew up during the Great Depression and World War II, which shaped their values and their view of the world. It makes sense that they would have a hard time adapting to new technologies.

The Greatest Generation is the “oldest” group we’re discussing in this article. It’s unlikely you’ll be dealing with the Greatest Generation in a business setting but you may still have relationships with them as family members or maybe as neighbors.

Some issues that might influence cross-generational communication with “the greatest generation” include:

  • The Greatest Generation has little interest in the latest tech gadgets: The Greatest Generation may have a hard time, or little interest in using new technologies and may not be familiar with digital forms of communication such as instant messaging or video conferencing.
  • Face-to-face communication is best: They’ll almost always prefer face-to-face communication and may feel uncomfortable communicating using “modern” technology.
  • The words they use might seem antiquated: They won’t be familiar with the language and terminology used by younger people (and almost everyone is younger than them), which can make it difficult for them to understand what you’re trying to tell them.
  • The Greatest Generation was raised in an entirely different culture: Again… they’re not going to be familiar with the cultural references and trends that are popular among younger people, and that can make it difficult to connect with them.
  • Their values and perspectives are very different than yours: Their experiences and values, shaped by the Great Depression and World War II, are almost certainly different than yours. When you’re trying to communicate with someone with an entirely different set of values and perspectives, it’s going to be challenging.

The Silent Generation (born 1925-1945)

The Silent Generation is known for being very loyal and responsible. The Silent Generation grew up during the Cold War and the Korean War, so they may seem overly concerned about international politics and the dangers of war. They may be more reserved in expressing their feelings and may be more skeptical of new ideas and technologies. They may also have a strong work ethic and probably will prefer face-to-face communication. They’re good at using the phone – especially the kind that is wired to the wall!

Just like the Greatest Generation, it’s unlikely you’ll come across many members of the Silent Generation in a professional setting. However, it’s quite possible that you have family members who belong to this generation, and understanding their communication style can make family interactions smoother.

Some issues that might influence cross-generational communication with “The Silent Generation” include:

  • Face-to-face communication is preferred: Like the greatest generation, they are likely to prefer face-to-face communication and may feel uncomfortable communicating through digital means.
  • In general, the Silent Generation doesn’t like sharing feelings: They may be more reserved in expressing their feelings.
  • The Silent Generation can be skeptical of new ideas and technologies: They may be more skeptical of new ideas and technologies and may have a harder time adapting to change.
  • The Silent Generation uses language you may not be familiar with: And they may not be familiar with the language and terminology used by you, which can make it difficult to track with a conversation.
  • The Silent Generation was raised in a unique culture: They may not be familiar with the cultural references and trends that are popular among younger generations, which can make communication challenging.
  • Their values and perspectives are unique: Their experiences and values, shaped by the Cold War and the Korean War, is different from those of younger generations, which can make it difficult to understand their perspectives.

Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964)

Baby Boomers are known for their optimism and confidence. They grew up during a time of economic prosperity and social change, which has shaped their values and their view of the world. They may be active in social and political causes and may be more open to new ideas and technologies. They may prefer face-to-face communication and may be more comfortable with traditional forms of communication.

  • Communication styles: Baby Boomers generally prefer face-to-face or phone communication, while younger generations may prefer digital forms of communication, such as instant messaging or email. This can make it difficult for Baby Boomers to understand and respond to communication from younger generations in a way that is comfortable for both parties.

Example: A Baby Boomer manager may prefer to have meetings in person, while a Millennial employee may prefer to communicate through email or instant messaging.

  • Views and comfort with technology: Baby Boomers may have a lower level of comfort and familiarity with technology than younger generations, which can make it difficult for them to effectively communicate with them. This can lead to frustration and misunderstandings on both sides.

Example: A Baby Boomer manager may struggle to understand and use a new software system that has been implemented in the office, while a Millennial employee may find it frustrating to have to constantly explain how to use it.

  • Expectations for feedback and communication: Baby Boomers may expect more formal communication and may be more comfortable with traditional forms of feedback, while younger generations may expect more frequent, informal and transparent feedback. This can lead to misunderstandings and frustration on both sides.

Example: A Baby Boomer manager may expect to receive an annual performance review, while a Millennial employee may expect to receive more frequent and informal feedback on their work throughout the year.

Generation Jones (born 1954-1965)

Generation Jones is considered a sub-generation within the Baby Boomers. They share similar values and attitudes as traditional baby boomers, but they may be less idealistic and more pragmatic. They may often be described as the “forgotten” group between Boomers and Gen X. They may be more adaptable to new technologies and forms of communication compared to traditional Baby Boomers.

Members of Generation Jones find themselves in an interesting position. It happens to be where I find myself! At times it’s very hard for Gen Jones to identify with the generations surrounding them (The Silent Generation, Baby Boomers or Gen X) let alone Millenials! I was born in 1959 and until recently I thought I was a Baby Boomer. The problem was, I didn’t identify with some Boomer qualities at all. When someone told me “OK Boomer” I wanted to scream – “That’s not me!!”

Some issues that might influence cross-generational communication with “Generation Jones” include:

  • Generation Jones doesn’t like being overlooked: As a smaller sub-generation between Baby Boomers and Generation X, they may often be overlooked and may have a harder time finding common ground with other generations.
  • They weren’t hippies but they share some of those values: Their experiences and values, shaped by the cultural and social changes of the 1970s and 1980s, may be different from those of other generations, which can make it difficult to understand their perspectives.
  • Generation Jones likes technology but they may use it wrong: They may have a different level of comfort and familiarity with technology than both Baby Boomers and Generation X, which can make it difficult to effectively communicate with them.

Generation X (born 1965-1980)

Generation X is known for their independence, self-reliance, and skepticism. They grew up during a time of economic uncertainty and technological advancements, which has shaped their values and their view of the world. They may place a high value on work-life balance and may be more adaptable to new technologies and forms of communication.

Some issues that might influence cross-generational communication with “Generation X” include:

  • Different communication styles: They may have a different communication style than older generations, who may prefer face-to-face or phone communication, while Generation X may prefer digital forms of communication, such as email or instant messaging.
  • Different views on technology: They may have a different level of comfort and familiarity with technology than older generations, which can make it difficult to effectively communicate with them.
  • Different values and perspectives: Their experiences and values, shaped by the economic uncertainty and technological advancements of their upbringing, may be different from those of older generations, which can make it difficult to understand their perspectives.
  • Different expectations for feedback and communication: Generation X may prefer more direct and honest feedback, and may also expect more transparency and openness in communication.
  • Different expectations for work-life balance: Generation X may place a higher value on work-life balance and may expect more flexibility in their work schedule.

Millennials (born 1981-1996)

Millennials, also known as Generation Y, are known for their technological savvy, their focus on work-life balance, and their desire for a sense of purpose in their work. They grew up during a time of rapid technological advancements and increased access to information, which has shaped their values and their view of the world.

Millennials may have a strong desire for instant gratification and may prefer digital forms of communication. They are also known for their sense of community and may be more likely to be actively engaged in social and political causes. Common traits of this generation include a strong emphasis on teamwork, a desire for a sense of purpose in their work, and a focus on work-life balance.

It is worth noting that the cutoff date for being a millennial varies, some sources consider 1980 as the starting year and others 1997, so some people might identify with one generation or another depending on the source.

Some issues that might influence cross-generational communication with “Millennials” include:

  • Different communication styles: They may have a different communication style than older generations, who may prefer face-to-face or phone communication, while Millennials may prefer digital forms of communication, such as instant messaging or email.
  • Different views on technology: They may have a different level of comfort and familiarity with technology than older generations, which can make it difficult to effectively communicate with them.
  • Different values and perspectives: Their experiences and values, shaped by rapid technological advancements and increased access to information, may be different from those of older generations, which can make it difficult to understand their perspectives.
  • Different expectations for feedback and communication: Millennials may prefer more frequent feedback and may also expect more transparency and openness in communication.
  • Different expectations for work-life balance: Millennials may place a higher value on work-life balance and may expect more flexibility in their work schedule.
Cross-Generational Communication Cans

Cross-Generational Communication at Work

Baby Boomer And Millennial Communicating At Work

Now that we have a general understanding of the different generations, let’s talk about how we can effectively communicate with them in a professional setting. Here are a few strategies to help improve cross-generational communication at work:

  • Encourage open and transparent communication
  • Provide training on communication styles and preferences
  • Create a work environment that promotes clear communication across generations
  • Be mindful of the different communication styles when giving feedback or instructions

For example, a Baby Boomer manager may prefer face-to-face communication, while a Gen Xer may prefer email or instant messaging. So, it’s important to be aware of these preferences when communicating with colleagues and clients of different ages.

Rolodex

You are very likely to encounter Baby Boomers in a professional setting. They’re valuable members of a team because they have so much experience and their “Rolodex” may be priceless but… they tend to have a hard time accepting change. As they approach retirement and Millenials and Gen X take over the reins in business it’s important to glean what you can from them before they retire – but that can be easier said than done.

And so, the difficult question of how to effectively communicate with your baby boomer boss. Don’t worry, my Millennial and Gen X friends, it’s not impossible. Here are a few tips to help you navigate those conversations:

  • Show respect for their experience and authority. Baby boomers tend to value respect for authority and traditional values, so showing your boss that you respect their position and experience can go a long way.
  • Avoid using too much slang or jargon. Baby boomers may not be familiar with the latest lingo and it can make it difficult for them to understand what you’re saying. So, keep it simple and use clear language.
  • Be open to face-to-face communication. Baby boomers tend to prefer face-to-face communication, so if your boss wants to have a meeting in person, be open to it.
  • Be patient with their comfort with technology. Baby boomers may not be as tech-savvy as you, so if they need help with something, take the time to explain it to them.

But most importantly, remember that communication is a two-way street. Be open and willing to understand where your boss is coming from and what their communication style is. And don’t forget to be yourself and bring your own perspective and ideas. After all, that’s what makes you a valuable asset to the team.

Cross-Generational Communication in Social Settings

Communicating with people from different generations in a social setting can also be a challenge. It’s important to remember that each generation has its own unique communication styles and preferences.

Here are a few strategies to help improve cross-generational communication in a social setting:

  • Show respect and interest in the other person’s perspective
  • Avoid using jargon or slang that may be unfamiliar
  • Be open-minded and willing to learn about other perspectives
  • Avoid stereotypes and assumptions
  • Try to find common ground

For example, if you’re trying to communicate with a member of the Greatest Generation, it might be helpful to use simple language and avoid using too much technology. On the other hand, if you’re communicating with a member of Generation X, they may be more comfortable with technology and prefer digital forms of communication.

Cross-Generational Communication in a Family

Communicating with family members from different generations can be especially challenging, as emotions and personal relationships often come into play. It’s important to remember that each generation has its own unique communication styles and preferences and that these may also be influenced by their role in the family.

Here are a few strategies to help improve cross-generational communication within a family:

  • Show respect and patience towards family members of different generations
  • Avoid using jargon or slang that may be unfamiliar
  • Be open-minded and willing to learn about other perspectives
  • Avoid stereotypes and assumptions
  • Try to find common ground
  • Have open and honest communication
  • Listen actively

For example, if you’re trying to communicate with a grandparent, it might be helpful to use simple language and avoid using too much technology. On the other hand, if you’re communicating with a parent or a sibling, they may be more comfortable with technology and prefer digital forms of communication. Remember that each member of the family has their own unique perspective and it’s important to respect that.

In conclusion, cross-generational communication can be a real challenge, but it doesn’t have to be impossible. By understanding the unique communication styles and preferences of each generation, we can effectively communicate with colleagues and clients of different ages and avoid confusion and misunderstandings. So, next time you’re trying to explain to your grandpa what TikTok is, remember to speak his language and you just might have a breakthrough. And if not, at least you tried!

And remember, in the end, communication is all about understanding one another. So, let’s put in the effort to understand where the other person is coming from, and make sure that we’re heard loud and clear.

Got any tips or experiences in regards to cross-generational communication you’d like to share? We want to hear all about it! Tell us in the comment section!

David Goldstein
David launched Boomer Buyer Guides with his wife Alice to provide Baby Boomers with trustworthy, well-researched information about products and services that Baby Boomers buy. Learn more about David Goldstein