Intergenerational communication: a bridge between differences
Nowadays, thanks to technological progress and longer life expectancy, it can be said that at least four generations have the opportunity to work together in the same labour market. However, every single generation is distinct, with its own peculiar features. In particular, specific needs, experiences, social and cultural habits, and daily activities may vary from one generation to another, shaping the way of behaving and communicating among different people. Therefore, from Baby Boomers to Generation Z, discrepancies related to the linguistic and communicative tools are likely to generate additional points of divergence that often represent the main obstacles to efficient cooperation and effective dialogue in intergenerational workplaces. In this way, given the fact that each generation speaks with its own language, it is necessary for all people to understand and learn the best common language for communicating and relating to each other.
Following this line of thought, which are the different communication styles of each single generation?
- Baby Boomers (people born between 1946-1964):
Most Baby Boomers prefer to use the telephone or talk in person. Therefore, although some of them use online communication tools, several studies have shown that the best way to communicate with them at work is face-to-face conversation.
- Generation X (people born between 1965-1980):
Members of this generation were early adopters of email and other digital communication tools. According to a study conducted by Getting Smart, members of this generation prefer to use short messages and, due to their ability to employ some technological communication devices, they are seen as the bridge to close the gap between Millennials or Generation Z and older workers, such as Baby Boomers.
- Millennials (people born between 1981-1996):
Most Millennials are digital native and are used to communicating with others through their smartphones. In terms of the workplace, research conducted by the consulting firm Korn Ferry, highlighted that Millennials prefer online conversations to face-to-face interactions. Consequently, it can be argued that the best way to communicate with Millennial workers is through digital tools, using phones or computers.
- Generation Z (people born from 1997 on):
Members of Generation Z spend most of their daily life in front of a screen. They prefer fast communication and expect to receive answers as quickly as possible. Surprisingly, it is worth noting that at work, Generation Z prefers face-to-face communication instead.
Well aware that each generation has its own communication approach, attention to inclusive communication and diversity is therefore one of the main steps to be taken in order to develop positive intergenerational relations between employees and managers in companies.
With the aim of bridging the gap between different communication styles and positive and effective dialogue between generations, here are three main tips that could be helpful in finding a shared intergeneration language:
- Try to adapt: since each generation has its own communication preferences, it should be useful to modify one’s style according to the audience, bearing in mind the communication preferences of each generation category.
- Individualize: Despite the fact that every generation has common characteristics, it is always important to focus on individual needs and perspectives that may change from everyone’s experience.
- Mix generations: One of the most effective ways to implement intergenerational communication is to create strategic opportunities, e.g. through team building activities, in which members of different generations can actively collaborate and exchange different working methods.
Finally, it can be argued that recognising the communication style of each employee or manager is important in order to develop a holistic approach that can reach the heterogeneous workforce and, at the same time, individual ways of communicating. Only then can inclusive communication be implemented and the workplace will gain in cohesion and productivity. So… why not try?