Bridging the Generational Communication Gap in the Workplace

Now that several generations — with different communication styles — often are working together in the workplace, miscommunication can — and too often does — take place.

Here are some tips to help bridge the generational communication gap.

Members of the Silent Generation (those born between 1925-1945) and the Baby Boomers (roughly, people born between 1946 and 1964), prefer their communication one-on-one and face-to-face. In addition, they tend to respect authority and they expect everyone to do so, as well. They also don’t like conflict.

Meanwhile, members of Generation X (those born between about 1965 and 1980) and Millennials/Generation Y (workers born after 1981) prefer meeting online. They’re comfortable with technology and see little wrong with communicating mostly via e-mail, text messages, on Facebook or Twitter. They want to be heard, don’t like being on teams and they prefer to work alone.

Naturally, no one fits their generational “makeup” completely; many of the above characteristics really are more stereotypical than real. Still, starting from generalities helps one move to specifics.

Other tips from our Communication and Workplace Etiquette Courses: Aim to see the person as an individual, not as “that middle-aged guy” or, “some wet-behind-the-ears kid.” Try to get to know your co-workers as people — what events have shaped their lives, what goals they have, what they like to do outside of work, etc.

As you get to know someone of a different generation, aim to be respectful. You may not “get” how he or she thinks — you even may disagree with it — but so long as you speak to each other in a respectful manner, you’ll find that you probably have more in common with someone 25 years older or younger than you than you ever thought possible.

If your boss happens to be a member of Generation Y, don’t be shy about e-mailing with questions, comments, etc. Got something important to tell your Baby Boomer subordinate? Send an e-mail, sure (most companies use e-mail as the preferred communication tool today), but also take the time to give him or her news in person.

Our main point? Presume that you and your co-workers and subordinates are more alike than different. Aim to learn more about your colleagues instead of accepting generational stereotypes. Most importantly, should conflicts arise, work to be respectful of the other person’s viewpoints.