Long gone are the days of awkwardly approaching a girl and asking her out. You would wait, searching for a hint of expression on her face to see if she was going to accept or if you just made a complete fool of yourself. It was often the longest thirty seconds of your young life: a roller coaster of hope, fear, anguish and excitement. Today the anticipation comes from asking her out via a tweet and waiting for her reply in the form of a status update on her Facebook page.
The scenario of putting yourself uncomfortably out there is all too familiar to the older generations, who on more than one occasion felt the sting of a cold rejection but who also experienced the euphoria of acceptance. Born into a world full of technology, where Leap Pads replaced Mister Rogers, and email, instant messaging, and texting made going to the post office as rare as seeing a unicorn, the younger generations begin many personal relationships through virtual communication. It is safe to say that socializing has had a make-over and has taken on a whole new look.
Respectful communication in the workplace is very much influenced by how the generations have encountered personal life experiences. While older employees are well accustomed to communication that consisted of sit down, face-to-face type communication with lots of eye-contact, always looking for and reading non-verbal cues (body language), and empathic listening this style of communication may be a struggle for younger management teams due to their dependence on technology based interactions. There is a learning curve for everyone. While some may need to adapt to inter-office memos being sent via email, others need to understand that corrective actions or employee praise is not very effective if done in a tweet-style of 140 characters or less.
So how do we overcome this generational communication gap and find ways to overcome the differences in communication styles?
Simply with respect and dignity. Whether you are the fresh new business graduate just joining the team or the seasoned veteran who has been a faithful employee for forty years, you deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. While communicating with younger/older colleagues may put you outside of your comfort zone you will find that once you come to embrace them as people and not an “age” your entire work relationship will change for the better.
Below are a list of things to keep in mind to help leverage the differences between generations and effective workplace communication. Commit today to taking the first steps:
- Remember the adage, “Do unto others.” If you want respect you must give respect.
- Take the stereotypes and throw them out the window. Not all young workers lack a proper work ethic. Not all older workers are “too set in their ways.”
- Choose to honor and celebrate the generational differences: not as an unbreachable wall but as a way of understanding and learning how to relate.
- If you want to know something about someone–ASK! It will make them feel flattered that you are taking the time to get to know them better.
- Listen openly and learn from those around you. You have not lived through the trials and tribulations that your colleagues of different generations have experienced (both younger and older).
- Respect ALL life experiences. After all, it is just as painful to be rejected via a status update as it is face-to-face.
- If you are from the older generation – Be open minded to suggestions of change.
- If you are from the younger generation – Be open minded to the possibility that the way it has always been done may still be the best way.
- While my way may not be your way that doesn’t mean that my way is wrong. Nor does it mean that your way is wrong.
- Don‘t be embarrassed to ask for clarification of a word/phrase if it is unfamiliar to you. Each generation is known for their catch phrases and terminology.
- If you find you are having trouble starting a conversation, try using a more “personal” mindset if necessary. Just think, how would you say that to your grandchild or grandparent?
By practicing these tips of respect and honor of others we can all nurture a work environment that is not only healthy but is a culture filled with fun. Let’s face it; a non-diverse workplace would be an extremely boring workplace. Don’t you agree? So share what you know and commit to learning from others. Everyone knows something that you do not, so rejoice in being in the presence of others who can help broaden your horizons.
And always remember that, regardless of age, a warm and sincere smile is welcomed by all.