5 Tips for Communicating Across Generations

by Betty Lochner on July 16, 2011

Patience is also a form of action. ~ Auguste Rodin

Effective communication can get pretty interesting when you throw in generational differences. The ability to relate to all generations is a communication skill that is absolutely necessary in our diverse workplaces and families. It’s fertile ground for conflict in the workplace and at home. Not understanding others’ perspectives can be stressful, confusing, and frustrating.

Let’s say the phone rings at home and you have left strict instructions with your son to answer it and take a message for you. But it wasn’t answered because he was in the final minutes of an eBay auction. That’s clearly a priority, right? Some would say yes, and others (you know who you are) would say absolutely not.

What about appropriate dress in the workplace? Older generations can’t believe anyone needs to be told to come to work in a suit or button-up shirt; younger generations can’t believe that anyone cares. Ten years ago pierced noses and visible tattoos would have been unacceptable in most work environments; today most allow them.

And then there’s the flip flop debate. Are they appropriate for work or for going out to a nice restaurant?  How you feel about that issue probably has a lot to do with  what generation you belong to.

For the first time in history we have four generations working side by side in the workplace.  There are the Traditionalists/Veterans (born 1909-1943), the Boomers (1943-1960), Generation X (1960-1980) and Generation Y/Millenials  (1980-2000).  Each group brings a unique set of experiences and values that influences their behavior and outlook as adults.  I won’t go into the details (and stereotypes) of each generation here – I’ll save that for a future post – but I do want to give a few communication tips for communicating with  “the others” (those not from your generation).

1. Know who you are talking to. Think of the perspective the person you are talking to is coming from. Remember that most people don’t intentionally try to frustrate or disappoint us. Their behavior is based, at least in part, on the values and characteristics they bring from their generational perspective.

2. Create a personal connection. Learn the stories of those around you. The more you can connect personally with someone, the more likely you will be able to understand and even appreciate why they are doing what they are doing,

3. Discuss expectations right away. Always, always, always make sure that you are clear from the beginning about what you expect in regard to behavior, performance, appearance, deadlines, and processes. Don’t make assumptions or play the mind reader game.  Be specific and check for understanding.  Tell people what you want, not what you don’t want.

4. Give positive feedback and regularly show your appreciation. Catch people doing something right! Notice good things about the people you work or live with and tell them! It will make a huge difference in bridging the gap!

5. Ask for feedback on your communication. Ask questions like “How can I help you be successful”?  and “What information would be helpful to you”? And then, listen!

Do you have a favorite generation gap story?  Please share it in a comment below!


Betty Lochner is the Owner of Cornerstone Coaching & Training. She specializes in personal and organizational transformation and is the author of Dancing with Strangers: Communication skills for transforming your life at work and at home.

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