How to Improve Communication Between Generations in the Workplace

Here are five strategies to enhance the efficiency, clarity, and quality of communication between generations at work.

How to Improve Communication Between Generations in the Workplace

Diverse teams carry diverse work and communication styles.

As a generations speaker and trainer for over a decade, I have experienced first-hand how wide the communication gap can be on multi-generational teams. 

In fact, 83 percent of Generation Z workers prefer to engage with managers in-person, yet 82 percent of managers believe their Gen Z employees prefer to communicate via instant message. Further, 57 percent of Gen Z want to receive feedback several times a week, but only 50 percent of their managers provide feedback to them that frequently.

Communicating between generations is challenging. I know you want to get it right. The following strategies should help.

5 Strategies for Communicating Between Generations

The proliferation of mobile technology and ubiquitous connectivity has created an abundance of new communication channels. Email, text, chat, video call, and social collaboration are relatively new forms of communication that didn’t exist for most of the 20th century.

The complexity of communication intensifies when multiple channels are combined with the varying communication preferences and expectations of each generation in the workforce.

1. Gain Generational Awareness

A general awareness of how each generation approaches communication is key to closing the communication gap. Keep in mind generations are clues not absolutes, but they can be big clues on how you connect and influence.

  • Baby Boomers: appreciate formal and direct communications with a preference for using face to face, phone, and email; they value background information and details.
  • Generation X: appreciate informal and flexible communications with a preference for using email, phone, text, and Facebook; they value a professional etiquette.
  • Millennials: appreciate authentic and fast communications with a preference for using text, chat, email, and Instagram; they value efficiency and a digital-first approach.
  • Generation Z: appreciate transparent and visual communications with a preference for using face to face, Snapchat, YouTube, TikTok, and FaceTime; they value video, voice-command, and a mobile-only approach.

Surprisingly, over 70 percent of Gen Z want to communicate face to face at work. They will continue to weave in and out of the digital channels they are accustomed to while seeking more face-to-face encounters.

The communication gap is also exposed by how each generation uses emojis. 83 percent of Gen Z emoji users are more comfortable expressing their emotions through emojis than a phone call, compared to Millennials (71 percent), Gen X (61 percent), and Baby Boomers (53 percent).

2. Defer to the Communicatee

Use generations as clues and defer to the communication preference most widely used by that generation. 

For example, Baby Boomers who want to connect with Gen Z should not call and leave a voicemail. Instead, defer to texting or instant message. Conversely, Gen Zers who want to connect with Baby Boomers should not FaceTime or DM them on social media. Instead, defer to a phone call or face-to-face meeting.

It’s no longer about how the communicator wants to deliver the intended message but how the communicatee is most likely to consume the message. 

It’s also important to match the right channel with the type of information. 

  • Phone Call is for detailed, long, difficult, or emotional conversations.
  • Email is for brief, informative, and/or instructional information.
  • Chat is for general announcements, news, informal messages, team collaborating, and socializing.
  • Video (Zoom, FaceTime, Teams, etc.) is for long, feedback-rich, focused, emotional or difficult conversations.
3. Mirror the Communication

Respond to communications using the same channel in which it was received. 

For example, if a Gen Xer receives a text from a Millennial colleague, the Gen Xer should not call the Millennial but rather mirror the communication by sending back a text.

If alternating the communication channel is a must, then take the time to recap the previous correspondence in the new communication channel.

4. Set Communication Expectations 

If a team or individual hasn’t been explicit about their communication preferences, others are left guessing which of the myriad of communication channels to use and will usually default to their personal preference.

Instead, be proactive about informing others of how they can best connect with you. 

For example, a Gen Z employee could mention they prefer a text over a phone call in their email signature or Slack profile. Or a Baby Boomer could mention they prefer an email over a voicemail in their voicemail recording.

Take setting expectations one step further by creating a team communication agreement.

5. Create a Team Communication Agreement

Read this to learn more about creating a team communication agreement.

 

As a generations keynote speaker and trainer, I help companies lead, work, and sell across generations. If you'd like help solving tough generational challenges inside your organization, click here.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ryan Jenkins

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