3 Easy to Implement Ways to Reduce the Communication Gap Between Generation X and Millennials

The conflict between generations is a tradition that has been around as long as people have been on the planet. It is not unique to your experience. It is not unique to those older or younger than you. It will not be exclusive to the generations that are to come. Understanding this fact is the first step to mastering communication between generational cohorts.

Why?

Those that believe that their experiences are unique fail to recognize the similarities that bind humanity. Those similarities are what help us to bridge the divide between generations and to understand one another more strongly.

The three predominant generations in the American workforce today are Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millennials. While this blog post will focus on the latter two, here’s the down and dirty on Baby Boomers: They were born between approximately 1946 to 1964. Its members are currently 52 to 70-years-old.

Why is it important to mention this? There are two primary reasons.

1. Baby Boomers are a generation that had 80 million members at its peak. What they set in motion impacts Generation Xers and Millennials to this day.
2. Baby Boomers are retiring in greater and greater numbers. In fact, as of late 2015, Millennials supplanted it as the predominant generational cohort working in America today.

Who are the members of Generation X and the Millennial generations?  

At the highest level, Generation X is the smallest cohort working today. It reached a peak of 55 million, before giving rise to the next generation. Its members are between 36 and 51-years-old, having been born between 1965 and 1980. No longer is this cohort viewed as the slacker generation; They grew up to become the most entrepreneurial generation in American history.

Millennials are an absolute monster of a generation! They are 80 million strong - the largest cohort in American history. They were born from 1981 to 1996. As of this writing, they range in age from 20 to 35-years-old. Despite media portrayals, very few of this generation are still children. They are working adults contributing to the success of this nation.

Anecdotally, we know that Generation X members and Millennials have a communication gap. It is hard not to notice it on a day-to-day basis.  How then might these generations close the gap? Here are three easy to implement ideas for doing so.

1. Find Commonalities

While there are undoubtedly differences between Generation X and Millennials, these generations also have much in common. It is in such commonalities that cohorts can discover a foundational shared language from which to build strong relationships with one another.

Members of these groups share the value of wanting a strong work-life balance. This value contrasts sharply to Baby Boomers who earned its reputation for being workaholics.

Xers and Millennials also share a long history, understanding and respect for technology. While specific technologies have changed over the course of both generation's lives, both have come to rely heavily on the power of technology and deeply understand it. For instance, Xers grew up with computers from an early age and mastered the internet. Consider Google: Larry Page and Sergey Brin - both Xers - founded it. Millennials. Relatedly, Millennial Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook.

Xers and Millennials also grew up with harsh stereotypes attributed to their respective. For much of their early lives, Xers were labeled slackers that did not have ambition. Many still consider Millennials hypersensitive entitled brats. Both Millennials and Xers have proven to be more than what others have mistakenly believed them to be. These generations share the commonality of being misunderstood.

Workers from Generation X and the Millennial Generation who seek to understand, appreciate and respect commonalities between the other will face an office environment that is significantly less stressful and unknown.

2. Embrace Communication Differences

Communication technologies have evolved so quickly over the past few decades that it can seem as if it is a full-time job just to keep on top of the latest and greatest. Thankfully, both Xers and Millennials were raised to be technology natives and have few minimal challenges to learn or adapt to shifting trends.

However, these technologies have also shaped their approaches to communications. In their early days, Xers had three choices for communicating: face-to-face, handwritten letters and the telephone. In their early adulthoods, they used pagers, flip phones and the internet. Moreover, they were a generation of latchkey kids. They learned how to take care of themselves and do things for themselves. They value autonomy. As workers, Xers value communicating face-to-face and through technological means such as email and the telephone. Xers view communication technology as a means to recapture time so that they can focus on their personal lives and achieve stronger work-life balance.

Millennials are the most technologically advanced cohort in American history. Few learned how to write in cursive. Flip phones and the internet were childhood playthings. By high school, they were smartphone and texting champions. They have lived their lives through social media. This generation was taught to work in groups and to value being part of a team. Millennials have extended their mastery of tech to the workplace. They rely less on face-to-face and telephone conversations, and more on texting, social media and chat apps such as Slack. Such tools fuel their desire for immediacy. However, their reliance on tech to communicate at the expense of talking with an actual person has frustrated some workers in Generation X.

So, if immediacy without thoughtful consideration will frustrate Xers and taking the time to think things through at the expense of immediacy can frustrate Millennials, can these generations ever be at peace?  Yes! There is a happy medium. Each side needs to give something up so that everyone can “come out a winner.”

Xers should embrace emerging and more recent technologies as tools to further enhance their ability to recapture time to strengthen the work-life equation and lessen their view that such technologies are a sign of disrespect in the workplace. Millennials should value Xers need for autonomy and not expect extended input on minor projects - and by extension consider that approach as being a respectful teammate.

Further, both generations should lock down realistic expectations for communication responses that provide a happy medium between immediacy and the need for independent thought without interruption. For instance: It could be agreed that emails should be answered within one business day, while Slack channels should be replied to within two hours. Doing such allows both sides to have a small victory.

3. Co-Mentoring

The truth is that Xers and Millennials are significantly more alike than either are to Baby Boomers regarding technology. They have a lot to offer and teach one another. Both are less formal than previous generations. Use these things to your advantage as leaders! Have them co-mentor each other on skills and tasks that each group could - and perhaps should - improve!

Millennials value regular feedback from leaders. Xers want to feel valuable as they move up the proverbial corporate ladder, in part to previously being labeled as slackers. Both generations’ values can be honored by pairing up more junior members of the team with more senior members to share knowledge - in both directions. Additionally, this free exchange of information serves to break down knowledge gatekeepers - something Millennials loathe. That is a communication win!

Co-mentoring also serves to strengthen the broader team. Similarly to how IBM (the physical computer) partnered with Microsoft (the software) to dominate the personal computing industry in the 1980’s and 90’s, Xers and Millennials can partner together to lend individual strengths to create end products and services that are greater than the distinct halves. When both sides feel that they are contributing to solving organizational challenges, communication can blossom as both sides feel valuable and that their strengths are respected.

Finally, both Xers and Millennials are strong self-learners. Xers learned this as children as a natural consequence of being latchkey kids. They have always been self-reliant. Millennials learned this through technology. Neither needs formal mentoring; They require advice, insight and guidance to self-learn through to the next stage!

For Xers, strengthening communication through co-mentoring might be as simple as, “Hey, can you show me how to use XYZ feature on Snapchat?” over lunch. For Millennials, strengthening communication through co-mentoring could be little more than a ping on Google Hangouts to ask, “Would you mind giving me a second set of eyes on this document? You mentioned having worked on something similar at a previous company.” Both are wins for each group. Both strengthen communication through co-mentoring via their preferred communication channels.

Effective communication is a learned skill. Practice communication skills and you will be on the right path to close the communication gap between Generation X, Millennials or anyone that you speak with day-to-day.

References

1. LesonSky, Rieva. "Enhancing Communication Between Different Generations in Business." Fundera Ledger. Fundera, 13 Apr. 2015. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.
2. Goudreau, Jenna. "How To Communicate In The New Multigenerational Office." Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 14 Feb. 2014. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.
3. Seaver, Michael S. "Generational Differences and Improving Communication." Generational Differences and Improving Communication | Michael S. Seaver. Michael S. Seaver, n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.
4. "Gen X vs Gen Y: How to Communicate (and Relate!) Better at Work." Good&Co. Good.Co, 24 Sept. 2014. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.
5. Merrill, Wendy. "Gen X: The Bridge Between Boomers and Millennials." Chief Learning Officer - CLO Media. CLO Media, 12 July 2016. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.
6. Gorman, Peter. "Mind the Gap." Mind the Gap. Meeting Professionals International, 28 Dec. 2015. Web. 20 Nov. 2016.
7. Zelevansky, Nora. "Bridging the Gap at Work: Improving Intergenerational Communication." The Coca-Cola Company. The Coca-Cola Company, 01 Dec. 2014. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.
8. Ungar, Sarah. "Understanding & Closing the Generation Gap." Empower MediaMarketing. Empower MediaMarketing, 21 May 2013. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.

Michael Buenaventura

November 23, 2016