While working with multiple generations in the office and with clients is nothing new, the digital era constantly brings about new challenges in communication.
Baby Boomers (1946-1964) and Generation X (early 1960s-early '80s) prefer emails and face-to-face communication, while Millennials (roughly 1982-2004) text and use social networks, like Twitter and Instagram, and messaging apps like Snapchat to communicate.
There seems to be a new social media tool emerging every day, and while Millennials seem to instantly understand them, older workers often feel overwhelmed. In reality, too much reliance on one method can alienate coworkers and clients, making it difficult to communicate with someone from another generation with a different preference.
There is a generational difference in formality, too. Suits have turned into jeans – and not just on casual Fridays. Abbreviated stream-of-conscious communication is replacing anguishing over a letter or email.
In many workplaces, the traditional at 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. workday at your desk has been replaced with telecommuting. Measuring productivity now involves judging the quality of your work product rather than how many hours it took you to do it.
So, in today’s fast changing workplace, how can coworkers from different generations work effectively with each other and their clients? Here are some tips.
1. Understand work styles. Rather than assuming your communication style is best, notice how different coworkers and clients prefer to communicate.
Does someone come to your office to talk instead of texting? Does a client respond to your phone call by email? Learn how others like to communicate and use it. If you’re not sure, just ask.
2. Share perceptions and values. You can often avoid generational conflicts by learning one another’s perceptions and values.
A Boomer may find the lack of formality and manners of a Millennial offensive, while Millennials may feel their opinions are not considered or appreciated.
3. Be willing to learn. As an older Gen Xer, I tend to dismiss the newest social media tool by telling myself “it’s a waste of time” or “ it’s just a fad, so no need to learn it."
But don’t be fooled. Older workers should always be willing to learn new communication tools since they will need them when working with younger clients. Don’t be afraid to ask the younger workers in the office for help.
The opposite is true for younger workers. Abbreviations and short, incomplete thoughts are fine between friends, but that’s not a good way to communicate with clients. Learning how to write well is a trans-generational necessity, so be willing to learn from others on what makes a good writer.
4. Realize the strength in all generations. The best communicators are comfortable with all generations of communication tools, and they aren’t afraid to try out new ones. Since most clients will be multi-generational, valuing the strengths of each generation’s communication style guarantees the best value to one’s client – and a more cohesive workplace.