Communication for the Ages

You may have read articles, blogs or other workforce research materials to know that we are now in a time where our workplaces have people from four different generations working together. These four generations include the Traditionalists (born between 1922-1945), Baby Boomers (1946-1964), Gen X (1965-1980) and Gen Y or Millennials (1981-2000). This is a topic we address in our Career Camp program, and because it affects  many work environments, I thought it was worth highlighting here.

Below outlines some key differences in preferences between the generations:

While there are differences in preferences for each group, the biggest influence in the communication approach has to do with technology. Gen Y, has grown up with technology at their fingertips – in fact – they have no recollection of life without computers! They have “Grown up Google”. The use of this technology, (i.e., texting, emailing, tweeting, on-line chatting), has had a profound effect on how people communicate, the frequency, speed and how the message is received. We have yet to fully understand the impact this will have on human interaction, but we know that our facial expression, physical gestures, and the emotional tone in our voice impact the meaning of our words. This is why it is very difficult to express ourselves fully and authentically in an email or text. So when we forgo face-to-face encounters in favor of screen-speak, emailed or texted words, our audience receives only a part of message. What’s missing are the feelings that inform the words along with the emotional reaction our audience has to our message.  Because of this, many in this Gen Y group are also not as adept at reading body language, which is acquired through face-to-face interactions, not schooling. It is a skill learned in actual social settings, from people often from the older generations.

I worry a bit about us becoming droids – unable to read emotions and be sensitive to the recipient’s reaction to our message.  Below are some situations, (in no particular order),  where I think that an in-person, Skype or a phone call, (if Skype is not available) is called for as the better communication approach:

  • Resolving conflicts
  • Delivering bad news
  • Sharing information about personal performance & career growth
  • Discussing salary issues/changes
  • Apologizing for a mistake that has had a negative impact on a relationship
  • Seeking clarification after written communication has failed
  • Dealing with an urgent matter – back and forth emails waste lots of time
  • Celebration of a project milestone or promotion
  • Initial meetings in building working relationships

Technology is great for many things, but let’s not ever lose sight of that all-important human interaction. Look the other person in the eyes, focus on the topic at hand and be present. Your intended message is much more likely to be received in the manner in which it was intended.

Martha Duesterhoft is a Partner at PeopleResults. Follow her on Twitter @MDuesterhoft or email at … or set up a Skype or in-person meeting!