It’s obvious we have been witnessing fundamental changes in communication media and styles, accelerating markedly in the last 10 to 15 years.
The challenge of working with the communication styles of the different generations in law firms and with clients older and younger comes up often in my programs and discussions. It’s important to recognize that it’s not just about technology. The medium is only part of the message. Don’t confuse “efficient” with “effective”.
The tips below will help multi-generational communication achieve the desired results.
And remember the burden of mindset and behavioral change should not be entirely on the younger generations—older generations and managers must be reasonably flexible about considering a change in their own methods.
1. Sometimes in-person is more effective (and secure) than exclusive use of electronic media, even if it takes longer. Ask your clients and team members how they prefer to communicate, and stretch yourself to become comfortable with other media.
2. Generations X and Y need to be made more sensitive to privacy issues, such as privacy laws and what other generations or people consider to be private. Gen X and Y often consider this to be a “control” issue. It will be interesting to see how their attitudes on privacy change over time, and whether it will be similar to how Boomers’ attitudes changed as they aged and experienced the dangers of being cavalier about privacy.
3. Knowing what to communicate is crucial. For example, Gen Yers may be lax about communicating schedule changes to managers and co-workers when they are coming into the office late, are sick, take days off, etc. That makes a long-lasting negative impression about responsibility.
4. The younger generations need to be aware of perceptions about their “engagement.” For example, older generations tend to think people with earbuds in their ears are not engaged and not listening adequately when they are talking to them. And many Gen Yers don’t realize that others, particularly other generations, see non-verbal meaning in behavior such as checking e-mail, etc. during meetings and not looking at a person who is talking to them because they are multi-tasking.
- While it may reduce tensions for other generations to realize that this behavior is not intentionally rude, but rather is just young people acting on what they know (or don’t know), it still leaves the latter group ill-prepared for negotiations, interviewing, navigating the “political” dynamics of the workplace, or even their own job interviews. These have always been vital business skills.
- Employers and managers need to be sensitive to teachable moments and to provide training early on in what we might term “holistic” communications skills and address disconnects such as these:
- Gen Xers say; Boomers over-explain. “Cut to the chase and get on with it.”
- Boomers think Millennials/Gen Yers tend to be blunt, abrupt and impersonal—“a texting culture.”
- Avoiding misinterpretation: Each generation must learn to use discretion—not just what’s most comfortable or fastest—as to which communication medium to use.
We need to ask:
- Who are the recipients, and what are their preferred media?
- Which medium will be more effective in grabbing attention?
- What impression are you trying to make on the recipient?
- Which medium will best convey the desired message?
- Where is the most appropriate place to display the message?
- How do you want the recipient to respond to you?
In this fast-paced world, it’s still important to think before hitting “Send” or picking up the phone or barging into a room.
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