Communicating through the clash of the generations

gener_gap-wzpiuhI just finished facilitating a three-day leadership development program and the topic of trying to communicate with a multi-generational workforce came up repeatedly. Leaders were frustrated by what they perceived as lack of attention, too much formality, too little formality, uncertainty if their message was getting across, subtle put-downs of different styles, and the general tension among team members. Sound familiar?

The unique clash of all four generations in the workplace at the same time forces leaders to be strategic in planning and delivering their messages. Dana Brownlee, founder, owner and president of Professionalism Matters, offers 10 tips to help you navigate your multi-generational communication landscape.

  1. Match formality to the culture: understand the overall culture of your organization and set clear expectations for team members.
  2. Use multiple communication avenues: develop flexibility and comfort with multiple methods and modes. This is similar to “8 times, 8 ways” that Anita mentioned last week.
  3. Individualize your approach: utilize the platinum rule – “treat others as they want to be treated.” Observe how your team members communicate with you and attempt to mirror that during your communications with them.
  4. Understand value differences: communication styles often represent deeply held values. Examples include respect for experience, accepting everyone’s ideas, a belief in collaboration, or relying on expertise can relate to a preference for texting everyone, holding a meeting or developing a formal request for information. Understanding that and respecting preferences builds trust and facilitates communication.
  5. Be aware of motivating factors: everyone has a different reason for why they work and that can affect their preferred communication style.
  6. Ask, don’t assume: take responsibility to ask and understand why your team members use different communication styles.
  7. Be willing to learn: gain confidence in using a wider range of communication methods and techniques. Continue to sharpen your skills and practice using a wide variety of tools, and delivery styles.
  8. Be willing to teach: help your team members learn how to use a wider variety of communication styles as a part of their professional development.
  9. Acknowledge the differences: take time and encourage your team members to share their different communication preferences. Provide opportunities for your team members to explore and better understand each others preferences and styles in a safe setting, before it becomes a point of conflict.
  10. Don’t take it personally: remind yourself that it is not all about you!

Todd Thorsgaard


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