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  • Workplace Communications – Generational Differences

    Workplace Meeting photo from ShutterstockWorkplace communications has changed dramatically in my lifetime.

    When I started working as a programmer in Chicago in the mid 1970s, I had a phone on my desk. If I wanted to talk to my boss, I would call him and his secretary would often answer his phone. If he was not there, she would take a message on a little piece of paper and put it on his desk.

    In the early 1980s, I used IBM’s mainframe based e-mail system called PROFS. My phone was tied to a message center and, if I did not answer in 4 rings, the center would answer and take a message. A little light would flash on our phone to tell me to call the message center to get the message.

    In the mid 1980s, I got an answering machine with those little cassette tapes. That was later replace by voice mail.

    In the early 1990s, I had my first Internet based e-mail address. I received my first laptop and a modem to use to dial up to download e-mail.

    In the mid 1990s, I got a pager, a cell phone, and I learned to text.

    Later came smartphones—first a Crackberry…err…a Blackberry, and then an iPhone. Now, I am constantly connected.

    WOW, things have changed!

    Generational Differences

    I am a baby boomer (born 1946-1964) and I was born in the mid 1950s. I grew up talking face to face or on the phone. If you want to communicate with me, I would much rather have you talk to me than e-mail or text me. I am typical of my generation, I want a face to face dialog, but if that is not possible, let’s talk on the phone. I want to hear your voice inflection, passion, and desire.

    Gen Xers (born 1965-1982) first started entering the workforce in the late 1980’s. E-mail was the norm. If a Gen Xer needed to communicate to someone it was, typically, through e-mail. Have you or one of your colleagues sent an e-mail to the person in the next cube or office? Come on…you know you have!

    Gen Y or Millennials (born 1983-2000) entered the workplace when mobile communications devices were the norm—cellular and smart phones. Google was the preferred way of finding things. Texting and instant messaging were the most common ways to communicate. This generation created social media and is highly social. However, not in a manner that most baby boomers perceive!

    Workplace Communications in a Generationally Mixed Office

    When you have multiple generations working side by side not everyone has the same preferred communications mode.

    If I, a baby boomer, want to get the attention of a millennial who is on the other side of the building, I will likely text them. If I call them, they probably will not answer the phone AND they probably will not listen to my voicemail.

    Notice I say probably because, even within a generation, there are great variations.

    Similarly, if a millennial texts a baby boomer, the baby boomer may not read the text.

    However, if the baby boomer is a parent to a millennial, they may have learned to text.

    The point is that every individual has their preferred communications style. If you want to be heard and be understood, you need to adapt your communications to the listener.

    How do I know your preferred communications style? I need to ask!

    You can make certain assumptions about an individual’s preferred workplace communications style based on their generation, but you still need to ask them.

    Workplace communications should be a give and take where everyone adapts to everyone. If you want to get ahead in your career, you need to be understood. To be understood, you need to understand the listener’s workplace communications style.

    What is your preferred communications style? What is your boss’s and team’s preferred communications style?

    Has this mixture of workplace communications styles caused friction in your workplace?

    Marc MillerCareer Pivot

    Check out my book Repurpose Your Career – A Practical Guide for Baby Boomers

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    Marc Miller is the founder of Career Pivot which helps Baby Boomers design careers they can grow into for the next 30 years. Marc authored the book Repurpose Your Career: A Practical Guide for Baby Boomers published in January 2013, which has been featured on Forbes.com, US News and World Report, CBS Money-Watch and PBS’ Next Avenue. Career Pivot was selected for the Forbes Top 100 Websites for your Career. Marc has made six career pivots himself, serving in several positions at IBM in addition to working at two successful Austin, Texas startups, teaching math in an inner-city high school and working for a local non-profit. Learn more about Marc and Career Pivot by visiting the Career Pivot Blog or follow Marc on Twitter or Facebook.

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    Posted in Personal Branding, Skill Development, Workplace Success
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    6 comments on “Workplace Communications – Generational Differences
    1. avatar
      maya says:

      Great post. I just wrote a similar post about respecting people’s communication styles. I happen to be one of the odd people in my generation that still likes to communicate by phone. I think it’s the most productive because both parties understand each others’ needs. Unfortunately, many other people prefer email or IM so I’m working on putting my preference aside and am getting really great at communicating my point through short written dialogue.

    2. avatar
      Clark Burton says:

      I can definitely relate to this. I resisted using IM and texting until I hired someone who used these methods as the primary form of communication. Understanding the generational differences in communication methods is important.

      • avatar
        Marc Miller says:

        They can teach us something. I actually started using IM when my son left for college in 2002. It was the only way to talk to him on a regular basis.

    3. avatar
      Jon Pishion says:

      Very nice article. Being a member of Gen X I’m pretty familiar with most social media (maybe not as quick as Gen Y people) and also familiar with the other forms of communication. Working in a position where I interact with all three generations on a daily basis I have had to alter my communications using different methods for different people (usually broke out by the different generations). This also means when new people start I usually have to find out which manner they prefer communications to be received in (some want just to be called or a voicemail, while others its only be text). Knowing your audience is the best way to make communications occur.

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