Communication across generations – Part 1: Serve up an easy return

Generational differences in the workplace can be a problem. Good communication skills can be helpful.

Part 1 of this three-part series on working well with other generations will start with communication skills and how to handle the diverse sources and diverse audiences you my face in the workplace. It’s not only what type of communication we use, but it’s also who we send it to and what the content is that counts. I view it like a tennis match working with your teammate and positioning yourself for easy returns, so let us start with what you serve up.

Communication is vital to any organization, company, work team or relationship, and communicating to different generations holds its own challenges. However, with some insight and understanding you can get yourself into position to return these serves and keep them within the lines.

The ball toss: Technical communication

Today you may not have to draft a hand-written letter in cursive, but you will still need to know and be able to use various communication mediums – and use them well. There are lots of communication balls to juggle today, but all generations need to get a clear understanding of the ground rules on what is acceptable in each of the communication mediums. From emails, texting, letters and blogs to talking on the phone, there are certain rules, languages, protocols and etiquette that apply.

Check with your employer as to what is the expected use of these media and learn what is considered professional or in-line with the companies polices. For example, using “u” instead of “you” or adding emoji’s to letters or emails. Know what is acceptable on social media. These little acts might not be what your customer, client or colleagues would want or even understand and that can cause problems. The rules and etiquette in each of these communication pieces can be, and should be, understood and followed by all generations. Yes, even the Gen Yers need to know how to write a thank-you note or personal letter and baby boomers can learn to use Twitter and Instagram. All generations going forward will need these skills; therefore, what you toss up can affect your delivery.

Practice all your strokes: Get comfortable using each medium

As mentioned above, younger generations should know how to write a business letter, thank-you note or an inner office email. Older generations may need to learn to tweet, text or use social media. All generations still need to know how to speak on the phone and present information to clients and colleagues in meetings. Meetings do still take place face to face and there are some “do’s and don’ts” for that forum. More meetings are being done over the phone or with video conferencing now.

How to manage yourself and conduct those meetings is essential for all generations. There are so many communication outlets and avenues today, both from the past and present. Michigan State University Extension strongly suggests familiarizing and getting comfortable using all of them. Just like an overhead lob, a dink or a smashing forehand, there is help in learning these styles as we will discuss later.

Ace the shot: Know your audience’s preference

Try using the communication venue your audience prefers. If you are communicating with a co-worker, client or boss, find out how they like to be contacted or informed. Do they check email more than voicemail? Are they on social media or text often? Would they prefer a hard copy or could they just access a document by phone? There are so many ways to communicate, but knowing the best approach shot, the correct communication tool, you can help yourself win the point.

Note: Please don’t assume they are of a generation that prefers one method of communication over another. You may be surprised at the findings of what technological upbringing they have. You will have to get to know the individual, and the best way to do that is ask them. For more information on generational stereotypes, see “Generational Differences Exist, But Beware Stereotypes” from Society for Human Resource Management.

Select the right stroke: Choose the right communication method

Do you go for an over-hand smash or a drop shot? It may be determined how your opponent hits the ball to you. The same is true for choosing the right communication type for the audience and the situation. Some sensitive issues may need to be done face to face, others with a quick text. Is a formal letter more appropriate for the issue or will an email suffice? Know who it is, what the issue is and try to meet their needs with the best communication avenue. Be sensitive to those of different generations and how they might expect this information to be delivered. Again, try to get to know the person individually and play the safe shot.

In Part 2 of this three-part series, we will cover the different values of generations and how they may work to your benefit.

For more information on generational differences, review the generational differences charts from the West Midland Family Center or contact your local MSU Extension office. MSU Extension will also be hosting a Generational Differences Workshop May 5, 2016, from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. at the Detroit YouthVille Office, 7375 Woodward Avenue, Suite 1520, Detroit, MI, 48202. Participants will learn how to better understand the different perspectives of various generations and how these differences impact work style, communication, goals and outlooks. For more information on this workshop, visit the Generational Differences Event page.

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