What Is The Key To Cross-Generational Communication? - What Would Arlene Say?

5 min read
October 12, 2017

Generational differences impact everything from our personal relationships, business marketing to client service. Are you a Baby Boomer, a Gen Xer or a Millennial? Do you get tired of labels and not really care? How do you characterize these groups? Understanding where we, and all those around us, fit in is an often overlooked ingredient for success. A lack of awareness can lead to frustration and stymie your communication. How an individual views technology is an integral part of effectively conveying your message. Knowing the mindset of those with whom you communicate will improve your message delivery and help them better connect with you.

There are 4 key generations in the business world today. The mature, pre-generational label folks, who went to World War II and created the boomers. The Baby Boomers – named for the post WWII baby boom, born from 1946 through 1964. Generation X was bodrn from approximately 1965 through 1981. The youngest business owners, clients and employees are the Millennials, born from roughly 1982 to 2002.

The Baby Boom folks are hardworking, team players who define themselves by their accomplishments and their history. They believe in paying your dues through long hours at the office and value face time over email or phone. Boomers use technology if it saves them time but they don't assume it will.

"Work smarter not harder" defines the Generation Xers. Many view overtime as a sign that you didn’t get your job done efficiently and effectively.  Gen Xers are also more inclined to be learning new skills because they know the world is never standing still.

Millennials view of their work environment has been greatly impacted by the economic shifts and upheaval they have witnessed. This can be further broken down to younger and older Millennials, but in general they are working at creating jobs they can enjoy now, and they are willing to cobble together a variety of tasks to form a fulfilling career. Millennials have grown up in a world of technology. They have no reference to life without computers and voice mail, or for that matter texting and instant messaging. They are comfortable with all sorts of social media and selective about answering their phones. It is not so much that they strive to learn about new technology, but rather they take new technology for granted.

We interact with different generations every day. You may be marketing yourself and your business or just dealing with your parents or children. But understanding ourselves and those we are relating to will help us reach our goals for each relationship.

When connecting with a Baby Boomer know that technology is good to save time, but don’t take for granted their comfort level. Texting is a perfect example. Boomers’ outlooks can vary a great deal.  I would rather receive a text that I can glance at in a meeting or while I am on the phone. I don't want to call in to listen to a recording or read a hilariously inaccurate transcription.  Yet I have friends that still pay 25 cents a text and others who claim they only take voice calls. And all those examples are just in the baby boomers.

When working with Gen Xers and Millennials you’ll need to be ready with the technology they expect. Instead of just texting Millennials use different apps depending on their audience and needs. You will find different generations mix use of social media for business and personal use at very different rates. According to a recent survey from IBM Institute for Business Value only 7% of Baby Boomers keep professional and business social media accounts completely separate, as compared to 27% of Millennials.

Know your audience. Don’t guess. Ask. If you have new clients ask about their preferences and meet them on their platform of choice. Your client connections will grow and your clients will see you as progressive. Your preference doesn't matter when reaching out as much as your clients’ do.

Also keep in mind the nuances of situational preferences. There are times when a voice is critical to a client service experience. There are times when it is an imposition to expect the client to dial the phone and hold when a live chat, an automated appointment scheduler or an email will do. The critical issue is that the client or customer decides this, and that may change depending on their needs. When I am working I am often on the phone. If there's a technical difficulty I don't want to tie up my phone line with tech support so I much prefer a live chat. Asking me to email about a technology problem is too slow. If I am in the middle of a crowded airport frantic to reschedule a cancelled flight I want a human and I want one right now! Think about who is trying to reach you and why, then cover their needs.

Be willing to try new methods of communication with your colleagues, clients, friends and family. Offering variety provides a richer more open dialog and shows you value their input. I encourage you to learn about the people you want to connect with andbe willing to embrace their preferences.

What are some new ways you have found to improve your communication with the variety of clients you serve?

A bit about my sources:

I listened to a fantastic keynote at the 2015 AICPA Advanced Personal Financial Planning Conference by Cam Marsten (@GenInsight) which gave me the inspiration to read more and give a speech on the subject to a local Toastmasters group.

Giang, Vivian. "Here Are The Strengths And Weaknesses Of Millennials, Gen X, And Boomers." Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 9 Sept. 2013. Web. 4 Mar. 2015.

Mayhew, Bruce. "Understanding the Generation Characteristics and Generation Differences - as Employees or as Customers... Knowledge Is Power. | Multigenerational Characteristics." Understanding the Generation Characteristics and Generation Differences. Web. 4 Mar. 2015. <http://www.brucemayhewconsulting.com/index.cfm?id=20209>.

Asghar, Rob. "Gen X Is From Mars, Gen Y Is From Venus: A Primer On How To Motivate A Millennial." Forbes. Forbes Magazine. Web. 4 Mar. 2015.

I read so much during the writing of that speech that I fear I missed some of the sources when I began to repurpose it into this posting. In the midst of writing this I also attended a wonderful presentation by Carrie Arnold, of UCCS, at Artemis Women of Colorado Springs. Understanding the generations is all the rage, and while I believe I used my browser history to cite all sources I apologize to anyone I may have missed. I learned a valuable lesson on this project! No matter what the purpose – keep your sources handy for future reference!

Arlene Moss headshot

About Arlene Moss, Executive Coach

Arlene gets a kick out of helping financial advisors get over being overwhelmed and take on their frustrations so their businesses soar. Arlene works to ensure XYPN members are able to help their clients prosper while creating a sustainable business model. Through XYPN Academy and one-on-one coaching, members get the support they need to grow their businesses and overcome the challenges that come their way.

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