Interpersonal Communication Skills Improve Relations Between Generations

Interpersonal communication skills used to smooth relations between generations is more critical than ever as business professionals from Generation X and Generation Y work alongside increasingly retirement-spurning baby boomers.

The fact that each of these generations may be on different bureaucratic levels, exhibit vastly dissimilar communication styles, and have fundamentally different viewpoints and expectations about work itself can exacerbate communication barriers.

Working with Generational Differences

Just so we’re working with the same definitions, the baby boomers are that post-war generation born between 1946 and 1964, or just before the Civil Rights Movement. Workers from Generation X were born between the middle of the 1960s and early part of the 1980s. The current generation, Generation Y or the “Millennial Generation”, entering the workforce now were born after Generation X yet before 2000.

This is all important to get on the table beyond historical or cataloging reasons – the cultural differences between these generations affects the communication style each employs as well as negative stereotypes that one generation might hold toward another.

The most important factor, though, might be the fact that aging baby boomers are increasingly in positions of senior leadership after moving up the ranks in (potentially) two-generation-long careers. On average, Generation X workers tend to have worked up to management positions while Generation Y members are likely just getting their feet in the door.

Cultural Differences

While Generation Y largely recognizes the baby boomer’s career success and hard work, many of the Millennials saw their baby boomer parents working in stressful corporate roles and, consequently, wanted a cushier work-life balance for themselves. The Millennials, even compared to Generation X, also tend to be more culturally informed, autonomous, open to diversity and more tech-savvy.

While none of these traits is inherently disadvantageous, they can open the door to communication breakdowns if either side doesn’t respect the differences of the other or associates an entire generation with a negative bias.

Some baby boomers, for instance, see Millennials as too interested in technology, overly competitive, status-conscious as well as anti-authoritarian. There’s also the stereotype that Millennials have feelings of entitlement and are not as hardworking as their Generation X and the baby boomer counterparts. Conversely, the baby boomers themselves, when not in senior leadership positions, are viewed as tougher to train and stuck in their ways.

Communication is another big cultural difference for the generations. Millennials prefer texts and instant messaging whereas older generations might still like phone calls and traditional emails. This interpersonal communication disconnect can present barriers to an intergenerational work environment.

Bridging the Generational Divide

Prejudice and stereotypes in the workplace are always present, and they can at times be subtle and hard to detect. Dismantling these stereotypes depends on knowing your own talents, the work it will take to reach your career goals, and making the conscious decision to move beyond preconceived notions.

Generation X and Generation Y workers shouldn’t fall victim to ageism or assuming that baby boomers can’t learn new skills, nor should baby boomers adopt an attitude of blasé indifference to taking advice from younger generations.

The natural enthusiasm and talents of Generation Y employees – tech savviness, openness to a “work anywhere” mobile working arrangement, and an open-minded results orientation need to be embraced.

While Generation X values loyalty, clear expectations and workplace efficiency,  Generation Y seeks a greater work-life balance and, perhaps in contrast to previous generations, is more focused on results than hours logged at the office.

There’s too much for each side to harness – the enthusiasm, tech-savvy and natural curiosity of Generation Y or the experience, entrepreneurialism and industriousness of Generation X and the baby boomers – from each other for the benefits of clear interpersonal communication skills to get lost in translation.