With multiple generations working side by side for several years now, much has been written about the key differences that affect the ability of multigenerational teams to collaborate successfully. Some organizations have taken this advice to heart and work to consciously reflect these differences when it comes to selecting and cultivating teams. Others have dismissed the advice as irrelevant, unimportant, or simply too overwhelming to do much about.
Most of what’s been written has come from those of us who are considerably older (and more experienced) than our Gen X and Gen Y counterparts. For this edition of Communiqué, we sought the perspectives of some of our Gen X and Gen Y colleagues. After all, for all of the wisdom we older generations think we have to offer, the Gen X and Y folks of the world have a lot to teach us, too.
Here are observations and advice culled from our recent interviews with our younger counterparts.
- Take the time to teach us. We know that you have wisdom we can benefit from, but sometimes we don’t know the best way to get at it. We know, for example, that a lot of thought must go into making some of the tough and complex decisions you need to make, but unless we understand the logic and rationale, we can’t learn from you. Plus, we may not be happy with some of the decisions you make if we can’t understand why you made them. Ask us for our input. Involve us in making decisions when it’s appropriate. Find time to spell out for us the reasons you say and do the things you do so we can capitalize on your knowledge. And who knows? We may have ideas of our own that you can use as well.
- Give us the opportunity to teach you. Even though we may be relatively new to the business world, we have interesting perspectives and fresh ideas to offer. Just ask us. And if you don’t know how to use instant messaging, or if you feel uncomfortable texting, or if you have reservations about using wikis, blogs, or social networks, we can show you how. We know that some of you are much more comfortable talking face to face or using the phone, and we respect your choices. But we ask you to open your minds to trying new avenues so we can all feel more confident and comfortable communicating.
- Let’s appreciate each other’s communication styles and preferences. You have a way of communicating that’s typically more formal than ours, and we know that this is a quality we have not mastered. We, on the other hand, tend to favor quantity over quality, given how many devices we constantly use to send and receive messages. We are more casual and familiar, and we like to use cryptic abbreviations, emoticons, or pop culture expressions as a way to build relationships. Don’t assume this means we’re immature or disrespectful. This is simply how we build bridges. If you ask us to be more thorough or more clear, we may complain that you’re slowing us down, although we realize that this could be a good thing at times. Let’s have an open discussion about what styles and preferences work best and under what conditions. If our business requires a certain set of norms we can all agree to, so be it. But if it’s simply a matter of communication preferences, let’s respect the fact that each of us has styles and methods we’re comfortable with.
- Don’t make distinctions between cultures and classes. We may not have seen as much of the world as you have, but our generation doesn’t seem to notice or care as much about the differences between this culture or demographic and that one. We’re used to operating in a global arena, and we tend to create our own communities of interest that span countries and cultures. So when you talk about the communication styles or attitudes of people from this country or that region, we don’t often experience those differences in our own communications with people from those areas.
- Tell us what information you need, how you want to receive it-and why. We are adept at collecting information from a hundred different sources and putting it all together as fast as we can. You may complain that our reports seem half-baked or superficial, and we may feel that your information requirements are burdensome and pedantic. If there are good reasons for your requests, such as regulatory requirements or the need to adhere to standard financial reporting procedures, let us know. But if these requirements have simply been passed on as a result of some reporting structure that made sense 20 years ago, let’s work together to create requirements that make sense for the business today.
- Realize that multitasking is not all bad. In fact, using a bunch of different communications devices at any given time is a way of life for us. We are not necessarily being disrespectful when we don’t focus 100% on a given conversation (though we can see how you might think we are!). It’s just that we’re hardwired to receive and relay information constantly, and it’s hard for us to suddenly stop. Why not find ways to put our penchant for multitasking to good use, such as incorporating a variety of communication tools into our real-time meetings? If our multitasking is getting in the way, then we ask you to find better ways to engage us by encouraging our ideas and active participation.
It’s important for all of us to remember that all the “rules” that once governed the workforce, no longer exist. Today there are no rules. The companies that thrive (not merely survive), are the ones that respect and harness the potential of today’s rich and diverse multigenerational workforce. This increases the bottom line, serves customers better, and makes for a cohesive working environment.