Bridging the Gap Between Millennials and Boomers

Communication between generations

Top Communication Tips for the Generations.

The idiom “it’s like Greek to me” is commonly used to express when someone is having difficulty understanding someone or something. The ability to have communication with one another is the cornerstone of personal relationships. Human beings were meant to be in relationship with one another, and when communicating with one another becomes difficult, it threatens who we are at our very core.

Communication issues, in particular, are quite common among the generations. There are five living generations, each with their own set of values and communication styles.

Traditionalists are those who were born between 1922 and 1945. They tend to respect authority, will place work before having fun and are rule-followers. Baby boomers are those who were born between 1946 and 1964, and are known to be workaholics. They value quality over quantity and are definitely not afraid to question those in authority. Generation X are those born between 1965 and 1980. Gen Xers value direction and structure in their lives and believe in addressing issues immediately. Millennials were born between 1981 and 2000. They are go-getters, love multitasking and are huge fans of collaboration with others. And then there are the Generation Zs – also known as iGens and Centennials – were born after 2001. As their very name suggests, they prefer communicating through technology in a way that previous generations have not.

All of these different styles and values can create a perfect storm when it comes to the generations being able to effectively communicate. Whether it’s on the job, or just grandparents trying to find ways to have healthy conversations with their adult children or grandchildren, knowing the best way to approach each generation can help tremendously.

Talk Like a Traditionalist

Let’s take a look again at the qualities that make up those of this generation. They respect authority, place an emphasis on work over fun and believe in following the rules. Knowing this, in order to have effective communication with someone from the traditionalist generation, you will have to have a clear set of rules that both parties agree to follow, and show respect for one another during the exchange.

In the age of “text speak,” some younger people tend to allow those shortcuts to sneak into their everyday conversations with others. Traditionalists neither like nor understand this kind of language, so it is important to make sure when speaking with a person from the traditionalist generation, that you speak in full, proper sentences.

To traditionalists, respect is also very important. So, if they are offering advice, it is coming from a place of experience. If you disagree with their advice, it is best to keep that information to yourself. Simply thank them for the suggestions and leave it at that.

Translating Boomer Speak

Talking effectively to those from the Baby Boomer generation depends on your ability to get to the point. Boomers are known workaholics who value quality over quantity, which also applies to the conversations they have with others.

Because boomers are not afraid to question those in authority, they also are less likely to be offended if an adult child or grandchild questions something they are being told by a boomer. Boomers also respond better to one-on-one, face-to-face communications with others.

Boomers also want to feel needed, so if they do not feel like their opinion is being valued during conversation – or that someone is outright disrespecting them – they will interpret that as being personally rejected. It can be difficult to converse with someone who feels personally insulted.

Unlike the traditionalist generation, boomers aren’t entirely turned off by communication facilitated through technology. While they don’t prefer it, they also will not entirely shun it and will take electronic forms of communication, such as email and texting, over no communication at all.

X Marks the Spot

Generation Xers value direction and structure in their lives and believe in addressing issues immediately. While they aren’t strangers to technology, they also do not embrace it as readily as Millennials and iGens.

Gen Xers do not mind being challenged; however, they prefer to resolve conflict quickly and immediately. If you are having a discussion with someone from this generation, and there is a point of contention, it is best to address it immediately. Waiting weeks, or months, after something has occurred to address it with a Gen Xer will be met with a bit of resistance instead of the kind of congenial exchange that may have occurred if the issue had been discussed right away.

Feedback is important to this generation, so one-sided conversations or communication of any kind will not be well received.

The Digital Divide

Both millennials and iGens are heavily dependent on technology in their everyday lives, and that includes in their communications. Because both of these generations are great at multitasking, the use of technology is in the forefront. This can pose quite a challenge when it comes to communicating with traditionalists and boomers, and sometimes even with Gen Xers.

According to a 2014 Gallup poll, texting is the most frequent form of communication among Americans younger than 50. Cell phones and email as primary communication methods also was highest among these age groups. Other findings include the importance of social media to this generation, which is among the top four ways those aged 18-29 opt to communicate news about themselves to others.

Because traditionalists and boomers are not as technology savvy as their children and grandchildren, this can cause quite a disconnect in the communication pipeline. While it might be uncomfortable, boomers and traditionalists might find it worthwhile to learn to use at least one form of technology to communicate with adult children and grandchildren. The converse also is true. Millennials and iGens also might want to commit to at least occasionally communicating face-to-face, or even over the telephone, with older generations. Being willing to meet each other halfway is a good first start in bridging the communication gap.

Do you have a story you would like to share about how you have successfully communicated with family members of other generations? We’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Mary Spann

Mary Spann

Mary Spann is the founder and president of Upside of Downsizing®. In addition to her 26 years in construction, interior design, and home staging, Mary also holds college degrees in Social Work and Psychology, making her uniquely qualified to assist with the downsizing process, and helping 50 plus year olds achieve a happy and healthy life balance. Mary learned the key components of construction and interior design at an early age. Her father was a prominent custom home builder in Minnesota and Texas, and her mother was a successful interior designer and a real estate broker.
Mary Spann