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Learn how to enhance communication between generations within the office

July
6, 2020

Read 6 min

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Different teams have different work and communication styles. As a generation speaker and trainer for over a decade, I have experienced firsthand how big the communication gap can be in teams with several generations.

In fact, 83 percent of Generation Z employees prefer to personally contact managers, but 82 percent of managers believe that their Generation Z employees prefer to communicate by instant message. In addition, 57 percent of Gen Z would like to receive feedback several times a week, but only 50 percent of their managers give them feedback as often.

The proliferation of mobile technologies and ubiquitous connectivity have created a wealth of new communication channels. Email, text, chat, video calls and social collaboration are relatively new forms of communication that for the most part did not exist in the 20th century.

Related: Gen Z believes this benefit is more important than the salary

Communication complexity increases when multiple channels are combined with the different communication preferences and expectations of each generation in the workforce. Communication between the generations is a challenge, but managers want to do it right. The following five strategies should help.

1. Gain generational awareness

A general awareness of how each generation deals with communication is the key to closing the communication gap. Remember that generational traits are clues – not absolute – but they can help you connect and influence.

Baby Boomers appreciate formal and direct communication with a preference for using face-to-face, phone and email. They value background information and details. Generation X values ​​informal and flexible communication with a preference for the use of email, phone, text and Facebook. You value professional etiquette. Millennials value authentic and fast communication with a preference for using text, chat, email and Instagram. You value efficiency and a digital-first approach. Generation Z values ​​transparent and visual communication, with face-to-face, Snapchat, YouTube, TikTok and FaceTime preferred. They value video, voice commands and a purely mobile approach.

Surprisingly, over 70 percent of Gen Z want to communicate face to face at work. They will continue to weave in and out of the familiar digital channels as they look for more personal encounters.

The communication gap is also uncovered by how each generation uses emojis. 83 percent of Gen Z emoji users feel more comfortable expressing their emotions through emojis than through a call, compared to millennials (71 percent), Gen X (61 percent), and Baby Boomers (53 percent).

2. Contact the person you are communicating with

Use generations as clues and shift to the communication preferences most used by that generation. For example, baby boomers wishing to connect to Gen Z should not call and leave a voicemail. Instead, move an SMS or an instant message. Conversely, Gen Zers who want to connect with Baby Boomers should not use FaceTime or DM on social media. Instead, reschedule a call or face-to-face meeting.

Related: 8 Ways the Crisis Will Change Future Workers Forever

It is no longer about how the communicator wants to deliver the intended message, but how the other person is most likely to consume the message.

It is also important to match the right channel with the type of information.

Phone calls are for detailed, long, difficult, or emotional conversations. Emails are used for short, informative and / or instructional information. For general announcements, news, informal news, team collaboration and socializing. Video (Zoom, FaceTime, Teams, etc.).) Is for long, feedback-rich, focused, emotional or difficult conversations.

3. Mirror the communication

Respond to messages on the same channel on which they were received. For example, if a Gen Xer receives a text from a millennial colleague, the Gen Xer should not call the Millennial, but should mirror the communication by sending a text back.

If changing the communication channel is a must, take the time to summarize the previous correspondence in the new communication channel.

4. Set the communication expectations

If a team or individual has not explicitly stated their communication preferences, others will advise which of the myriad communication channels to use and will normally use their personal preferences by default.

Related: Generation Z graduates say companies like Google and Facebook are "harmful" and won't work for them

Instead, proactively let others know how best to connect with you. For example, a Gen Z employee could mention in his email signature or Slack profile that he prefers text to a phone call. Or a baby boomer might mention that he prefers an email to a voicemail in his voicemail recording.

5. Create a team communication agreement

The purpose of entering into a communication agreement is to create official guidelines that highlight the rules for team communication.

In today's high-tech and digital work environments, clear communication about communication is essential. A communication agreement helps to set expectations, create team buy-ins, set limits to protect important work and rationalize communication.

Ask your multi-generation team the following questions to build consensus.

What communication problems are there in the team at the moment? Example: Too much time-critical information is sent via email instead of chat. Which communication channel is used most frequently in the team? Is this the most efficient channel? For example, email is the most common, but reducing the daily number of emails would be welcome. Are there communications that need to be prioritized? Example: All communications from current or potential customers should be prioritized. What type of communication is not negotiable? For example, monthly hands-on, face-to-face, or video meetings are non-negotiable to maintain team relationships. What are the expectations (said and not said) of the response times to emails? Telephone, text, chat, etc.? Are these expectations necessary or suitable for success? Example: The expected response time by email is 24 to 48 hours. If communication is needed sooner, use text or chat as the expected response times are 15 to 30 minutes. How should times like vacation, evenings, deep work etc. not be disturbed? Example: On working days, there are employees. It is not expected that a reply will be given after 6 p.m. Do work plans need to be synchronized to enable closer collaboration? If so, what are the guidelines? Example: Every Tuesday, all team members are expected to work online between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. Which communication channel should only be used for "emergencies"? Example: Unsolicited phone calls are intended for emergencies only and should be treated as a priority by all team members. How should meetings be conducted to maximize participation and efficiency? For example, more frequent, but shorter meetings (15 minutes or less) led by rotating team members. What other measures are needed to improve communication efficiency and quality? Example: absence days are required for non-working days or periods of continuous work.

Consider creating a separate agreement for external communication with customers, customers, and suppliers. As soon as you are clear about communication, you can lead your employees effectively – regardless of which generation they come from.

Related: 3 ways to effectively market to different generations

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