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Communication Across the Ages in the Office

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Last week, I flew on one of the smallest planes I’ve ever seen. It had actual propellers. I knew the flight was only 45 minutes, but assumed it would feel like an eternity. Well, the joke was on me. Thanks to the man sitting next to me, I was shocked when the tires hit the runway. My seatmate and I had a lot in common. Both of us had traveled all over the world for work, and both of us were at the age when everyone in the workforce was — or at least, seemed — much younger.

During our flight, I shared that I worked in HR. He then told me about current communication struggles in his small organization. This led to a long conversation about what it now means to have five generations in the workforce and how it’s no wonder that there are communication issues.

This conversation got me thinking: Is there a better way to communicate?

Honestly, I think there is, and it has nothing to do with the way we have done it in the past or are doing it now.

Communication in today’s workforce has everything to do with understanding that we have multiple generations in the same room trying to accomplish the same goal. Let’s think about that for a minute. People who are trying to communicate and work together were alive during WWI, albeit young, and WWII. Some employees may have fought or known people who went to the Vietnam, Korea, and Gulf wars. Then there are the millennials. They have Trump. Is it any wonder communication in today’s workforce is a trainwreck?

So, how does this play out in the workplace?

Just like this. A 65-year-old is going to want to actually talk to another person. Sound bizarre? Not to the 65-year-old. A 23-year-old is going to likely send a text. Oh, and that text will probably be in a language the 65-year-old can’t begin to understand. I’m still trying to get my head around the fact that people are having entire conversations using only little pictures.

I digress.

It is time to stop blaming the millennials and technology for our communication issues.

Don’t try to blame Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram either. No more excuses. We must learn how to talk to each other. Period!

How do we change our thinking and start communicating? We start by understanding that there is not one right answer. About once a month, I get a call from a company to come “fix” their communication issue. Every single time, without fail, they are looking for one right answer. One communication method that everyone will adopt, conform to, learn, understand, and ultimately, use without question. This, they believe, is what will solve the problem.

I do not agree!

The problem is solved by fully understanding how each generation learned to communicate in the first place and then providing options for everyone. Respecting different communication needs means we need to offer live, face-to-face communication options. Likewise, when the situation calls for it, texting and emailing is great.

In short, we all have to give and take a little when it comes to communication. There is no one way to bridge the gap. The solution is to learn to use all forms of communication based on who we are talking to, what we are trying to accomplish, and how well it is being received.

Five generations in the workforce is a gift, don’t waste it.

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