Adapted from a post by Laura Bernero for SE2 Communications
Today, more Millennials are in the workforce than any other generation. Whatever your age, you are just as likely to work with a Baby Boomer as you are a Generation Z up-and-comer.
Older people are working longer, and retiring later. Gen Z tech-natives are entering internships and entry-level positions at younger ages than their older counterparts.
These trends portend a broadening spectrum of ages — and perspectives — in the workplace. Effective, empathic cross-generational communication and collaboration are no longer optional, but vital, to productive work.
My friend Carol Willis, a proud baby boomer and founder of her own communications firm, The Clapping Oak, first introduced me to a key idea that has shaped my view of the importance of cross-generational communication: cross-mentoring.
“When we work and communicate with those of different generations, the older ones are not simply teaching the younger ones. Cross-mentoring is a posture that assumes everyone is a teacher, and everyone is a learner,” she shared.
To her point, effective cross-generational communication is more of a posture than a prescription. It provides the means for positive relationships to form, and productivity to increase. But it also means working — and living — with the posture of a learner, which often exposes us to discomfort.
The same mindset can be applied to cross-cultural communication or any social setting where we are asked to see the perspective of another. It can be challenging, frustrating or uncomfortable. But with a posture of openness, we can begin to see the benefit and opportunity in our differences with others, rather than arguments to be made or ideologies to defend.
Here are a few suggestions to help you build connection and positive communication with your colleagues, clients and contacts of all ages and generations.
- Embrace opportunities to learn from each other.
- Remember that challenges are natural — but that we can move past them. Staying stuck in the difficulties costs efficiency and rapport.
- · Set aside time to learn and relearn. Communicate more in the beginning until you know how best to work together.
- · Make time outside of your most urgent projects to interact with those of different generations. It may be helpful to go through a communications training or activity as a team.
- · Focus on shared values.
Note: Carol and Laura are co-creators and facilitators of a workshop on Cross-Generational Communication. Click the link for details.