Nuance in generational communication styles
One generational difference in the workplace that people are quick to notice and comment on, usually negatively, is communication styles. Younger generations seem more apt to use informal language, influenced by their propensity to text and tweet, which older generations tend to find fault with. I recently saw a Twitter thread that speaks directly to this potential source of conflict. I think it can teach us something important.
The Differences In Communication Styles
The first tweeter said she noticed that one sign of her getting “old” – she looks like, oh, maybe 40, so please excuse my slight amusement – was her immediate frustration at seeing younger people not capitalizing the first word in a sentence. “Why is that shift key so difficult to use?” she asked.
A mom responded, saying that with her young adult son she has noticed that when he has something serious to communicate, his texting changes to observe more of the conventions. If they are just “chilling,” though, the flow and punctuation are more relaxed. She said she is trying to adapt her own style to facilitate better understanding with him.
Next, a younger person replied to the mom, thanking her for making the effort and confirming that for many of her peers, this is indeed a nuanced form of communication that should not be dismissed out of hand.
What can it harm us to make the effort to understand and adapt to these changes in style? I’ve been guilty myself of bemoaning what at first glance looks like a lack of literacy skills. But then I pick up a Jane Austen book and can hardly get through a few pages because of the long sentences, complex phrasing, archaic conversational styles, and elevated vocabulary, and I realize that styles do indeed change over the centuries and even decades. At some point the old style becomes the one no one can understand any more.
Communicating Is The Goal
Professionals do need to communicate professionally, no matter how old they are. And professionally means clearly. When that is lacking, it can be learned; it’s not an innate failing of a generation. Perhaps what these tweets reveal is a kind of bilingualism that Millennials and Gen Z’ers bring to the table. Maybe we should consider that a strength instead of dismissing it.
We teach each other and we learn from each other. Nothing shuts down that process like insisting that my way is the only legitimate way.
Do you have a multi-generational team? How well are you learning from and teaching each other? Open communication, mutual respect, and curiosity are essential in order to effectively collaborate and have a tremendous impact on work satisfaction, retention, achievement of goals, and your bottom line.
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