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Generational Communication Preferences – GenY and Boomers

Posted by Joanne on March 25, 2010 Comments (4)

An HR Director, a Boomer, hires a new graduate as the HR Coordinator. The new Gen Y coordinator sits in an office next to the HR Director, but this new employee sends her boss several emails a day. Today, she has an important issue to be resolved so she sends an email. When the HR Coordinator doesn’t get an immediate reply, she resorts to texting her boss! Finally at the end of the day, the frustrated coordinator abruptly asks her boss, ”Why, don’t you answer my emails and my text messages?” and the equally frustrated HR Director says, “Because you sit right next door to me and if it’s that urgent you could have asked me in person.”   

 Are generational preferences at work here and do these preferences cause conflict?  

While it is never good to generalize, Boomers tend to like face-to-face interaction and Gen Y’s tend to communicate a lot more on-line using texting, and social media. No wonder, when Gen Y have grown up with technology at their fingertips. They text, Twitter, and Facebook their 100′s of friends in seconds. They like immediate response and they are wired 24/7.  

With these differences, it’s not surprizing to find that 48% of small business owners are not happy with the interpersonal skills of Gen Y (SMART Company). I’m sure at the same time the Gen Y group wouldn’t be too happy about business owners wanting so much face time!   

But face-to-face interaction is important for effective communication that builds relationships. You cannot recognize the subtle nuances and changes in body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions, even with emoticons, that tell us something more is going on than what the words are saying.    

Effective communication starts with being aware of our own preconceived assumptions!   

The key to developing better communication between generations is recognizing and understanding the preferences of others and getting rid of preconceived assumptions that one is better than the other. Both the Boomer and the Gen Y’er in the scenario at the start of this article, have a chance to build their relationship. Neither of them are mind readers, so unless there is dialogue and discussion about their communication preferences, the relationship will suffer.

If they become aware of each others preferences, the HR Director may choose to welcome a carefully crafted email that the HR Coordinator has compiled with several less urgent questions, and the HR Coordinator might just use the face-to-face communication method that her HR Director obviously wants when she has more urgent questions that need to be resolved. That’s a start.   

What do you think?    Joanne


  1. Interesting blog, Joanne, but it’s missing an important part of the equation: Generation Jones (between the Boomers and Generation X). Google Generation Jones, and you’ll see it’s gotten lots of media attention, and many top commentators from many top publications and networks (Washington Post, Time magazine, NBC, Newsweek, ABC, etc.) now specifically use this term. In fact, the Associated Press’ annual Trend Report chose the Rise of Generation Jones as the #1 trend of 2009.

    It is important to distinguish between the post-WWII demographic boom in births vs. the cultural generations born during that era. Generations are a function of the common formative experiences of its members, not the fertility rates of its parents. And most analysts now see generations as getting shorter (usually 10-15 years now), partly because of the acceleration of culture. Many experts now believe it breaks down more or less this way:

    DEMOGRAPHIC boom in babies: 1946-1964
    Baby Boom GENERATION: 1942-1953
    Generation Jones: 1954-1965
    Generation X: 1966-1978
    Generation Y/Millennials: 1979-1993

    Here are some good links about GenJones I found:

    Comment by thgt55 — March 25, 2010 @ 10:40 am

  2. “thgt55″ – Thanks for your comments and the links. It is always a struggle on how detailed one should be when talking about generational categories. Each generational category has “sub-categories within” it. I’m in fact, a member of the (sub)category Gen Jones.

    Gen Jones have been listed as a segment of the Boomers and like any member of a “cusper” (born on the border of Boomers and Gen X), they didn’t seem to fit with Boomers or Xers.

    It is interesting that those in power (Prime Minister Harper, and President Obama) are members of Generation Jones and now “Generation Jones is the #1 trend of 2009!” with its own website as you noted. Kind of like: “I’m a Generation Jones member. It’s my time to shine!” So now we seem to have our own category.

    Here are two more interesting posts on Gen Jones. Check out the comments too.

    While I agree with you that changes are happening fast, I wonder once 100 years have passed, if it will all become relative. Each century has had huge changes compared to what is going on in society at that time, so ours may not seem as “fast” as we think it is in the present, especially in relation to the future.

    Here is another interesting site on generational time lines with research done by William Strauss and Neil Howe. While they have their critics, it is another way to look at the generations in relation to history.

    Thanks again for your comments and the interesting links. Joanne

    Comment by Joanne Royce — March 25, 2010 @ 7:40 pm

  3. I recently read/skimmed a new to me book called “The New Breed” about the new volunteers. It is very very informative and a worthwhile book to have in your arsenal of references. The authors are brothers….McKee, I believe. Regardless, it addresses both the generation @ and us boomers.

    Comment by David Farrell — March 25, 2010 @ 9:15 pm

  4. Thanks for the book recommendation, David. I’ll take a look at that the next time I’m at Chapters. Thanks for stopping by my blog! Joanne

    Comment by Joanne Royce — March 26, 2010 @ 6:47 pm

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 Joanne Royce

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