Updated: May 22, 2019
I was at a networking event the other night and there was this millenial who was ‘literally’ fired up about digital marketing. She said she was a “content creator”. She was in pure bliss mode, drowning in the surge of dopamine that everyone gets when talking about something they are passionate about.
It was THE conversation to be in, except for those over 40! They either stood by not knowing when to add value to the conversation or walked away (probably to Google whatever they had just overheard!). “Google SEO, PPC, CTAs and what the heck is vocal fry?”
Needless to say, even though everyone got the gist of what she was talking about (marketing!) - nobody but the 20-30 somethings were bangin’ on her virtual door to get her IG handle (that’s Instagram handle!) or her YouTube channel. Instead, a lot of people were rolling their eyes and thinking “What’s wrong with good old traditional advertising?”
Speaking habits matter. Influence, attention, and power matter. For the digitally savvy millennials, it is in peer to peer communication where they impress, grow to influencer status and grab attention. Online influence and attention are powerful, but the older generations still insist on exerting power over the younger ones in organisations, businesses, and government. Perhaps older generations are afraid to discover that younger people are not really interested in communicating with them.
Conversely, does the young generation even realize that they sound an awful lot like Charlie Brown’s teacher?
Younger generations have always used language to communicate in ways that appeal to their peer group. But communication across generations breaks down when language, power, and pride clash.
Once in a blue moon though, we of the generationally-divided (given that there are 5 generations in any one workplace, this means all of us!) meet someone who speaks with total presence. They speak with clarity and the kind of beautiful simplicity that inspire and invite others to ask questions and add value.
They leave you feeling like it was worth skipping a night of binge-watching Netflix to be social. They take the oomph out of age and authority. They are the kind of people everyone can relate to.
Why is that?
Maxfield and Grenny cover the topic of intergenerational conflict in their book “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High”.
There are 4 ways they recommend to communicate better.
Always start out on the same page: clarify your respect as well as your intent to achieve the same goals
Lead with the facts: when conflict or miscommunication arises, don’t blame it on age or rely on stereotypes. Be as specific as possible when describing the problem and your expectations/vision of the solution.
“When there are differences, we tend to blame problems on age,” says Maxfield. “It’s a convenient villain and lets us off the hook for doing anything because we can’t change someone’s age.”
Don’t pile on criticism: Once you have laid out the facts, you have hit the “hazardous half-minute”. If the other person seems defensive; pause and reiterate your good intentions.
“You have the first 30 seconds to make your case and turn it from a monologue into a dialogue. If you drone on more than 30 seconds, you’re dead.”
Invite a response: Be willing to listen. Be willing to learn from each other. Remember, you are on the same team.
Research shows that when people talk about something they feel passionate about and use words that resonate with them, the feel-good brain centers light up. Knowing that your ‘audience’ is genuinely interested and listening is where inspired conversation finds its spark!
So, how can we use this knowledge to our advantage? How can we have conversations that get people thinking “Wow, you really speak my language!”?
The only way to communicate across generations is to stop blaming the other for being too young to know or too old to understand! So, be the person who isn’t afraid to ask questions or admit that they don’t quite get it, and be aware that language can either divide or unite.