Meagan and Larry Johnson on Cross-Generational Communication

The following is a guest post from father-daughter consulting duo Meagan and Larry Johnson, authors of Generations, Inc: From Boomers to Linksters–Managing the Friction Between Generations at Work.

I recently read that the best thing to come out of the economic downturn was it “Put Generation Y in their place!” My first reaction was that the writer is a total idiot – but after I gave it more thought, I realized the writer is probably like many of us born prior to 1980: sometimes mind-bended by the rapidly changing marketplace and at other times, a little bit envious of Generation Y’s innate ability to navigate the world of technology.

Technology has shaped the way Generation Y brains process information, and it’s different than those who are older. Most of us born prior to 1980 were passive learners in our youth. We had a teachers give us instructions, we read a books, magazines, and print ads. We watched television for our entertainment. All passive behaviors. Generation Yers have been active in the learning processes since they were small children. They did much of their school work using a computer, and they spent more time interacting with their friends and playing video games than watching TV. Today, kids are even learning to read with smart phone apps. Since learning is a process where experiences shape neural pathways, Generation Y brains really are different from ours (Gen Xers, Boomers and Traditionals).

Since Generation Yers are unlikely to be able to change how their brains were formed, it’s up to us to reach out to them if we ever hope to work together successfully.

1. Give tons of feedback. Generation Y has had instant feedback all their lives to every action – from their smart phones, their friends, and their parents. Discuss with your co-workers and employees how much feedback is enough or too much. You may find that your group resents the weekly staff meeting but would appreciate a daily phone call. The point is, do not assume if you are happy with the level of interaction and feedback, your multi-generational members are too.

2. Match delivery methods. To the older generations, there is a hierarchy to forms of communication. A face-to-face meeting is at the top, a telephone call ranks higher than an email and to some, a text is borderline rude. This means (Listen up Gen Yers) if someone calls you on the phone, they probably expect a return phone call, not a text. On the other hand, if a Gen Yer texts you, it’s most likely ok to text him back.

3. Reverse mentoring works both ways. Older generations, swallow your pride and ask your talented Gen Yers to be your technological gurus. Gen Yers, offer to put your tech savvy to good use. This is the perfect opportunity to not only demonstrate your versatility, but also to team up with some of the more seasoned members at your company and learn something new.

4. Customization has become personalization. Older generations prided themselves on their ability to customize their cars, homes and clothing. Generation Y has been able to personalize their cell phone rings, their tattoos and their sneakers. Gen Y has the ability to make something uniquely theirs.
In the professional environment, the more choices you give Gen Yers to personalize their work hours, their workspace and their employee benefits, the more invested Gen Yers will be. For example, after a Gen Yer argued “if you do not track the off hours I work, why should you track my vacation time,” the CEO of Netflix now allows unlimited vacation time on the condition you meet your responsibilities and do an exemplary job.

Despite high unemployment, our challenge remains the same: create a cohesive multi-generational team that can thrive in the changing economy. When we reach across generational lines, we take multiple generations and work together as one.

Meagan Johnson is a generational expert and professional speaker.Larry Johnson is a corporate culture expert and professional speaker. . He is the co-author of Absolute Honesty. Together, as the Johnson Training Group, their clients include American Express, Harley-Davidson, Nordstrom, Dairy Queen, and many others.

Stay tuned for a guest post on time management from Alesia Latson and Rosemary Tator tomorrow.

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