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How to Communicate With People From Different Generations

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I want you to learn how to communicate with anyone.

Have you ever wondered why your Mom won’t stop calling you? Or why teens today speak exclusively in emoticons? Or your Dad STILL writes ‘Dear Vanessa’ in his text messages?

Today we are going to dive into the science of communicating across generational divides:

Each generation has a unique communication style. Here are some tips for communicating with each one:

1. Gen Z (born after 2000)

Also known as “Post 90s generation” and the “iGeneration,” kids 15 and younger have grown up in the digital age. The most important thing to remember is that they didn’t choose to use technology, they were born using it. They think bigger, faster and with far more distractions.

  • What They Value: Fast and entertaining. Remember that they are still kids! They grew up with any fact, movie or song at their finger tips. They value direct and fun communication and have very short attention spans.
  • Communication Tip: When you communicate with a Gen Z, you want to get right to the point. You might even want to use their preferred mode of communication. Shoot them a text? Update their iCal? Send them a Gchat or Facebook message? You get the idea–go where they already are. If you can make it bite-sized and fun they are much more likely to pay attention. Beware of lectures–they will tune out faster than you can say ‘140 characters.’

How young is too young to let a child use a phone, tablet or computer? Watch this video of a baby whose iPad skills are better than my own:

2. Millennials (1980-2000)

Here’s a big surprise: Millennials get along better with their parents than any previous generation. When millennials are asked about their relationship with their parents, they report having had fewer fights with parents than Boomers say they had with their own parents growing up… and it’s a good thing too because about one-in-eight older Millennials (ages 22 and older) say they’ve “boomeranged” back to living at home.

  • What They Value: Self-expression. Over 75% have a profile on a social networking site and nearly 40% have tattoos. Millennials love to express themselves, add their own mark and have their opinion represented.
  • Communication Tip: Ask their opinion, value their ideas and let them help construct the solution with you. Approach a millennial in the brainstorming stage before you have an idea formed. This will help them feel buy-in and that they are on the same team as you.

Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani activist for female education. At age 17, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize– making her the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate.

3. Gen Xers (born 1965 to 1979)

Gen Xers are nicknamed the Sandwich Generation because they have the most pressure on them from both Boomers and Millennials. 47% of Gen Xers have a Boomer parent and are also raising a Gen Z or Millennial kid. 15% of Xers are providing financial support to both an aging parent and a child. Gen Xers have had tremendous pressure on them from a young age. They often had both parents working and entered the professional stage through tough economic times.

  • What They Value: Shared responsibility. They want partners, helpers and support from the people around them. Typically they are the ones providing emotional and financial support to everyone else. 84% of Xers report that their parents rely on them for emotional support.
  • Communication Tip: Anytime you want to reach out to an Xer, you will get a better response if you try to address their needs and take pressure away from them. Think: “how can I offer help, not ask for help?” and you will get a great reply and lots of gratitude.

Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook is a favorite Gen Xer. Together with founder and CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg, they have grown the social networking site to new heights. For the first time ever, one billion people used Facebook in a single day.

The best part? Sandberg is a Gen Xer and Zuckerberg is a Millennial. They must be doing something right!

4. Boomers (born 1946 to 1964)

Baby Boomers are an interesting generation because currently they are split. Some boomers are in cushy happy retirement and enjoying grandkids, while the other half are struggling financially because they didn’t save enough to get them through the 2008 recession.

  • What They Value: Respect and tradition. Both groups of Boomers have reached an age where they want respect from their younger counterparts, and they fear losing the traditions they hold dear. Some even lament the loss of in-person communication in a digital age.
  • Communication Tip: Respect should be paramount. Whether you are discussing a new idea or working through conflict, respecting a boomer’s life experience and opinion is key to effective communication.

Baby Boomers have and continue to leave their mark on current history. This group includes political leaders such as President Barack Obama, former Presidents George W. Bush Bill Clinton, Mitt Romney and Condoleezza Rice.

5. Silent (born before 1946)

For goodness sakes, let them celebrate life! We have a lot to learn from our Silent folks. Let them tell you as many stories as they want and always bring them their favorite dessert—they deserve it!

  • What They Value: They have seen more than any of us could imagine. They want to enjoy life and share their lessons learned.
  • Communication Tip: Let them communicate with you however they want. Listen and learn.

The Silent Generation features many of the greats including Martin Luther King, Jr., Neil Armstrong, Johnny Cash, Barbara Walters, Sandra Day O’Conner and Warren Buffet.

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