We are all familiar with the character Ebenezer Scrooge, from Charles Dickens’ famous novella, A Christmas Carol. This character is depicted, as a surly, cold-hearted businessman who hates Christmas, spends his life hoarding his wealth and forces his employees to work long, grueling hours for little pay. Scrooge is basically everyone’s worst nightmare when it comes to a manager. However, as we learn more about Scrooge through his journey with the ghosts of Christmas past, we find that he actually is a victim of circumstance. His childhood experiences, misfortune in love, and depression overcome him, not allowing him to re-frame his perspective to understand how he, as a manager, needs to communicate with his employees.
In communications, this is called understanding your frame of reference, or how individuals assess information. This can be based upon an individuals education, background, personal values, experiences, cultural differences and more, having a large influence on how information flows from or to us. The greater the overlap in frame of reference between two people, or the greater the similarities in individual’s backgrounds, the higher the likelihood that communication will be successful.
In the case of Scrooge, due to his lack of willingness to open up to his employees and allow them to understand his background, employees as well as others, simply assume that he is crotchety and cold-hearted. Therefore, any message that he sends to an intended audience will misconstrued, and may be dismissed due to the disrespect that the intended receiver may have for the sender. However, if the intended receiver of the message understands Scrooge’s background, they may be more willing to understand his situation and receive the message without the attachment of bias.
So, what can be done to fix these communication issues?
In order to fix this communication barrier, managers must do a bit of re-framing. Meaning that as leaders, we must seek to look at things in a different way and seek to understand the other person’s frame of reference. The following can assist with this process:
- Take the time to get to know your employees. Learn their personalities and interact with them regularly so that you not only build a trusting relationship with them, but you also learn how they communicate. Doing this will help to improve the likelihood of successful communication.
- Let your employees learn about you. Communication is a two-way street, unless, of course, you want to talk to yourself. Managers need to ensure that they share their best practices for communicating, including their favorite way to deliver messages and feedback. Allowing for face-to-face time to get to know each others personalities is key as well, as this is the time that you will learn how to interpret each others non-verbal cues.
- When communicating to the outside public, know your audience. Do your research. Learn about the background of your intended audience and speak to that. Although you can’t get to know everyone you are speaking to at a conference, classroom or otherwise, you can speak to their general experiences and speak to them through that perspective.
My advice to you is, don’t be a Scrooge. Teach yourself to look at things from a different perspective; learn your audience and communicate in a clear, concise manner, giving feedback as necessary to improve internal and external communication within your organization.
What are some of techniques or methods that you use to help improve communication?
Along with major events, the developments in technology have impacted us enormously. The influences technological advancements have had on our lives have been huge. Each generation has had a vastly different experience because of the developments in technology that have occurred at certain ages. Technology, perhaps foremost, has impacted the way we communicate so significantly. The way people of each generation communicate has one of the greatest impacts in the workplace. We constantly hear grumblings from Silents, Boomers, and even X-ers towards Millennials and the Homeland Generation because of their ability to “communicate appropriately”. Where older generations will prefer to physically speak to another person, Millennials and the Homeland Generation will send a text, or send an email, or some sort of electronic messaging. It is faster, more efficient and less invasive than demanding someone’s attention at that very moment. The way Millennials and the Homeland Generation communicate has developed from what we were taught in school when we were growing up. We were taught to use technology, and it is what is socially acceptable among our peers. Using technology to communicate is something we have learned, just as much as the way the Silent and G.I. Generations learned to communicate by writing hand written letters and having meetings. What we have to remember, particularly in the workplace, is that each generation has its own way of communicating. Neither is necessarily better than the other. There is a time and a place for verbal, in person communication, and there is a time and a place for electronic communication. We need to teach each other the skill of communication. One thing is for sure about Boomers, X-ers, and Millennials – we are all learners. We all love to learn. But, we are also great teachers.
One thing that we sometimes lack is the patience to understand one another, and to slow down and take the time to remember why it is we communicate a little differently. Understanding this, will help reduce frustration and increase our ability to understand one another.
The importance of strong communication and empathy in the workplace really cannot be understated. We are now living in a time where we have up to four generations in the workplace. Understanding and appreciating how each person functions and communicates can greatly reduce frustration and lead to a much more understanding and successful environment. Understanding this about communication is more important for those in leadership positions, perhaps more than ever before. Having empathy, as a leader, is so vital in today’s work environment. Ask yourself, when you were twenty-something, were you an expert communicator, or an expert in your field? I am one of these twenty-somethings in the workplace that we are speaking of, and I confess, I still have a LOT to learn… and I’ll thank you for being patient and remembering this fact. For all the Millennials out there, when your parents and grandparents ask you how to use a computer, I always keep in mind that these are the people taught you how to use a spoon…
We all have differences and we all have similarities, but one thing that we know for sure – we were all twenty-somethings at one point, and the older generation felt we were all frustrating, immature and lacking basic life skills… this is not something that is new, or particular to a specific generation. A wise woman once said about the generation that succeeded hers –
“Annoying? Yes. Dangerous? No. They were simply our youthful doppelgangers who need our compassion more than anything.” – Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City.
Member Collaboration Manager
The topic of generational differences has been a hot one for quite some time. However, in this three-part series, we will take a slightly different approach to the topic. Understanding generations is now more important than ever as we currently have as many as four generations being represented in the workplace. As we look at this new perspective on the generational divide, we are going to explore the concept that generational differences are not actually as heavily based on the generation you were born in, as has originally been suggested. We are going to argue that each generation actually felt the same way about the generation that followed it, no matter which decade they were born in (or what fashion trends they embraced at the time). Each generation felt that the one that succeeded it was a generation of narcissistic, self-centered, unfocused rebels, irrespective of whether you were born in the early 1900s or if you were born in the 80s or 90s. The fact of the matter is, it’s all about the stage of life we are in. To be successful in the workplace we need to understand particular things about the different generations and learn how to communicate across the generational divide.
Before we begin, I want to add in a little disclaimer. When we talk about generations, we are talking in extreme generalizations. We are going to focus on the overall so-called “trends” of generations. So, please do not freak out or look for the exits if one of the trends that we discuss for your generation does not reflect you.
We have all had moments where we felt that younger generations are borderline sociopath. Common, admit it. The older and thus more mature generations in the workforce will always see the younger employees as immature and inexperienced. But, what do you expect? Of course those twenty-somethings are not going to have 10 years of experience, or any significant exposure to the workplace. We cannot expect the twenty somethings of the workforce to be expert communicators, or to have a strong sense of emotional intelligence, because these are skills that are learned over time.
We always feel that the youngest generation will fail to grow up. They will become the generation that failed to mature, that failed to understand what is important, and who simply do not have the ability to get their priorities straight. We are constantly gasping at the next generation’s sheer audacity and what they can get away with. But guess what? This was your generation once, and it was the generation before yours, as well. No one ever says that the youngest generation of the time will grow up to be put-together, well-rounded, worldly leaders with great communication skills. Think about it. This is what the generation before yours said about you, and I’ll put any money down to say that you have thought the same about the generation following yours.
Let’s take a look at some of the things that have been said about generations:
- “The Now Generation has become the Me Generation,”
- “The Video Generation. There they are, those preening narcissists who have to document every banal moment with their cutting-edge communications technology.”
- “…was a bunch of screw-ups: “They have trouble making decisions. They would rather hike in the Himalayas than climb a corporate ladder… They crave entertainment, but their attention span is as short as one zap of a TV dial… They postpone marriage because they dread divorce.”
- “…self-centered, fickle and impractical.”
- “Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders, and love chatter in places of exercise. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”
Now, I know what you are all thinking. Surely these must pertain to the Millennial and the Homeland Generation! Believe it or not, none of these quotes were written about the Millennials. In fact, quote number four was what Generation X said about the Boomers. Quote number five is actually from Socrates back in Ancient Greece. Let that sink in for a moment… does it really sound all that different from what we are currently saying about the most recent generations? We are all the same. What it ultimately comes down to is the stage of life we are all in and the priorities that are common to each age group. We often forget that we were there once. It’s easy to look at the younger generation and think, “what were you thinking?” “Why are you wearing that?” But remember, you were this person once!
Check the 16% on Tuesday for part two of this three-part series!
Member Collaboration Manager
If you work with people who are much older than you, or much younger, you may have experienced communication problems from time to time. I know I have found myself in this situation before. I like to collaborate and share ideas and sometimes I like coming up with new, more efficient ways of doing things if I feel an improvement is needed. Needless to say, I’ve worked with some people who did not appreciate this approach. New ideas can be perceived as a threat to a person who has done something the same way for a long time and who isn’t particularly amenable to new ways of doing things. It may make them feel as if they are becoming irrelevant because change is happening at a pace they aren’t comfortable with. They may feel that their position is in jeopardy, particularly if the new ideas are coming from a younger co-worker. While the intent may not be to alienate older, seasoned employees, these behaviors can be perceived as alienating if there has been a breakdown in communication and a lack of good leadership.
Last week we talked about managing multiple generations, specifically bridging generational skill gaps. This week, I want to talk about communication between generations. I’ve mainly focused on millennials thus far but, today, I’d like to consider Generation X’s role in the workforce as “forgotten middle child,” how this colors their perceptions of generational differences, and discuss ways we can all become better communicators and better collaborators despite these differences.
My fellow Gen Xers, we are outnumbered. Considerably. We are also worse off than our parents. We have been the victims of a tanked economy, the housing bubble, student loan debt, and the cost of sending our children to college (read this article and then cry really hard). We are just sad. Soon we will probably be working for millennials (if we aren’t already). We are already working with them. As Sharalyn Hartwell explains in the Market Watch article:
“It is ironic Generation X have been upstaged by the younger generation and left on the shelf…They were the original latchkey kids, and already feel like they were forgotten and neglected by their own parents.”
As a Gen Xer, you may have a much longer trek ahead of you to reach retirement, compared to boomers. You may also have a longer climb up the corporate ladder…and millennials are already nipping at your heels.
Why can’t we all just get along?
Boomers and millenials make up a huge chunk of the workforce. Generation X just doesn’t have the numbers on its side. In addition, the relationship between Xers and millennials can be rocky at times. Here’s why, according to a study by Robert Half International:
- Millennials feel differently about paying their dues. In fact, half of those surveyed felt that professionals should have to spend only 1-2 years paying their dues in entry level positions.
- Millennials are known for a musical chairs-like approach to their careers—they switch jobs. A LOT.
For Gen Xers, a generation that has often been obsessed with authenticity and dues-paying, the millennial approach to dues-paying can be frustrating because of the “fake it til you make it” potential there, which can result in a person with limited experience being moved into a position they may not be qualified for. It can also seem tiresome to baby boomers who have been doing their thing for a long time and pride themselves on experience. However, this same study found that many millennials actually expect to pay their dues in other ways—with advanced degrees, mainly.
As for the millennial tendency to job hop, Xers and baby boomers change jobs and careers less frequently than millennials and may consider job hopping a sign of capriciousness and lack of dedication. While job hopping can sometimes put recruiters off, there may be an upshot, according to a Forbes article: “changing jobs and getting a promotion in the process allows Gen Y employees to avoid the ‘dues paying’ that can trap workers in a painfully slow ascent up the corporate ladder.”
#Winning (at succession planning)
I recently read the book The Immense Journey by Loren Eiseley and was struck by this passage:
The door to the past is a strange door. It swings open and things pass through it but they pass in one direction only. No man can return across that threshold, though he can look down still and see the green light waver in the water weeds.
Of course, Eiseley was writing about the process of evolution but it’s an apt lens through which we can view succession planning and managing generations. If you are a good leader, you want your organization to evolve. In order for this to happen, a leader must always take an active role in the push forward. The old ways are constantly warring with the new ways. There is a constant push to innovate, but there may be just as much push-back and resistance to a culture of change. In your organization, what that may look like is the older generation butting heads with the younger generation.
Technology isn’t the only breaking point; sometimes our views on what engagement means, what equality means, and how we make those things happen are approached in different ways. As boomers retire, their years of knowledge and experience go with them. Millennials may try to supplant them before they have “paid their dues” and Gen Xers may find it difficult to work with a generation they perceive as entitled. How do we deal with these issues?
The first step in the process is to stop expecting millennials to be like us. This may be a daunting task for Gen Xers who find the millennial approach to moving up frustrating or disrespectful. You may approach innovation in a different way, or express yourself differently, or place less importance on collaborative efforts, but don’t expect your co-workers, be they younger or older, to take the same approach. We have enough in common that we can work from the commonalities and learn from our differences. We have different expectations, different experiences, and, though we all need those basic motivators that Daniel Pink mentions—autonomy, mastery, and purpose—we may reach these motivational goals in different ways.
It is of the utmost importance to bridge gaps in communication and in understanding through mentoring, training, and collaboration between the generations. The success of your organization depends on it. Convey your mission regularly and consistently and always consider the unique things that each generation can bring to the table: the experience of the boomer, the flexibility and stick–to–itiveness of the Gen Xer, and the adaptability and cultural awareness of the millennial.