There’s a cartoon out there that shows a father reading the newspaper as he asks his young daughter how her day at school was. “You can read about it on my blog, Dad,” is her cool and collected reply. This exchange is an ideal representation of the differences in generations.
Generational characteristics, traits and values are not universally shared. However, a vast majority of a generation’s members will possess many of the generation’s overall traits and values. Baby boomers, Generation X, millennials and our freshman group, Generation Z, make up the core current generations, with baby boomers being the most populated generation.
It is natural for us to usually relate best to people in the same generation as we are. Events and culture of our generation shape our identity. Important events of my generation included the Challenger space shuttle explosion, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” album and the fall of the Berlin Wall — can you guess which generation I belong to? A generation’s associations with style of dress, music and TV shows create cultural uniqueness.
While we embrace the individualities of our specific generation, we clearly coexist with others from different generations. Coexisting with those who are different from us can easily breed discomfort, misunderstanding and assumptions. While a millennial may have a preference for brief email as a communication method, their baby boomer colleague may be more inclined to approach people for face-to-face conversations. These different styles of communicating serve as a reminder to have a greater appreciation for people who are different from us.
Can things that are different also be similar? In 2007, Jennifer J. Deal, research scientist for the Center for Creative Leadership, wrote a book titled “Retiring the Generation Gap: How Employees Young and Old Can Find Common Ground” about the various generations in the workplace and how they were similar. She found that all generations are similar in some key areas.
For one, all generations have similar values of trustworthiness, family and integrity. Wanting respect and valuing feedback are also meaningful. She also found that the common stereotype of “millennials don’t like change” was proved incorrect through research, leading her team to realize that none of the generations really likes change. Loyalty is another similarity that appears to be a function of position rather than age. Finally, Deal discovered that regardless of the generation, everyone wants to learn.
Whether at a family gathering or in the workplace, how do you manage intergenerational groups with conflicting work ethics, dissimilar values and idiosyncratic styles? The way we think, act and react to situations has much to do with our generational place in history. We are shaped by what we have learned, what we have witnessed and what we anticipate.
Approaching others with interest and being mindful of how our assumptions influence interactions are mindset strategies that help us manage interactions with others. Along with this mindset, behaving differently in our interactions should include being flexible with different forms of communication and showing respect in conversations by listening and avoiding generational jargon.
If we put hubris aside and strive for common ground by understanding communications methods, we’ll have a much better chance of building valuable relationships. Because a great relationship is about two things: appreciating the similarities and respecting the differences.
Diane Bigler is a licensed clinical social worker and adjunct professor. She lives in Platte City. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.