5 Tips for Communicating Across Generations
As marketers, we handcraft our messages. We need to know our audience, their pain points, their goals, and what is important to them. But when it comes to communication within our own firms, it’s easy to forget that our colleagues are their own audience. We’re usually working too fast or have too much on our plate, and we end up using one method of communication — the one that works best for us. However, if we want to be successful at becoming an important voice in our firms, it’s important that we take the time to form a strategy for the best way to communicate (especially with leadership).
I remember my first year in accounting marketing; I was surprised that I rarely received email communications from several of the partners. Rather than changing my strategy (or asking them how they prefer to communicate), I did what is defined as insanity — doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I just kept emailing:
“Did you see my email?”
“Just checking in?”
“I’m wondering if you have an answer to my question on…”
Get a clue, Emily! It finally dawned on me that maybe I should try calling them. Perhaps I could stop by someone’s office (intimidating for a new accounting marketer, I know), or even wait until our weekly team meeting (if possible) to mention what I needed.
Communicating to the Generations
So when it comes to how you communicate, where do generations come in? For the first time in history, there are five generations currently in the workforce. Recent studies have taken a deep dive into how these generations differ, and the communication methods they prefer. Here’s a comparison on each generation and what they prefer.
|Generation||Things to Note||Communication Preferences|
|Traditionalists grew up in an era where authority was respected, duty was put before fun, and rules were to be adhered to. They lead with a “command-and-control” style. Traditionalists benefit the workplace because of their excellent work ethic, a deep understanding of complex situations, and the ability to unite rather than divide.||Traditionalists prefer to be communicated with formally and through written word (think memos). They also respond well when you are clear that your respect their authority and experience.|
|Baby Boomers (1946-1964)
|This generation grew up when telephones were moving from bulky and expensive to a smaller, slicker model the average family could afford. Baby Boomers know structure, but they know the power of rebelling against it. They tend to know when to leave things status quo and when to shake things up.||Most Baby Boomers prefer speaking face-to-face or on the phone. However, most do use email on a regular basis.|
|Generation X (1965-1980)
|Gen X is the first generation to incorporate digital technology in their youth. Gen X are the early adopters of email and are considered the bridge between the future of the workforce and those closer to retirement. They tend to be resourceful and full of possibility.||Email and face-to-face is best for Gen X. They tend to be workaholics who appreciate feeling like part of a team and that their work is valued.|
|Some Millennials grew up before the digital age, but many are digital natives. Millennials tend to be hyper-connected, open-minded, and full of confident energy.||Millennials prefer online forms of communication like texting and email over face-to-face conversations and phone calls (which are viewed as too time consuming).|
|Generation Z (1997-2010)
|This is the first generation to grow up as “digital natives.” They have been exposed to technology from a very young age. Generation Z is just beginning to enter the workplace, so time will tell what their biggest contributions will be.||For now, it seems Generation Z prefers emails, texts, and any online communication, much like Millennials. Not only did Generation Z grow up with technology, but they have experienced fast internet and upload speeds. Because of this, they typically respond quickly and expect the same in return.|
Putting This Knowledge to Work for You
So how do you really use this information? It is important not to overgeneralize. You may work in a firm where the oldest partner is quite tech savvy and some of your younger hires just don’t respond to your texts. Plus the perils of working remotely or in a hybrid environment are creating a unique situation when it comes to how we work and communicate with one another. Here are five suggestions on how to implement what you’ve learned to create the best communication strategy.
- Observe and listen. This seems obvious, but sometimes when you’re busy, it’s easy to forget. If you are in a meeting with a partner who is always typing on his phone – ding, ding, ding – that is your clue that he most likely responds via email or text. On the other hand, if you email someone multiple times and never get a response, it might be time to stop by their office for a face-to-face meeting, or (gasp!) give them a call.
- Ask. If you feel comfortable, it is completely OK to simply ask how someone prefers to communicate. You might say, “Hi Jim, I typically work via email. Is that a communication method you work well with, or do you have a different medium you would prefer?” That cuts out all of the guessing and gets right to the point, while at the same time makes you look professional and effective.
- Teach. Be willing to offer patient assistance to colleagues who may want to use a particular method of communication, but are struggling to integrate it into their daily work habits. Some people avoid things because they don’t want to look dumb when they can’t figure it out.
- Mirror the communication. According to Entrepreneur Magazine’s recent article on improving communication in the workplace*, it is a best practice to respond to communications using the same method in which it was received. So if you receive an email asking a question, respond by email. If this is not possible, be sure to refer to the original communication in your response. For example send an email, “Hello Janet, I received your phone call regarding…”
- Think beyond generations. Generational awareness is not the only thing you should consider when creating a communication strategy. Think about cultural differences (link to Rachel P.’s article), potential disabilities (hearing impairment, color blindness, etc.), and of course timing (are we in the heart of busy season? Watch out!).
There is no doubt about it: communication is key. Being intentional about what you say and how you say it can make the difference in completing a project successfully or spending time trying to undo a spider web of miscommunication and unmet expectations. Do you have any tips on how to communicate across the generations? Let us know on the AAM Community Boards.
About Emily Taibl
Emily manages Sweeney Conrad’s marketing department and is the lead on all brand strategy both internally and externally. She handles all marketing activities for the firm including planning, client outreach, content management, website, recruiting, and social media. Prior to Sweeney Conrad, Emily ran her own boutique PR/Marketing firm specializing in the restaurants and non-profits. She serves as the Chair of the Association of Accounting Marketing’s monthly newsletter, the AAM Minute, and is on the Marketing/Business Development Team for Allinial Global.
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