Diverse teams carry diverse work and communication styles.
As a generations speaker and trainer for over a decade, I have experienced first-hand how wide the communication gap can be on multi-generational teams.
In fact, 83 percent of Generation Z workers prefer to engage with managers in-person, yet 82 percent of managers believe their Gen Z employees prefer to communicate via instant message. Further, 57 percent of Gen Z want to receive feedback several times a week, but only 50 percent of their managers provide feedback to them that frequently.
Communicating between generations is challenging. I know you want to get it right. The following strategies should help.
The proliferation of mobile technology and ubiquitous connectivity has created an abundance of new communication channels. Email, text, chat, video call, and social collaboration are relatively new forms of communication that didn’t exist for most of the 20th century.
The complexity of communication intensifies when multiple channels are combined with the varying communication preferences and expectations of each generation in the workforce.
A general awareness of how each generation approaches communication is key to closing the communication gap. Keep in mind generations are clues not absolutes, but they can be big clues on how you connect and influence.
Surprisingly, over 70 percent of Gen Z want to communicate face to face at work. They will continue to weave in and out of the digital channels they are accustomed to while seeking more face-to-face encounters.
The communication gap is also exposed by how each generation uses emojis. 83 percent of Gen Z emoji users are more comfortable expressing their emotions through emojis than a phone call, compared to Millennials (71 percent), Gen X (61 percent), and Baby Boomers (53 percent).
Use generations as clues and defer to the communication preference most widely used by that generation.
For example, Baby Boomers who want to connect with Gen Z should not call and leave a voicemail. Instead, defer to texting or instant message. Conversely, Gen Zers who want to connect with Baby Boomers should not FaceTime or DM them on social media. Instead, defer to a phone call or face-to-face meeting.
It’s no longer about how the communicator wants to deliver the intended message but how the communicatee is most likely to consume the message.
It’s also important to match the right channel with the type of information.
Respond to communications using the same channel in which it was received.
For example, if a Gen Xer receives a text from a Millennial colleague, the Gen Xer should not call the Millennial but rather mirror the communication by sending back a text.
If alternating the communication channel is a must, then take the time to recap the previous correspondence in the new communication channel.
If a team or individual hasn’t been explicit about their communication preferences, others are left guessing which of the myriad of communication channels to use and will usually default to their personal preference.
Instead, be proactive about informing others of how they can best connect with you.
For example, a Gen Z employee could mention they prefer a text over a phone call in their email signature or Slack profile. Or a Baby Boomer could mention they prefer an email over a voicemail in their voicemail recording.
Take setting expectations one step further by creating a team communication agreement.
The purpose of establishing a communication agreement, is to create official guidelines that highlight the rules of how a team is to communicate with one another.
Clearly communicating about how to communicate is essential in today’s high-tech and digital work environments. A communication agreement helps to set expectations, create team buy-in, establish boundaries to protect crucial work, and streamline communication.
Ask the following questions of your multi-generational team to gain consensus and establish a communication agreement.
Consider creating a separate agreement for any external communications with clients, customers, vendors, etc.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Ryan Jenkins is an internationally-recognized keynote speaker and author on the topics of leadership, generational differences, and the future of work. He is the co-founder of SyncLX, which creates lasting learning experiences for companies' #1 asset, their people.
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