Diverse teams carry diverse work and communication styles. As a generational 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.
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. Communicating between generations is challenging, but leaders want to get it right. The following five strategies should help.
A general awareness of how each generation approaches communication is key to closing the communication gap. Keep in mind generational traits are clues — not absolutes — but they can help 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. Eighty-three 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 other person 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 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.
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.
Consider creating a separate agreement for any external communications with clients, customers and vendors. Once you're clear on how to communicate, you'll be able to effectively lead your employees — no matter what generation they're from.
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