Positive Communication bridges the Generation Gap by Keith..

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Positive Communication bridges the Generation Gap by Keith Lynn

The kKeith Lynneys to successfully leading a team are well known.   Articles and books have been written each year espousing different philosophies on the importance of communications in the workplace.  Yet, there has been very little distinction on what constitutes good communications from bad.  The quality of communications is just as important as what is said.  In fact, a singular focus on “Positive Communication” may be the overriding difference in positive outcomes.    No matter which style of leadership you follow, positive communication creates the energy that empowers successful leaders. 

Positive communications can become the first casualty in the battle of achieving increasingly challenging goals in high stress work environments.  .  Add in the mix a generational workforce transition from Baby Boomers to Gen Y or Millenials and the possibilities of being misunderstood or losing trust increases geometrically. 

Baby Boomers see great value in hard work and dedication to that work, no matter the cost.  It is hard for us to understand the present generation which values work/life balance equally.

Boomers are finding themselves managing an increasingly younger work force with different values about work and opportunities for upward advancement.  The values that ensured success for Boomers, such as, arriving early and paying your dues conflict with the Millennials’ view of life before and after work taking more of a priority.   Who is to say which value system is right but it is important to understand that there is a difference.  Boomers who try to impose their values on the Millennials may become frustrated when their younger protégés think differently.  The key to better communications and understanding may come as a big surprise.  Boomers may learn more from listening not telling Millennials how to do their jobs.

Case in point, a senior sales manager in the regional office began by bringing each of the new hires into his office on a regular weekly schedule.  The agenda began with the sales manager telling the new hires what he expected from each of them and then getting their feedback.  Obviously, the first sessions did not go as well as expected.  Each, tended to sit, listen politely to the sales manager’s talk and not give any useful feedback. 

What went wrong? The Sales manager was the boss wasn’t he? Shouldn’t they want to speak up and answer his questions truthfully?  The Sales manager’s naivety about his communications became painfully obvious.  No trust had been established and the fruitful interaction intended by the meetings was being blocked because the Sales manager failed to create the environment for feedback.  Fast forward, recognizing his mistakes the Sales manager changed his approach in a subsequent meeting.

This time the Sales Manager asked the team to bring any concerns they had along with suggestions to fix them.  After a slow start, it became apparent that there were a lot of good ideas which previously had not been offered up because of the Sales manager had treated them like employees instead of partners.  More importantly acting on their suggestions and/or explaining why their ideas were not viable proved even more fruitful.  The weekly sessions became a joy and consequently their work product improved as did everyone’s attitude toward each other.

Let’s look at what made the difference:

1.        Issue:  Paying your dues:  In the Boomer generation, this was the norm, few expected to be promoted quickly.  Boomers expected to work their way to the top over time, learning the ropes as they went. 

This is not the way the Millennial generation thinks.  Work/life balance, flexible working hours and open communication is very important to them.  They can view Boomers as overbearing and slaves to work.  Boomers look at Millenials as not being motivated and yes, even lazy. 

It requires an open mind to make headway in resolving this cultural difference.  Proactively listening is a beginning, but only if you are willing to make changes in your attitudes.  This applies both to Boomers, Gen Y’ers, and Millennials.

2.        Issue: Understanding Social Media:  The Boomer generation is slow to adapt to Texting, Facebook and LinkedIn.  If you haven’t already done so, get a LinkedIn account.  It has become the business version of Facebook and both the Boomer and Gen Y’er should become adept at using it.  Texting is another matter.  Boomers know that younger employees respond quicker to a Text than a phone call.  This used to be a source of irritation. However, since the weekly meetings changed, the Sales manager became very adept at Texting and viewed it to be equal, or better than a phone call.  However, the Gen Y’er should not turn up their noses at the Boomer who wants to talk by phone.   It is a compromise.

 3.       Issue:  ?  Big issue for The Gen Y individual.  Boomer managers should go out of their way to recognize the Individual or team who made a contribution.   Boomers look at it as, well that is their job.  Maybe so, but how much time does it take to give credit where credit is due.  It has great rewards

On the other side, take the blame if something goes wrong.  You can talk to the individual privately about what went wrong, but publically, it is your team and if you take the blame, your employees will bust their guts trying to make it right.

Consider these practices an investment in your company.  Remember, the Boomers are retiring at an incredible rate and the Gen X’ers are close behind.  This means the Gen Y employee will soon be running the show.   Consider your retirement a legacy and the investment in the Gen Y employee you make to help them to get it right.  All it takes is an open mind.

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