Standing on either side of the generational divide it’s easy to see a major source of misery and misunderstanding: euphemism. Careful listening can help but so can an understanding of stylistic differences between Boomers and Twenty- and Thirtysomethings. If you listen to how something is said and not just to what is said you could be a star at cross-generational communication. Here are some guidelines.
Boomers hate to call a spade a spade. They care more that a message be softened rather than that it be understood. When a Boomer says to a subordinate or colleague, “I think I need some help,” neither reacted. What the Boomer was trying to say was, “Drop what you’re doing and help me. I going down.” “We need to get the job done,” means, “I will punish anyone who doesn’t appear to double effort in the next day.”
Boomers love to make the hearer work. In addition to communication riddled with euphemisms Boomers love to test whether the hear remembers any/all previous conversations on the topic. “I think the job should finish on Thursday.” The true message is, “The job we’ve been working on in a desultory fashion for months must be finished by Thursday at 5 p.m.” If you are wondering what job, for whom, and what role you are to play you don’t remember all the hints over the last month.
Twenty- and Thirtysomethings resist too much information or any they don’t think they need. When a direct order is swathed in tons of verbage younger workers close their ears. They make no effort to sort through the words for what matters. They demand direct subject-verb-object speech. If they were in control they’d get it but the Boomers are still running the show. Most cross-generational misunderstanding is caused by each side refusing to accept the style of the other. When a twentysomething says, “This job is not challenging,” he/ she means it. What isn’t stated is, “I am actively job hunting and will be out of here as quickly as possible.”
None of this matters unless each side needs to work with the other. In single-age offices (a few do exist) communication problems are few and deliberate, i.e., the speaker doesn’t want you to understand. Most cross-gen misunderstandings are caused by carelessness. So, the next time you say that your co-worker doesn’t understand you, don’t stop there. Make him/her explain exactly what he/she wants you to understand. It’s going to take courage and boldness to bridge the communication divide. It’s worth it if you then need less time to explain what you want.
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