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Updated 30 Sep 2020

How to work with multiple generations in a business

At my company, we have a broad spectrum of ages in our team, and the key to working together well is communication. 

Glenn van Eck, 24 November 2017  Share  0 comments  Print

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The key to successful communication is understanding others' worlds and talking about what is relevant to them, in a way that they can relate. So how can you learn to communicate with people across generations effectively? 

While I will look at common thinking patterns within different generations, bear in mind that stereotyping people can be dangerous, therefore this is a guideline. 

You can start tounderstand a person's perspective by identifying their generation. 

For example, people born between 1990 and 2001 fall into "Gen Y". Their general attitude, characteristics, likes and dislikes are likely to be very different to a "Baby Boomer" who was born between the 1940s and the 1960s. Pay attention to the era they grew up in and how this shapes their views, their career expectations, interpersonal dynamics and communication styles. 

Related: Business growth: 5 Ways to hire right and grow your small company

Having identified these views, you now need to recognise them as valid, even if they differ to yours.

Look for the value in their opinions and embrace that

For example, Gen Y-ers tend to focus on output, rather than spending eight hours in the office. This perspective creates room for a better work/life balance and feasibility. But a "Baby Boomer" may not understand how to measure that.   

Once you start paying attention to and respecting the perspectives of those around you, you will gain an insight into what is relevant to them. Pay attention to colleagues' words and their concerns. If they care most about return on investment, speak to that point.

You may have heard of IQ, even EQ... but what about MQ?

MQ is Meaning Quotient, the ability to create an understanding that what people do at work matters and is making a difference. If you don't know what is relevant, how can you communicate it in a meaningful way? 

On a superficial level, someone's stage of life can provide clues about what is important to them, for instance many people approaching 40 begin to focus on health and fitness. Use what is relevant to them as the foundation on which to build a relationship and conversations. 

The next challenge is to communicate in a way that people can relate. Young, Gen Y employees prefer online, for example, WhatsApp and Facebook above other communication tools. In a workplace that relies heavily on emails or noticeboard memos, this is bad news. You need to identify what your audience naturally uses, not what you feel comfortable with. However, remember that the best way to create meaningful connections with people is still to spend time face-to-face. 

Related: The givers are the ones that gain

But regardless of who you are talking to, your content, there are some essential communication guidelines:

  • Make the complex simple: Say what you want to in simple, memorable terms that others can grasp and act on
  • Start with your key point: Our attention spans are challenged by a vast amount of stimuli. Be concise and don't lose the attention of the person you are speaking to
  • Be clear about what you are expecting: Ambiguity causes chaos – is it action, feedback or comment? What do you want the person you are communicating with to focus on? 

And if all else fails you, think before you speak:

T – is it TRUE?

H – is it HELPFUL?

I – is it INSPIRING?

N – is it NECESSARY?

K– is it KIND?

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About the author

Glenn van Eck

Aged 20, Glenn started a gardening service in his second year of University, and sold it five years later to buy Magnetic Storm. Still at the helm, Glenn has grown a two-man disco into a full-service event and tech company with offices in Port Elizabeth and Cape Town, servicing the entire country. Glenn has also invested in Chas Everitt Nelson Mandela Bay, the Electoquip franchise (now incorporated into Magnetic Storm), established Imagio Productions with Glen Meyburgh, and joined forces with his brother Shaun to form The Tourism Coach.

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