How to Speak so Each Generation will Listen

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When people learn that I work with the different generations in the workplace, I often hear “I can’t talk to THEM. THEY are the problem.” It doesn’t matter if it’s a Baby Boomer talking about a Gen Y, or a Traditionalist talking about a Gen X. They all say the same thing about the other.

Why is it so difficult for so many people? Because for first time in American history, four generations are working side by side in the workplace. Each generation has a distinctly separate view on work, life and society. There is no right or wrong generational viewpoint. However, there is a right and wrong approach. Each generation must be approached using certain key words, tailor-made to fit that generation’s traits.

Imagine working in Japan, Argentina, Norway and the South Africa. In order to work effectively in each location, you would likely take the time to learn some of the language, habits and history of each country. This better prepares you to work with each culture.

The same applies for the four generations in today’s workplace. You must be prepared to speak four languages and learn four sets of habits if you want to be effective with each generation. If you speak Japanese in Argentina, you will fail in effectively communicating with the Argentine. If you speak Gen Y to a Traditionalist, you will also fail in making your point with the Traditionalist.

So who are the four generations?

Traditionalists: Born between 1924-1945
Baby Boomers: Born between 1946-1964
Generation X: Born between 1965-1980
Generation Y: Born between 1981-2000

Each of these generations was influenced by certain events that shaped their psyche during their formative years. The formative years tend to take place 10-20 years after a person was born, so let’s look at the events that shaped each generation during their formative years.

Born between 1924-1945
Formative years between approx. 1935-1955

The dominant events that shaped this generation were WWII, the Great Depression and FDR. Consequently, this generation was taught to be frugal and ‘make do’ with what they had. They were taught to avoid risks and be safe while ‘dad was at war’. They also learned to live with extended family and take responsibility for their siblings. This is a generation that depended on the government to help them through difficult times, so they learned to be patriotic and civic-minded.

Consequently, they tend to be conservative, disciplined, loyal, patriotic and risk-averse. They also tend to respect authority and trust the system.

Now that you understand which events shaped this generation, and how Traditionalist view the world, how can you best connect with them? You use key words that resonate with them. When you do this, they then feel understood and are willing to listen to you. You build rapport, so they will engage with you more willingly. If you continue to use their key words, you will have an effective conversation with them, simply by using their own language.

Key Words for Traditionalists

  • Reliable
  • Responsibility/duty
  • Patriotic
  • Value
  • Loyalty

So if you’re trying to convince a Traditionalist to launch a new website, you would say something like “It’s our responsibility to give our clients what they want, and the studies show they want an updated website. This website will bring greater value to our shareholders because our customers will become even more loyal and buy more. And the web designer I have in mind is reliable and trustworthy.

You wouldn’t use the same language when trying to convince a Gen Y, Gen X or Baby Boomer to launch a new website. They have their own key words that resonate best with them. Yet using the Traditionalist key words, and understanding the Traditionalist psyche will help you bridge the cultural gap.

You will not succeed when trying to change a generational perspective. You will only succeed when tailoring your pitch to each generation. In other words, speak their language. When you do this, they feel more connected to you and more willing to answer your questions. This then helps you overcome their objections and move forward.

My next three blogs will cover the key words to use for the Baby Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y. Until then, practice your Traditionalist language and let me know how it goes!


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